The Geico 500 at Talladega was postponed due to rain storms that swept through eastern Alabama on Sunday, pushing the race to Monday afternoon, but Sunday night, news emerged from NASCAR that a noose had been found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall and an investigation was underway.
The noose was clearly a threat and attempt to intimidate the sport’s lone Black driver, who has been vocal in recent weeks about the Black Lives Matter movement and pushing for NASCAR to take steps forward in diversity and inclusion — including successfully pushing NASCAR to finally ban confederate flags from events. The backlash from some fans was unsurprising, but it wasn’t just a select group of fans that were upset about the removal of a symbol of hatred and racism from the track.
Given the current situation with the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are no fans able to get into the infield and garage area right now, meaning the noose was put in Wallace’s garage by someone in NASCAR or a track employee. In any case, they promised to “eliminate them from the sport” when they find who did it, and Monday became a day for the sport, its drivers, and its race teams to lend support to Wallace, starting with #IStandWithBubba being painted on the infield grass inside the tri-oval.
Prior to the race, as cars were lining up on the grid on pit road, every driver and team member pushed and walked with the 43 car to the front of the field in a show of solidarity, with Wallace posting a photo of all of the drivers behind him and his car.
— Matt Mayer (@MatthewMayerCBS) June 22, 2020
Richard Petty, NASCAR’s winningest driver in history and the owner of the race team Wallace drives for, issued a statement that he was enraged by what happened and made his first appearance at a race since the pandemic to hug Wallace and make a public show of his support for his driver.
Bubba Wallace gets a hug from Richard Petty pic.twitter.com/n40IoagAe7
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) June 22, 2020
Jimmie Johnson also spoke with the Fox broadcast about why the drivers all came together for that showing.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 22, 2020
It’s a grand and important gesture showing their support for Wallace and that they will back their fellow driver, but it does stand to reason that someone walking down pit road today in this show of solidarity could have been one of the people responsible for the threat of placing a noose in the 43 team stall. NASCAR has certainly taken steps forward in recent weeks that I think a lot of people around the sport wondered if they ever would in terms of speaking out on racism, and the act of banning confederate flags was big, even if long overdue.
The question now is if those walking behind Wallace’s car are willing to do the hard work and really root out racism from the sport, calling it out when they see or hear something in the garage, because this is far from just a fan issue. It’s the same work all of us have to do in our daily lives, going beyond nice gestures and statements and social media posts pledging support and solidarity for the Black community.