The investigation into a crew member’s discovery of a rope tied into a noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall reached an unexpected outcome on Tuesday when the FBI and the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama said they found that the noose had been in Wallace’s garage stall since NASCAR last visited Talladega Superspeedway in October of 2019 and no federal charges would be filed.
It was, according to NASCAR president Steve Phelps, “the best result we could hope for” as the sanctioning body feared that the noose could have been put in Wallace’s stall by someone with nefarious intentions inside the industry.
After all, Monday’s rain-delayed event was the first Cup Series race at the famed Alabama track since NASCAR banned Confederate flags from flying at its track properties. Wallace, the only Black driver racing full-time in NASCAR, had advocated for that ban and recently drove a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville.
As 15 FBI agents investigated the noose the crew member discovered in Wallace’s garage stall, drivers pushed the No. 43 car down pit road and stood with Wallace for pre-race ceremonies in a show of solidarity for the driver urging them all to be more outspoken for societal change.
And while no one will face criminal charges or the potential lifetime ban from NASCAR that it threatened Sunday night, the lack of charges means only that no one will face criminal charges after Sunday’s discovery.
It doesn’t mean that 15 FBI agents were called in to investigate a hoax. If a lack of charges automatically equaled a hoax, then every federal, state and local investigation that didn’t produce charging documents would be based on a hoax. We all know that’s not the case.
And on a more human level, why the hell would Phelps call Wallace Sunday afternoon to tell him about the noose and put one of its breakout mainstream stars through an emotional and draining 48 hours to push a con on the sporting world? It wouldn’t. No one would do that.
This wasn’t a hoax. The FBI and the U.S. Attorney wouldn’t directly reference the noose three times in their statement if it was. NASCAR’s stated truth is and has always been that a crew member on Wallace’s team discovered a noose in his garage stall.
What’s also obvious is the severity with which NASCAR approached the Sunday discovery. Phelps said in a phone call with reporters Tuesday evening that the sanctioning body wouldn’t do anything differently if it got a do-over.
“[Wallace’s team] had nothing to do with this,” Phelps said. “The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously. 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 didn’t take questions in his statement to reporters and said a NASCAR investigation into the noose’s origins is ongoing. When that investigation is complete, NASCAR needs to be even more transparent than it was Sunday night when it announced the noose’s discovery.
Phelps added in a statement after his phone call that the garage rope in stall 4 — Wallace’s stall — was the only garage bay that had a rope fashioned into a noose. And shortly after the FBI and U.S. Attorney Jay Town said there would be no charges, Wood Brothers Racing said it occupied the same garage stall in October and a crew member remembered seeing a rope tied in that fashion.
That memory, the team said, came Monday morning as NASCAR and the FBI were investigating the Sunday discovery. It likely helped lead to Tuesday’s decision.
As one of the few Black drivers who have made it to NASCAR’s top level, Wallace has always been aware of his unique place in a series with deep Southern roots. He has seen the Confederate flags at tracks for much of his life. And as the only Black driver racing full-time today, the events in NASCAR and around the world over the past three months have weighed on him more than others.
He was one of the few drivers who spoke out in April after Kyle Larson said the n-word during a virtual race and was subsequently fired from Chip Ganassi Racing. He said he told Larson that the word came out of his mouth too easily.
As most drivers stayed publicly quiet when Larson disappeared from the Cup Series, that same silence could have been on display again after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. But when protests happened all across the country against racial injustice, Wallace pushed his fellow competitors to speak out about systemic racism and inequality.
His efforts were so successful that drivers recorded a video before the June 7 race at Atlanta and Phelps’ addressed the sanctioning body’s diversity shortcomings in a pre-race speech that preceded a moment of silence.
Wallace knew that his push to speak out more would come with some pushback. There was a vocal segment of NASCAR’s fanbase upset about the decision to prohibit Confederate flags. And he had previously admitted after the flag ban that he would probably have to be more careful when he went into the infield at race tracks when fans returned.
Talladega, a place where fans have long flown Confederate flags in the infield, was always likely to be a site of some of the most vigorous pushback. Even with limited grandstand attendance available for Monday’s race, the region’s history makes it entirely understandable why NASCAR would take the discovery of a rope tied like a noose with the utmost seriousness. It could have easily investigated the rope’s presence itself and kept that investigation under wraps.
It didn’t. While you may think Tuesday’s revelation that the noose was there for nine months makes NASCAR’s preliminary investigation look foolish, the public support Wallace has received from NASCAR and his competitors in his push against systemic racism is real. And anything but foolish.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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