Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

NASCAR, FBI: ‘Bubba Wallace was not the Target of a Hate Crime’

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

The FBI Office in Birmingham, Alabama has wrapped up its investigation into the noose found in the garage area of Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 car at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, concluding there was no hate crime committed.

In a statement released by the agency Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. summarized the results of the investigation, noting the noose had been present in that garage stall since last year.

“On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway.  After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.

“The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week.  The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019.  Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.

“The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.”

NASCAR followed up the statement from the FBI with a statement of its own, thanking them for their work and adding the rope in question, the garage door pull rope, had been fashioned as a noose was in place since at least last October, when the Cup Series last raced at the track.

“The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment.

“We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.”

Wood Brothers Racing, who occupied the garage stall that the No. 43 team had this weekend during last year’s fall race weekend at the track, also put out a statement on everything that has transpired over the past 48 hours.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps added in a media teleconference later on Tuesday that although the federal investigation by the FBI was finished, the sanctioning body was still looking into the matter and should additional information come to light, that information would be passed along at a later date.

“For us at NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for,” Phelps said. “It was disturbing to hear that it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act.  It is fantastic to hear from the FBI definitively that there was not a hate crime.

“I do want to make sure everyone understands that if given the evidence that we had was delivered to us on Saturday night or late Saturday afternoon, we would do the same thing.  We would have done the same investigation.  It was important for us to do.  There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred.  It’s not part of who we are as a sport.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that our portion of this with the FBI was something that was — we were very cooperative, as you would expect.  We provided them with roster information, photographic and video evidence that aided them in their conclusions.

“Additionally, the industry was very supportive.  Not just the members of the 43, and I want to be clear about the 43 team.  The 43 team had nothing to do with this.  The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously.  The last race we had had there in October, that noose was present, and it was — the fact that it was not found until a member of the 43 team came there is something that is a fact.  We had not been back to the garage.  It was a quick one-day show.  The crew member went back in there.  He looked and saw the noose, brought it to the attention of his crew chief, who then went to the NASCAR series director Jay Fabian, and we launched this investigation.

“To be clear, we would do this again.  Of the evidence that we had, it was clear that we needed to look into this.

“So again, I want to thank the FBI for that.”

Phelps went on to applaud the NASCAR garage for its show of support ahead of Monday’s race when everyone rallied behind Bubba Wallace and joined him in pushing his car to the front of the grid before circling around and joining him and team owner Richard Petty for the remainder of the pre-race festivities.

“I also want to talk about yesterday.  Yesterday to me as a sport was one of the most important days we’ve had,” Phelps continued. “It’s one of the most kind of indelible print on my mind until the day I die, seeing the support that Bubba had from not just the drivers but all the crews, all the officials who were down in pit road, anyone who was part of that footprint.  Everyone wanted to show their support for a family member of NASCAR.  We are one big family.  We are one large community.  And everyone’s belief is that someone was attacking a member of our family.

“It turned out that that was not the case, but at the time that’s what our industry thought, so drivers, crew, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.

“With that, as Eric said, we are continuing our portion of the investigation to try to determine why there was a rope fashioned into a noose, which obviously happened sometime last October or before, and we’ll do that.  And when we have further information, we will get back to the media, and at that time I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

“I appreciate everyone’s time.  As I said, this is a great conclusion for us and for Bubba, to understand that he was not targeted.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.