Good morning, friends. I’ve got something here I don’t quite know what to do with. It’s a small box, and it’s labeled … HOPE? What even is that? Anyone remember?
Even if you’re not a NASCAR fan — and, chances are, you’re not — you’ve probably heard about the seismic goings-on in the sport over the past few days. The sport banned the Confederate flag from its tracks — yes, in 2020, we’ll get back to that — and then, in Talladega over the weekend, all hell broke loose.
Sunday featured a pre-race procession of trucks bearing the Confederate flag, plus a plane towing a banner that featured the flag and “DEFUND NASCAR.” Then, late Sunday night, officials reported that a noose had been found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver at the sport’s highest level.
A noose. In 2020.
Where’s the hopeful part, you ask? Hang on, I’m getting to that.
Monday morning, I wrote that this is a key moment for NASCAR — a chance for the sport to distance itself from its racist elements. And I wrote that the drivers have to take a key role in casting out hate.
Monday afternoon, before the rain-delayed race, drivers did exactly that, stepping up in unison and in force in a way you don’t often see in any sport. They escorted Wallace’s car to the start of the grid, then ringed him in a show of support that brought tears to Wallace’s eyes.
The race could have been an afterthought, but — as is typical in Talladega — it was a banger. In fact, Wallace was in third place with just a few laps remaining. He faded — he had to make a pit stop or risk running out of fuel — but he was in the conversation right until the end.
Ryan Blaney won the race, but the most significant moment of the day came when Wallace walked over to a contingent of Black fans to welcome them to the track and thank them for their support.
“I’m proud to stand where I’m at,” he said. “I wanted to show whoever it was [that left the noose] that you’re not going to take away my smile, and I’m going to keep on going.”
You’re not going to take away my smile. In a year that’s had precious little to smile about, Bubba Wallace just gave us one hell of a rallying cry. And if you became a new NASCAR fan just now, you're not alone.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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