Sunday was the typical slow sports day that we’ve come to experience during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama postponed until Monday because of rain. But late Sunday night came word of act of racism at the garage of Richard Petty Motorsports and driver Bubba Wallace, the only black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. NASCAR announced that a noose was found in the garage of Wallace and RPM and that an investigation is underway.
Both the team and NASCAR are moving quickly to try and find out who committed this heinous act.
“I just spoke with NASCAR President Steve Phelps,” said RPM owner Andrew Murstein early Monday morning. “They will be working with law enforcement and I am confident they will get to the bottom of it. I have walked the garage area, pit road and the infield with (Richard Petty) at Talladega and most of the fans are great. Unfortunately, those with hate in their hearts make their actions and thoughts known. These days, just as in the past, that hate could happen anywhere. However, these days, even more so than in the past, love will quickly and overwhelmingly continue to prevail.”
After Wallace, who drives the iconic 43 Chevrolet for RPM, had asked for the removal of the Confederate Flag from all tracks, races, and events, NASCAR banned the controversial flag. But outside the track on Sunday, there were vehicles along the street that runs past the speedway that had the flags waving and flying. There was also a crop-duster that was carrying the confederate flag that also had the words “Defund NASCAR”.
And now NASCAR is dealing with the act of racism towards Bubba.
“We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” said NASCAR 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 did not see the noose that was found by a member of the 43 team and subsequently brought to the attention of NASCAR.
“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,” said Wallace in a statement he posted on Twitter late Sunday night.
“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,” added Wallace. “I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”
Richard Petty Motorsports hired Wallace in 2018 to be the first full-time African-American driver at the highest level of NASCAR since Wendell Scott in 1971. This season, Wallace has been enjoying success in the NASCAR Cup Series including an 11th place finish in Martinsville, a 6th place finish in Las Vegas, and a 13th place finish at Homestead.
But as many across the nation have been protesting against systemic racism, Sunday’s incident has stunned RPM and the whole NASCAR community.
“I’m shocked and saddened,” said Murstein. “My first thought was actually about Hank Aaron. Henry is a good friend and I just told Bubba a few days ago how that Henry was so proud of everything he was doing. Hank went through something very similar when he was breaking Babe Ruth’s record. You would like to think that the country has changed for the better in the last 40 plus years. Unfortunately, in many ways, it hasn’t.”
Sunday’s postponed race was pushed back to a 3pm eastern time start on Monday. 5,000 people had tickets for the race on Sunday marking the first time that many fans have been in attendance for a NASCAR race since the sport returned in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. There will be many eyes on Bubba Wallace to see how he responds following Sunday’s incident. There will also be many eyes focused on trying to find out who was responsible.