Bubba Wallace is, in his own words, “pissed off.”
And he should be. The 26-year-old NASCAR Cup Series driver in a Tuesday night CNN interview admitted he was spending too much time on social media, where strangers were blaming him for what was a misunderstanding on the part of his own Richard Petty Motorsports race team and NASCAR.
Wallace’s anger is not directed at those who reported and escalated the presence of a noose in his Talladega Superspeedway garage stall Sunday, an incident both the FBI and NASCAR investigated and determined that no hate crime was committed against the sport’s only Black driver. The noose, formed at the bottom of a pull rope attached to the garage door, had been in place since as early as last fall, the FBI said.
Instead, Wallace’s anger is directed at those who are attacking his character.
“You get backlash every day,” Wallace said on CNN hours after the FBI and NASCAR announced the findings of their investigation. “I’m used to it. It stings a little bit worse when they’re trying to test your character … and try to take something away from me that’s false.
“But the backlash will always be there. It doesn’t matter if we provide 100 percent facts and evidence, photo evidence. People are going to Photoshop it to make me look like the bad person. At the end of the day, I will always have haters. I will always have the motivators to go out there and to try to dethrone me from the pedestal that I am on.”
That chat with Don Lemon on CNN was the first in what would become a chain of nationally broadcast interviews Wallace gave through Wednesday. Despite the driver’s repetition of the facts that explain why and how he was dragged into a hate crime-related controversy that was not what it appeared to be, many are still calling the incident a hoax and assigning blame to Wallace.
Below are some of the messages of pushback Wallace is receiving, and why they are so dangerously misguided.
“The noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage was a hoax.”
As the FBI and NASCAR confirmed in their statements Tuesday, a noose was in fact discovered in Wallace’s Talladega garage stall Sunday ahead of the weather-postponed Geico 500.
From NASCAR: “The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment.”
From the FBI: “On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway. After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed. The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week. The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”
Wallace on Wednesday’s episode of the “Dan Patrick Show” said an African-American crew member on his No. 43 team was the one who discovered the noose. Soon after, the crew member reported the noose to crew chief Jerry Baxter, who informed NASCAR.
“The last race we had had there in October, that noose was present, and the fact that it was not found until a member of the 43 team came there is something that is a fact,” NASCAR president Steve Phelps said during a conference call with media Tuesday. “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.”
NASCAR noted Tuesday that the No. 43 team “had nothing to do with” the noose prior to its discovery.
“(The crew member) was kind of outraged at how things were I guess concluded,” Wallace said. “He says, 100 percent, if he had seen it again, he would do it all over again and not hold back. He says in our section of the garage there were about 10 stalls. He said before he even said anything to our crew chief to report it, he walked up and down the garages to see if this was the same thing.
“He said that every other garage pull had no knot. Just a single piece of rope. And the picture I got from what they had eventually cut down and turned it into the FBI, it was simply in fact a noose. … The FBI backed that up 100 percent.”
Wallace on CNN cited a natural heightened sensitivity among all involved in the escalation of the noose finding Sunday given the circumstances. Almost two weeks after a Wallace-led push for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at all events and properties became successful, the race weekend at Talladega prompted protests from Confederate flag defenders, including a parade of trucks and motorcycles displaying the stars and bars outside the track on Saturday and a “Defund NASCAR” banner featuring the flag being flown by a plane over the track Sunday.
“Bubba Wallace is to blame.”
Wallace was not directly involved in the discovery and/or escalation of the noose in his garage stall at Talladega on Sunday.
Wallace during the CNN interview Tuesday night explained he was simply sitting in his motor home at the track Sunday evening after the race had been postponed to Monday, preparing to go out to dinner with fellow drivers, when Phelps called and said the two needed to speak in person.
Like all drivers, Wallace has specific orders to stay in his motor home while at the track as a coronavirus-related precaution. He has not been in a garage since NASCAR returned to live racing last month.
Wallace said the look on Phelps’ face when the NASCAR president arrived at the driver’s motor home confirmed something was wrong.
“I’m pissed. I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity.” – NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace on social media reaction to the conclusion of the FBI investigation into the noose found in his team’s garage https://t.co/YH4ynYqv64 pic.twitter.com/fB0m9Yj9FD
— CNN Tonight (@CNNTonight) June 24, 2020
“The conversation I had with Steve Phelps, and I’m speaking for him, I would say was probably one of the hardest things if not the hardest thing he’s ever had to tell somebody,” Wallace explained. “Tears rolling down his face. Choked up on every word that he was trying to say.
“The evidence that he had brought to me, that a hate crime was committed. I immediately thought my family was in danger. … But it was in the garage stall, where our car was at. So I was kind of taken back and not really comprehending everything. But the way that I was communicating with him, and Steve was communicating to me that everything was going on, it was a testament to him and showed the character he has and how he’s representing the sport.”
Added Wallace on the “Dan Patrick Show” regarding his reaction: “I told (the FBI during the investigation that) I questioned my crew chief and my crew member to make sure we were not jumping the gun, and they said absolutely they did the right thing. And if you’ve seen the pictures, you would back them up 100 percent.”
Wallace has said on multiple occasions he is relieved to learn a hate crime was not committed against him.
“But it’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try to debunk you,” he said Wednesday on NBC’s “Today.”
“It was not a noose.”
The FBI in its conclusive statement Tuesday defined the tied garage door pull string in question as a “noose” and mentioned the word three times in its release.
According to Wallace, the FBI told him it was “not a functioning noose,” but in fact a noose.
“I’ve been racing all my life,” Wallace said on CNN. “We’ve raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that. So people that want to call it a garage pull and put out all the videos and photos of knots being their evidence, go ahead.
“The FBI has stated it was a noose over and over again. NASCAR leadership has stated that it was a noose. I can confirm that I actually got evidence of what was hanging in my garage over my car, around my pit crew guys, to confirm that it was a noose. Never seen anything like it.
“I talked to my crew chief about it. I wanted to make sure we weren’t jumping the gun. I said, ‘This isn’t a knot, this isn’t just a regular old whatchacallit.’ He’s like, ‘Bubba, this isn’t something that can be done within a second of just tying a knot and being on the way. This is something that took time.’
“It was a noose. Whether it was tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. It wasn’t directed at me, but somebody tied a noose.”
Added Phelps regarding NASCAR’s decision to contact the FBI: “To be clear, we would do this again. Of the evidence that we had, it was clear that we needed to look into this.”
Bubba Wallace rope picture
For reference, below is a before-and-after photo of the rope in question. The picture, shared by The Athletic’s Jeff Gluck on Tuesday, shows what was left of the rope after the noose had been cut off amid the investigation.
Apologies for not knowing who originally created this image, but it has been making the rounds on Twitter and turned out to be correct. You can see in the left photo the rope was in noose form — apparently as a handle — last year and then cut for evidence Sunday. pic.twitter.com/MIrtF3uqtN
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) June 23, 2020
Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass also shared a photo from the fall of 2019 of the noose in the No. 4 Talladega garage stall.
Soon after the FBI and NASCAR concluded a hate crime had not been committed against Wallace because the noose had been in place since at least last fall, Wood Brothers Racing, the team that owns the No. 21 car (then driven by Paul Menard) that occupied the same garage stall in November of last year, released a statement confirming its role in the investigation.
“One of our employees alerted us (Monday) morning that, without knowing the detail of the incident, he recalled seeing a tied handle in the garage pull-down rope from last fall,” the statement read in part. “We immediately alerted NASCAR and have assisted with the investigation in every way possible.”
Who created the noose, and when and why it was formed, are details that remain unclear. NASCAR says it is still investigating the matter.