Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 McDonald’s Chevrolet, wears a “I Can’t Breath – Black Lives Matter” T-shirt under his fire suit in solidarity with protesters around the world taking to the streets after the death of George Floyd on May 25 while in the custody of Minneapolis, Minnesota police, stands during the national anthem prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 07, 2020 in Hampton, Georgia.
Chris Graythen | Getty Images
NASCAR president Steve Phelps on Monday vowed that whoever hung a noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at the Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama, will be “caught and dealt with swiftly and severely.”
“Unequivocally, the person who did this act will be banned for life. I don’t care who they are, they will not be here,” Phelps said.
Earlier Monday, federal authorities — including the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division — said they were reviewing the incident. “Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society,” U.S. Attorney Jay Town said in a statement.
In a call with reporters, Phelps went over some of the details of the incident, adding that the Birmingham FBI had been notified and were on site investigating.
“This is a difficult time for our sport, but we are going to react swiftly and again we’re going to use all the means, resources at our disposal and of those of the FBI to make sure this person or persons are caught and dealt with swiftly and severely,” Phelps said.
“This is a very serious act, and we take it such. We will do everything in our power that whoever did this comes to light,” Phelps added.
Phelps said investigators were looking at camera footage in the garage and who could have had access to the area.
“We have a very small number of people that are in the footprint (of the garage), only essential personnel there … We’ll review the entire list with the FBI about who had access at that particular time,” Phelps said.
Approximately 5,000 fans were allowed into the venue at Talladega on Sunday for the race, a fraction of the audience of typical races due to NASCAR’s gradual reopening from the pandemic. The race ended up being postponed until Monday due to rain.
This incident comes after NASCAR announced on June 10 that it would ban the Confederate flag at its events.
Despite the new ban, vehicles reportedly waved flags around the track on Sunday towing a banner that read “Defund NASCAR.”
Wallace is the lone Black driver for NASCAR. He’s been outspoken during the Black Lives Matter movement, even repainting his car as a show of support. Wallace, in his third season, had led the charge in calling for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag.
Phelps told reporters that he informed Wallace about Monday’s incident. “It was a very difficult moment for both of us,” he said, adding that Wallace handled it with grace just like he has handled the past few weeks.
NASCAR has stepped up security for Wallace as a result of this incident.
“We want to make sure that Bubba is safe … This is a family that needs to take care of one of its family members who has been attacked. We will firmly support as an industry, as a family and community to make sure Bubba and everyone else in this sport is safe,” Phelps said.
Wallace said he’s been overwhelmed by support from people across the NASCAR industry. On Monday, he posted a picture of his colleagues standing behind him ahead of the race at Talladega. In a show of solidarity, NASCAR drivers and their crews pushed his car around the track to the front.