NASCAR president Steve Phelps spoke to the media for the second time in just three days to address the issue that has taken all the air out of the announcement that the racing giant was banning the Confederate flag from NASCAR property: The noose found on NASCAR property.
Phelps explained that the noose, discovered at Talladega Superspeedway in the No. 4 garage stall of Bubba Wallace — the only Black driver of the sport’s top tier — had been used as a garage-door pull, and had been there as far back as October of last year, according to video evidence. What they also learned from examining video, Phelps said, is that the noose was made during a NASCAR event back in October. But by whom and for what reason, NASCAR does not know.
The team that used that No. 4 stall in October, according to Phelps, was Wood Brothers Racing. But despite cameras, no member of that team was identified as having fashioned the noose.
“We were unfortunately unable to determine with any certainty who tied this rope in this manner or why it was done,” said Phelps.
Phelps delivered a timeline of events, stating that the noose, discovered by one of Wallace’s team members, was reported to NASCAR at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. NASCAR’s initial investigation revealed the garage-door pull, was indeed a noose, and had not been used on any other garage at Talladega in Alabama
“Upon learning of and seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver,” said Phelps. “We’re living in a highly charged and emotional time. What we saw was a symbol of hate and was only present in one area of the garage, that of the 43 car of Bubba Wallace.”
Part of NASCAR’s investigation involved checking all the garage stalls at all the race tracks NASCAR uses. According to Phelps, of the 1,684 garage stalls, only 11 had garage pulls with knots at the end, and there was only one noose.
“The one discovered on Sunday in Bubba Wallace’s garage,” said Phelps.
“People want to call it a garage-pull, and put out old videos and photos of knots, as their evidence,” said Wallace on CNN Tuesday night. “But from the evidence that we have, that I have, it’s a straight-up noose.
So, of the 1,684 garage stalls used by NASCAR drivers, a noose was discovered in just one, Bubba Wallace’s. Those are worse odds than the Warriors winning a championship this year and they’re already eliminated.
“It was surprising for our entire industry that we’re trying to point towards solving for what we believe was — it was an alleged hate crime, right?” said Phelps. “So that’s what we were solving for. And then to have it be, hey, this is something that actually was coincidental, that’s a very difficult thing to try to get to.”
If you believe this account, it is quite a coincidence. Otherwise it’s a hate crime directed at one of their drivers, likely committed by someone with NASCAR security clearance.
“Moving forward we’ll be conducting thorough sweeps of the garage area to ensure nothing like this happens again,” said Phelps.
Phelps says additional cameras will be installed in all garages and will mandate that all NASCAR members have sensitivity and unconscious bias training.
Phelps understands that while this may not be an issue of a federal hate crime directed at Wallace, he’s the head of a sport that has an issue with race, hence the sensitivity and unconscious bias training.
His conference call with the media Thursday was quite different than the one he held Tuesday. Most notably reporters were allowed to ask questions, and his tone was different as well. Tuesday, he was nearly doing cartwheels about the fact that, according to the feds, the noose was not used to racially target Bubba Wallace, but instead had been there for months and thus all was OK. Phelps characterized the report as the “this is the best result we could hope for.”
Except someone still had fashioned a noose out of a garage-pull, and no one said a word and no one knows who did it.
The Confederate flag was banned from the NASCAR facilities, but the house of NASCAR needs disinfecting, too.
“Going forward, our efforts are best spent on making sure every competitor feels safe and every guest feels welcome,” said Phelps. “I would also like to reinforce that we did see at Talladega in pre‑race on Monday our drivers, crews and officials proudly demonstrated that we are united in the belief that there is no place for racism in our sport.”
Phelps also wanted to make it clear that neither Bubba Wallace nor any member of his team had anything to do with the presence of the noose and that this was by no means a hoax.
“Bubba Wallace and the 43 team had nothing to do with this,” said Phelps. “Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity. It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise, and frankly it’s further evidence as to how far we still need to go as a society.”
This is all well and good, but Steve Phelps and NASCAR have a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to addressing the noose in the room.