NASCAR confirms photo of rope fashioned as noose found in Bubba Wallace’s Talladega garage stall

NASCAR has confirmed this photo of the garage pull-down rope in the formation of a noose that was hanging Sunday in the Bubba Wallace garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway.

A Richard Petty Motorsports crewman found the noose and notified Wallace crew chief Jerry Baxter, who took a photo of the noose before it was cut down.

NASCAR called the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday, and 15 agents went to the track to talk to crew members prior to the race, which had been postponed from Sunday because of rain. The FBI announced Tuesday that the investigation determined the noose was in the stall as early as October 2019.

A snapshot from a video I took Oct. 14 of that garage stall shows the presence of the rope.

Wallace is the only Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, and concerns over his safety have increased in the last three weeks as he advocated for NASCAR to ban the Conference flag. NASCAR announced the ban June 10.

After the FBI’s announcement, Wallace tweeted a statement.

The new Cup garage at Talladega Superspeedway was built in 2019. NASCAR has said that other garage pull ropes it examined Sunday night were not tied in that formation.

“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,” NASCAR said in a statement Tuesday.

“This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba.”

NASCAR hoped the release of the photo would help convince any doubters that Wallace’s crew member had overreacted when seeing the noose or that NASCAR should have been more skeptical. The crew member who found the noose is Black, Wallace confirmed Wednesday to ESPN.

“As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Thursday.

Phelps said Thursday that the sanctioning body has checked all 29 tracks where it has national series events and 1,684 garage stalls. Only 11 had knots in a pull-down rope and only one – the one at Talladega – had a knot shaped as a noose. He said he did not know if it was a functioning noose.

“I saw the picture and obviously it looks like a noose, and I’m no expert on nooses,” Phelps said. “I’m sure there are experts out there that would suggest that it functions or it can’t function. I just don’t know.”

Phelps said the noose was not in that formation at the beginning of the October race weekend but it was by the end of the weekend. They do not know who tied it, why it was tied, and why no one reported it.

NASCAR owns Talladega Superspeedway. Phelps couldn’t estimate how many people could have seen it since October. Teams don’t use the garage stall much – and possibly not at all if they have no tech issues – during single-day race weekends under COVID-19 protocols.

But tracks are often used for other events other than races and obviously, maintenance is done to them, so it is still puzzling that no one reported it. Phelps did not have an explanation why no one was alarmed and said NASCAR will mandate that all industry members complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training.

“Odds are that someone saw it and didn’t react negatively to it,” Phelps said. “We need to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future. We can sweep garages for nooses, which we will do, but we need to do better as an industry.”

Phelps did say that NASCAR should have used the word “alleged” in its statement – a statement that called it a “heinous act” Sunday night – and that NASCAR possibly should not have taken as strong a tone.

“Should we have toned that message down slightly?” Phelps said. “Maybe we should have. And I’ll take responsibility for that. I stand by the actions that we took and I think they were the right ones.

“Given the evidence that we had, we would do the same thing. We would investigate it the same way. If it comes to where we need to craft a statement differently, and I need to take a little emotion out of it, that’s something I’ll do.”

Security will be increased around Wallace.

“We need to keep Bubba safe – we need to keep a member of our family safe,” Phelps said.

Teams don’t work in the garage much during the current COVID-19 race day format where they roll off the truck, go through tech and push the car to the grid. They only spend significant time in a garage stall if they fail tech or need to fix something during the race.

Wallace, speaking Tuesday night on CNN, said he has never seen a garage pull rope in that shape and that his crew chief, Jerry Baxter, told him it was not something that could be confused with a regular knot in a rope in the garage.

Wood Brothers Racing had that garage stall last October.

“One of our employees alerted us yesterday morning that, without knowing the details of the incident, he recalled seeing a tied handle in the garage pull-down rope from last fall,” Wood Brothers Racing said in a statement.

“We immediately alerted NASCAR and have assisted the investigation in every way possible.”

Here is a timeline of recent events involving Wallace and NASCAR.

June 1: Wallace and NASCAR pledged to advocate for change when it comes to racism and racial inequality.

June 7: At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Wallace wore a shirt that said “I Can’t Breathe,” a NASCAR official took a knee during the national anthem, and several drivers contributed to a video put together by Wallace and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson stating that they would advocate for change.

There was also a moment of silence prior to the start of the race followed by NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressing the teams about NASCAR’s commitment for change.

June 8: A day after Atlanta, Wallace appeared on CNN and called for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag.

June 10: NASCAR banned the Confederate flag:

“The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.”

That same day at Martinsville, Wallace ran a “Black Lives Matter” paint scheme in what he called the “biggest race” of his career.

June 21: Protesters with Confederate flags were outside, off of track property, at Talladega, and a plane flew by the track with the Confederate flag and the message “Defund NASCAR” prior to Sunday’s scheduled race.

The race was postponed to Monday because of rain, before NASCAR released a statement at approximately 10:45 p.m. ET about the discovery of the noose.

June 22: With many in the NASCAR community believing the act was intentionally aimed at Wallace, drivers, crew members, and the entire garage gathered around the No. 43 30 minutes before Monday’s Geico 500.

At 2:45 p.m., they pushed the vehicle to the front of the starting grid. The video of the emotional moment quickly became the most-viewed tweet in FOX Sports history.

Wallace moved into the lead with 28 laps to go before finishing 14th.

June 23: At 5:15 p.m. ET, the FBI issued its statement about the garage door pull rope that had been fashioned into a noose.

After the FBI’s investigation was concluded, the NASCAR world, including Wallace crew member Freddie Kraft, expressed its relief.

June 25: NASCAR confirms the photo of the rope fashioned into a noose in the No. 4 garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway.

This is a developing story.