The FBI concluded Tuesday that no federal hate crime was committed last weekend targeting Richard Petty Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway.
A joint statement from U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. released Tuesday afternoon determined that a noose knot had been in Cup Series garage stall No. 4 — which had been assigned to the Petty No. 43 team last weekend — since at least last October and that no federal charges would be pursued.
NASCAR followed the joint statement with its own remarks Tuesday, stating that photographic evidence confirmed that the knotted rope used as a garage door pull had been in place before last weekend. A NASCAR spokesperson said that the No. 4 space in the Cup Series garage was the only stall found with the door pull fashioned into a noose.
“This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment,” the NASCAR statement read in part. “We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.”
Wallace, the Cup Series’ lone Black driver, has become more outspoken in recent weeks as he has championed causes to fight racial injustice. Other drivers in the NASCAR garage have rallied behind his message and showed their support Monday before the GEICO 500 at Talladega.
“I was relieved just like many others to know that it wasn’t targeted towards me,” Wallace said on Wednesday’s Today Show on NBC. “But it’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try to debunk you. And that’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around now, from (people) saying I’m a fake and that I reported it when it was news that was brought to me, it was information that was brought to me that was already reported.”
Wallace also posted the following statement on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon that reads as follows:
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 24, 2020
RPM posted a statement on Twitter Tuesday night as well. It read as follows:
— Richard Petty Motorsports (@RPMotorsports) June 23, 2020
NASCAR President Steve Phelps thanked the U.S. Attorney’s office and FBI on Tuesday evening for their “very swift and thorough work.” Eric Nyquist, NASCAR senior vice president and chief communications officer, said that the sanctioning body’s own investigation was continuing and that Phelps would provide another update at a later date.
“For us at NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for,” Phelps said in a teleconference. “It was disturbing to hear that it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act. It is fantastic to hear from the FBI definitively that there was not a hate crime.
“I do want to make sure everyone understands that if given the evidence that we had delivered to us on Saturday night or late Saturday afternoon, we would do the same thing. We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do. There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred. It’s not part of who we are as a sport.”
Phelps provided a timeline of events, saying that a Richard Petty Motorsports crew member initially found the noose-shaped pull, then brought it to the attention of RPM No. 43 crew chief Jerry Baxter. NASCAR Cup Series director Jay Fabian was then notified, and investigators were later brought in. NASCAR released a statement about the initial findings late Sunday night.
The next day, when news of the initial findings spread, the other 39 drivers in the field pushed Wallace’s No. 43 to the top of the starting grid for Monday’s rain-delayed race, then stood shoulder to shoulder to show their resolve. Phelps said that for him, Tuesday’s conclusion did not dampen that show of support.
“Yesterday to me as a sport was one of the most important days we’ve had,” Phelps said. “It’s one of the most kind of indelible prints on my mind until the day I die, seeing the support that Bubba had from not just the drivers but all the crews, all the officials who were down in pit road, anyone who was part of that footprint. Everyone wanted to show their support for a family member of NASCAR. We are one big family. We are one large community. And everyone’s belief is that someone was attacking a member of our family.
“It turned out that that was not the case, but at the time that’s what our industry thought, so drivers, crew, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.”