By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Since the discovery of a noose hanging in the garage at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, NASCAR has been in the process of conducting its own investigation into the matter, releasing the findings in a Thursday teleconference.
As NASCAR President Steve Phelps detailed, the timeline of events between Sunday and the conclusion of the investigation is as follows:
- The noose is found by a member of the No. 43 team sometime between inspection and pre-race on Sunday.
- Sunday, 4:30 pm: NASCAR is alerted to the presence of the noose, with a full sweep of the garage taking place shortly thereafter. Only the rope in the No. 43 garage was fashioned as a noose.
- Sunday, 6:00 pm: NASCAR leadership meets to discuss the next steps.
- Sunday, 7:30 pm: Bubba Wallace is notified of the issue by Phelps.
- Sunday, 10:40 pm: NASCAR releases its initial statement regarding the noose.
- Monday, approximately 10:00 am: 15 agents from the FBI office in Birmingham, Alabama arrive to investigate. NASCAR provides the agents with a list of personnel that had access to the garage area this weekend and during the October 2019 race weekend.
- End of day, Monday: FBI advises NASCAR that it has completed interviews of team members from multiple teams, NASCAR officials, track fire and safety personnel and track custodial staff. Evidence at that point in the investigation is inconclusive.
- Tuesday morning: FBI continues investigation after receiving video from NASCAR showing the noose was hanging in the garage during the October 2019 race weekend. The video evidence is corroborated by testimony from one of the interviews conducted the previous day.
- The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI informs NASCAR its investigation is complete and conclusively found Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. FBI and NASCAR release statements about the findings at 4:10 pm and 4:15 pm, respectively.
Since Tuesday, Phelps noted that NASCAR Security has swept through the garage areas at all of its tracks, which included 29 tracks and 1,684 garage stalls, finding only 11 that had a pull-down rope tied in a knot and only one fashioned as a noose. The one found at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
Phelps added that the sanctioning body will be conducting additional thorough sweeps of the garage to make sure this kind of incident doesn’t happen again and they will make any necessary changes to “sanctions and our code of conduct and we will mandate that all members of our industry complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training with specifics and timing forthcoming.”
“Going forward, our efforts are best spent on making sure every competitor feels safe and every guest feels welcome. I would also like to reinforce that we did see at Talladega in pre-race on Monday our drivers, crews and officials proudly demonstrated that we are united in the belief that there is no place for racism in our sport.
“We want to thank — we want everyone with a love for racing to feel welcome and a part of our NASCAR family, and our industry is going to protect our own against anyone that feels differently. My hope is that the fortunate results of the FBI investigation should not diminish the impact of that moment nor the message our sport sent. The world saw our true colors and it made us all incredibly proud.”
Phelps also reiterated support for Bubba Wallace and his team and took responsibility for how everything has been handled over the past five days.
“Bubba Wallace and the 43 team had nothing to do with this,” Phelps said. “ Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity. It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise, and frankly it’s further evidence as to how far we still need to go as a society.
“Secondly there’s been discussion and criticism on how this was handled and characterized. Some feel that the phrasing or words used were not right. That comes with the territory, and I will take full responsibility for that and for the emotion that was attached to it. Based on the evidence we had, we thought our drivers — that one of our drivers had been threatened, a driver who had been extremely courageous in recent words and actions. It’s our responsibility to react and investigate, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Questions have been asked about who fashioned that rope into a noose and why that person or persons may have done it, but Phelps stated Thursday that he and NASCAR aren’t sure of who or why and would not speculate on how it happened.
“I really don’t know. I could speculate, but it doesn’t, it wouldn’t do any good,” Phelps said. “I don’t know. And I don’t know the intent of what it was as well. So it’s hard and I know that’s, we’d like to have complete resolution here and have all the answers. Based on all the video and photographic evidence and all the interviews we have done we were not able to determine who crafted the noose, so. I know that’s unfulfilling but there’s nothing — I wish there was more we could do, but we can’t and so we have drawn this matter to a close.”