CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR President Steve Phelps was relieved Tuesday afternoon after learning that a hate crime had not taken place in the garage area at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Sunday, but he was adamant in his defense of the way the sanctioning body handled the situation.
The FBI concluded Tuesday that the noose found in the Richard Petty Motorsports garage stall of African American driver Bubba Wallace was in fact a garage door rope that appeared to look like a noose and that it had been in place since at least last October.
“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, that was delivered to us on Sunday night or late Sunday afternoon, we would do the same thing,” Phelps added. “We would have done the same investigation.”
A Richard Petty Motorsports crew member reported the noose to NASCAR on Sunday afternoon and Phelps and his team elected to call the FBI and inform the media.
The FBI began investigating on Monday morning and eventually discovered that the noose was fashioned from the pull rope for the garage door. The rope had, in fact, been that way since at least last fall according to the FBI’s investigation.
Phelps made it clear that the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team was not responsible for the rope that had been fashioned in the shape of a noose.
“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,” Phelps said. “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.”
Phelps thanked the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI for their quick work in their investigation, but noted NASCAR’s own investigation is ongoing to determine why the rope had been tied that way in the first place.
“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,” Phelps said. “When we have further information, we will get back to the media and at that time I’ll be happy to answer any questions.”
Despite the fact there was no hate crime, Phelps remained proud of the unity shown by the NASCAR drivers and teams prior to Monday’s GEICO 500.
“Yesterday, to me as a sport, was one of the most important days we’ve had,” Phelps said. “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.”