Earlier this month, Wallace made headlines after he made it clear that he stood with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Wallace had decked out his car, the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports, in BLM livery and spoken out against racism.
On Sunday, June 21, Wallace’s team reported that an object that looked like a noose was left in his team garage at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Wallace was set to race at NASCAR’s GEICO 500 race at Talladega that day, though the race was later delayed to Monday due to inclement weather.
After the two-day investigation, which involved 15 FBI special agents conducting interviews with people at Talladega, as well as support from Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the FBI said that the “noose” was nothing more than a garage door pull rope.
“After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed,” said FBI Special Agent Jonnie Sharp in a joint statement with U.S. Attorney Jay Town. (Related: Former NFL player arrested for “Jussie Smollett-type” hate crime hoax: Allegedly staged attack on his own ice cream parlor.)
The FBI’s investigation revealed that the “noose” had been in garage number four -- the garage assigned to Wallace for that race -- as early as October 2019. Furthermore, the FBI said that nobody in NASCAR could have known that Wallace would be assigned to that particular garage before the GEICO 500.
NASCAR has since released a statement, saying that they’re grateful for the FBI’s support and the fact that the incident was not an intentional racist act against Wallace.
“We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing,” said NASCAR in their statement.
Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, previously stated that whoever was responsible for leaving the “noose” in Wallace’s garage would be banned from NASCAR for life.
Wallace himself has not publicly responded to the FBI’s findings; however, NASCAR said that Wallace never saw the garage and that it was discovered by a member of his team, who reported it immediately.
Although this incident turned out not to be a hate crime, NASCAR is still committed to standing behind Wallace. Phelps has said that despite the results of the FBI investigation, NASCAR will still hold an association inquiry into the incident. Their goal is to find out why the rope in the number four garage was fashioned into a noose in the first place.
Prior to this, at the behest of Wallace and the BLM movement, NASCAR had announced on June 10 that it was banning both racers and fans alike from waving or sporting the Confederate battle flag at any NASCAR event. The organization stated that the flag was “contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”
This ban has not gone over well, especially in Alabama.
On Sunday, June 21, a plane flew over Talladega with a Confederate battle flag and a message that read “Defund NASCAR.”
Outside the superspeedway, fans who objected to the ruling drove hundreds of cars flying the battle flag and other Confederate symbols. They formed a two-mile caravan that drove past the entrance to the track.
Many who participated in the caravan said that NASCAR’s decision was opportunistic. Johnny Wilson, 47, who drove his Dodge pickup with Confederate flags at the protest, felt that the move was nothing more than a way for the company to “get attention for themselves.”
On June 22, as fans started coming back in after NASCAR postponed the race, some shops opened up selling Confederate symbols. Sean Ramirez was one such salesman.
Ramirez, who at the time did not know that the incident in Wallace's garage was not actually a hate crime, said that he condemned the incident as an act of hatred. However, he said that that event did not justify banning the Confederate battle flag. To him, the flag is nothing more than a symbol of his Southern heritage, not of racism or hatred.
Brad Johnson, a lifelong fan of the sport, agreed, saying that NASCAR was becoming too political.
“I think when you start banning things like [the Confederate battle flag], it’s kind of a slippery slope taking away people’s freedom of expression.”