NASCAR driver wishes ‘noose’ situation was handled differently

An incorrectly identified “hate crime” led to all kinds of different reactions from those in the NASCAR world last June at Talladega Superspeedway.

When a suspiciously tied garage pull rope was found in the stall of Bubba Wallace and the #43 Richard Petty Motorsports team at Talladega Superspeedway during a race weekend in June 2020, NASCAR put out a statement.

They stated that a “heinous act” of “racism” had been committed against the sport’s lone African-American driver, and that whoever was responsible for committing it would ultimately be eliminated from the sport.

Here is the full statement.

“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”

Of course, we later found out — after the FBI sent 15 special agents to investigate — that this particular rope had been there long before Wallace and the #43 team arrived, and that no hate crime had been committed.

But before the FBI reached this conclusion, the entire NASCAR garage rallied around Wallace and pushed his #43 Chevrolet to the front of the pits before the start of the race, which had been postponed from Sunday, June 21 to Monday, June 22 due to rain.

Jimmie Johnson, who has since retired from Cup Series competition and gone on to compete in IndyCar, was among those who rallied behind Wallace, who now competes for the Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing.

He discussed the situation on this past weekend’s episode of In Depth with Graham Bensinger.

“So powerful, and people walking that I wasn’t sure where they stood; I wasn’t sure what their feelings were,” Johnson said. “You work next to so many people in the sport, you just don’t know and you see these people in passing. But, I mean, everybody came out and pushed that car, got behind the car… It’s such a powerful moment.”

While he still believes that it was “powerful moment”, Johnson admits that he felt relieved when it was determined that no hate crime had been committed and it had all been a misunderstanding/misinterpretation fueled by some of the tensions that were prevalent in the country at the time.

Others, however, were upset that NASCAR had effectively “cried wolf” with their initial statement.

“When I found out that the noose wasn’t there for the reasons we thought it was, I had such relief and it was wild how the reaction was for others… The controversy that followed and people that thought the sport was trying to make something of it,” he continued.

But even Johnson admits that NASCAR could have and should have handled things differently and not made it out to be something that it wasn’t before knowing all — or really any — of the facts.

“And, I wish NASCAR handled things a little differently with the press release,” he said. “I think a few words would have changed, if ‘alleged noose’ was in there.”

And perhaps this honesty and transparency would have prevented the anger that some later had about the situation and the controversy that ensued.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps even admitted the same. He admitted that he regretted the fact that the sport’s initial statement did not include the word “alleged” and instead stated, matter-of-factly, that a “heinous act” of “racism” had been committed against Wallace — when nothing even close to such a thing had occurred.

Wallace would go on to secure his first career Cup Series win in a rain-shortened race at Talladega Superspeedway more than one year later, doing so last month behind the wheel of the #23 Toyota, and of course, more needless controversy ensued on the racial front.