Bubba Wallace prepares for the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday in Talladega, Alabama. A noose was found in the garage stall of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway a week after the organization banned the Confederate flag at its facilities. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Bubba Wallace prepares for the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday in Talladega, Alabama. A noose was found in the garage stall of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway a week after the organization banned the Confederate flag at its facilities. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

What’s known about the FBI, NASCAR probe of noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage

By Alex Andrejev

The Charlotte Observer

The FBI is now reviewing a case in which a noose was found in the car garage of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace — the only Black driver in the sport’s top series — on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Law enforcement officials said they are reviewing the situation to determine whether the act violates federal law while NASCAR conducts its own investigation.

“The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Alabama, FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are reviewing the situation surrounding the noose that was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage to determine whether there are violations of federal law,” U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town said in a statement. “Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society.”

NASCAR president Steve Phelps addressed the media Monday afternoon to provide details about NASCAR’s investigation, although he noted the investigation is still in the “early stages.”

Phelps said that a crew member from Wallace’s No. 43 team discovered a noose in the team’s garage stall late Sunday afternoon and informed the sanctioning body. The Sunday race at Talladega was scheduled for 3 p.m. but was postponed to Monday afternoon due to lightning and rain in the area. Drivers were never called to their cars.

NASCAR security then got involved and the sport’s senior leaders met to determine next steps, Phelps said.

“The first thing was to launch an immediate investigation into this heinous act,” Phelps said. “As part of that, (Monday) morning at 7:30, we notified the Birmingham office of the FBI, and they are currently on site and they started their investigation.”

The FBI office in Birmingham referred The Observer to Town’s statement and declined to elaborate further on the case when contacted for comment Monday morning.

Phelps said that part of the FBI’s investigation includes looking at footage from the cameras located in the team garage, but he declined to reveal specifics about the number of cameras and what the footage showed. He also said that NASCAR is reviewing the list of limited individuals who had access to that area with the FBI.

“We have a very small number of people that are in the footprint,” Phelps said, referring to the garage stall area. “Only essential personnel who was there.”

Since the sport returned amid the coronavirus pandemic in May, NASCAR has restricted access to the infield and limited the number of individuals permitted at the track. Although Sunday’s race at Talladega allowed 5,000 fans into the grandstands, fans were not granted access to the infield or garages.

Only crew members for the 40 Cup Series teams, essential NASCAR and track employees and security were allowed in the area under the coronavirus protocols. One NASCAR team member who was at the track but asked not to be identified told The Observer that the walkway through the Cup area was open for ARCA Series teams to get to pit road before Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, allowing track and NASCAR officials, security, as well as ARCA teams access to the area, although it is unclear if the garage building was locked at the time.

Phelps also added that while he couldn’t deny that a security breech was possible. He said “the security around getting into the footprint is significant” and that NASCAR was “going to use every effort we can determine who has done this, whether a single person or multiple people” and that individual will be unequivocally banned from NASCAR for life.

“There’s no room for this at all,” Phelps said. “And we won’t tolerate it. And they won’t be here.”

The FBI office in Birmingham was instructed to “use all their resources” by the FBI director to find the individual(s) responsible, according to Phelps.

Lincoln, Ala., mayor Lew Watson told The Observer that the city does not have law enforcement jurisdiction in the area, although the Talladega track is located there. He said his office was not contacted by any NASCAR, track or law enforcement officials regarding the case but “if they call on us for assistance, we’d be glad to help,” Watson said. He noted that there is coordination between the superspeedway and the city.

“We’re hoping that as many cameras that are out there, hopefully somebody can see something going on,” Watson said. “And that’s kind of a restricted area, so it’s not like just anybody could do this.”

Alabama governor Kay Ivey released a statement Monday apologizing to the driver, a native of Mobile, Ala. and his family and friends “for the hurt this has caused.”

“Racism and threats of this nature will not be condoned nor tolerated, and I commit to assisting in any way possible to ensure that the person responsible for this is caught and punished,” Ivey’s statement said. “While the important conversation of racial reconciliation is ongoing all over our country, it is clear there is much work to do.”

NASCAR allowed Wallace’s No. 43 team to check its Chevrolet Camaro on Monday morning to ensure it was not tampered with. Wallace never saw the noose, and Phelps said he was the one who informed the No. 43 driver about the act of hate.

“It’s a difficult moment for Bubba,” Phelps said. “It’s a difficult moment for me, but he has handled it with the grace that he has handled everything that has happened over the last few weeks.”

Celebrity athletes both inside and outside the sport, including the NBA’s LeBron James and NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, have also responded to the incident, showing support for Wallace, as the hashtag #IStandWithBubba takes off on Twitter.

Wallace’s Richard Petty Motorsports team owner Richard Petty said in a statement Monday that he was “enraged” by the “filthy” act and that he stands “shoulder to shoulder with Bubba, yesterday, today, tomorrow and everyday forward.”

“The sick person who perpetrated this act must be found, exposed, and swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR,” Petty said in a statement. “I believe in my heart this despicable act is not representative of the competitors I see each day in the NASCAR garage area. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Bubba yesterday, today, tomorrow, and every day forward.”

The 82-year-old team owner will reportedly attend the rescheduled race at Talladega this afternoon to show his support for his driver, who has been with the team since 2017. This will be the first race NASCAR Hall of Fame member Petty will attend since the series resumed on May 17th during the coronavirus pandemic.

Drivers are also expected to display their support by pushing Wallace’s No. 43 car to the front of the grid in unison and stand around the car for the national anthem, according to a report by Frontstretch. Track workers are also painting a sign that reads “#IStandWithBubba” on the infield grass.

“This is a family that needs to take care of one of its family members who’s been attacked,” Phelps said, adding that NASCAR is stepping up security at the track. “And we will firmly support, as an industry, as a family and community, to make sure Bubba and anyone else in this sport is safe.”