A federal investigation has been launched into the person(s) responsible for leaving a noose in the garage stall occupied by the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 driven by Bubba Wallace—the only full-time Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.
The incident took place at some point on Sunday during the rain delay that eventually postponed the Geico 500.
NASCAR has launched an investigation and is working with the Birmingham, Alabama, branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
While the person(s) responsible has yet to be identified, NASCAR president Steve Phelps conducted a media teleconference before the race on Monday afternoon to detail the timeline of events leading up to the official opening of an investigation.
"As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR," Phelps said in his opening remarks. "This act only strengthens our resolve to make this sport open and welcoming to all."
NASCAR vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell said the sport was "in a better place" as a result of the banning of the Confederate flag.
A majority of drivers have spoken out in support of that decision.
"Late yesterday afternoon a crew member from the 43 team discovered a noose in the No. 43 garage stall," Phelps said. "That crew member informed NASCAR. NASCAR security got involved. I got a small group of senior leaders in the sport at NASCAR together to try to determine what the next steps would be.
"First thing was to launch an immediate investigation into this heinous act. As part of that, we this morning at 7:30 notified the Birmingham office of the FBI. They are currently on-site. They've started their investigation."
No. 43’s team owner, legendary seven-time champion Richard Petty, flew into Talladega overnight to attend his first race since the coronavirus pandemic began. He offered the following statement before the race began.
"I’m enraged by the act of someone placing a noose in the garage stall of my race team," Petty said. "There is absolutely no place in our sport or our society for racism. This filthy act serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to eradicate racial prejudice and it galvanizes my resolve to use the resources of Richard Petty Motorsports to create change.
"The sick person who perpetrated this act must be found, exposed, and swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR. 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."
Petty walked with Wallace side by side as the entire garage pushed the No. 43 to the front of the grid before the race on Monday. Led by reigning and defending champion Kyle Busch, every driver stood around Wallace in support of the 26-year-old and for justice and equality.
The show of unity was orchestrated by drivers in their group text message thread. Crew members followed suit when they were made aware of the plan on Monday morning. NASCAR officials joined the show of solidarity towards the front of pit road.
#ISTANDWITHBUBBA has been painted on the infield grass at entrance to pit road. NASCAR has increased security around Wallace for events moving forward.
Phelps was the one who notified Wallace about the noose discovered in his garage stall. The driver never saw it.
"We want to make sure that Bubba is safe," Phelps said. "We have stepped up security. Again, this is a family that needs to take care of one of its family members who has been attacked. We will firmly support as an industry, as a family and community, to make sure Bubba and everyone else in this sport is safe …
"Again, we're going to use all the means, resources at our disposal and those of the FBI to make sure this person or persons are caught swiftly and severely."
The most important takeaways from Phelps's press conference can be found below.
WHO WAS PERMITTED IN THE TALLADEGA GARAGE AREA?
Only team members, NASCAR officials, and select track workers were permitted into the track due to the coronavirus restrictions. Drivers are not allowed to leave their motorhomes until the minutes before pre-race festivities.
"As you are aware, we have a very small number of people that are in the footprint, only essential personnel there," Phelps said. "Obviously we'll review the entire list with the FBI about who had access at that particular time.
"We also use something called 'compartmentalization.' We'll look at who was in that particular area. We'll be able to narrow that down.
"Again, getting into the specifics about what the FBI is going to do working with our security people, it's kind of too early to determine. I don't have access to the information at this point."
Phelps is not sure if the security was airtight, and it’s something the FBI will continue to investigate.
"I can't say 'no' for certain," Phelps said. "The security around getting into the footprint is significant. As I'm sure you guys are aware, we have limited it just to essential personnel. Security is very tight getting in and out of the footprint.
"I can't speculate whether there would be a breach or not."
HOW MANY CAMERAS WERE ON IN THE GARAGE?
NASCAR would not immediately confirm how many cameras were operating in the Talladega Superspeedway garage area.
"We're not going to get into the specifics about the number of cameras, what is on the cameras, how many," Phelps said. "We will collect all that information. It will be obviously part of what the FBI is looking at.
"Again, as details become available that we can share, we will share. But too early to get into specifics around video usage or what we were able to capture on video."
WHAT PUNISHMENT WILL THOSE RESPONSIBLE FACE?
It’s currently unclear what crimes may have been violated in the state of Alabama. However, Phelps made it clear those responsible will never work in the sport again upon identification.
"Unequivocally they will be banned from this sport for life," Phelps said. "There is no room for this at all. We won't tolerate it. They won't be here. I don't care who they are, they will not be here.
"I had the opportunity to speak with the King this morning. He and I met in person. He is resolved, and his team, to figure out how we work together to get this solved and figure out the person who did this act."