In the wake of NASCAR banning the Confederate flag earlier this month, the crew of league's only top black driver, Bubba Wallace, found a noose hanging in his garage at Talledega over the weekend.
"Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act," NASCAR said in a statement. "We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.
"As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all."
Wallace never saw the noose, ESPN's Marty Smith reported. It was first seen by a member of Wallace's team, who immediately brought it to the attention of NASCAR, Smith reported. NASCAR told Fox Sports that it will work with law enforcement.
Wallace, an Alabama native who drives the No. 43 Chevrolet for racing icon Richard Petty, said in a statement that he was "incredibly saddened" by the act.
"Today's despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism," Wallace wrote on Twitter. "Over the last several weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the support from people across the NASCAR industry, including other drivers and team members in the garage. Together, our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone.
"Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate. As my mother told me today, "They are just trying to scare you." This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in."
NASCAR has spent years trying to distance itself from the Confederate flag, long a part of its moonshine-running roots from its founding more than 70 years ago. Five years ago, former chairman Brian France tried to ban flying the flags at tracks, a proposal that was not enforced and largely ignored.
This year was different, and it was Wallace who led the charge, calling for the sanctioning body to prohibit the flag.
But outside the track on Sunday, vehicles waving and flying Confederate flags lined the boulevard running past the massive speedway, and a plane flew above the track towing a banner of the Confederate flag that read, "Defund NASCAR."
Here's the thing though: given the tight security and COVID-19 protocols at races right now, especially at a facility the size of Talledega Superspeedway, it had to be an inside job, as Deadspin's Eric Barrow surmises.
As to the question of who did it, NASCAR likely won’t need to go very far, as the noose was found in a secure area where access is only made available to race team members, NASCAR officials, track workers, as well as, security, medical and safety personnel, according to a source. Garage stalls are off limits to the public.
“We’re not working under any assumptions just yet,” said the source.
Cameras are stationed throughout the garage, though not in every stall. The source confirmed NASCAR officials are reviewing all videos.
According to the source, NASCAR is working with law enforcement as the placing of a noose would likely be considered a criminal hate crime in Alabama.
We'll see soon, I suspect. The suspect, that is. The DoJ is looking into the case as well.