NASCAR on Thursday released a photo of the noose that was found last weekend in the Talladega Superspeedway garage stall assigned to Darrell Wallace Jr., the lone black driver in NASCAR’s premier series, following criticism that racing officials had overreacted.
“As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” Steve Phelps, the president of NASCAR, using Wallace’s nickname, told reporters in a telephone news conference on Thursday.
Federal officials said Tuesday that they had determined that Wallace, 26, had not been the target of a hate crime, forcing him into the position of defending himself from the baseless accusation that he or his racing team staged the incident to gain favorable publicity.
While NASCAR characterized the noose as a pull rope for a garage door that was “fashioned like a noose,” other people insisted it was just a rope with a handle. The statement from the Department of Justice called the rope a “noose.”
Phelps acknowledged that NASCAR’s own investigation was inconclusive. “We were unfortunately unable to determine with any certainty who tied this rope in this manner or why it was done,” he said.
He also said the sport had enhanced security for Wallace, was installing cameras in all NASCAR garages, and would require sensitivity training for NASCAR employees, in order to prevent any similar episodes in the future.
“We want everyone with a love for racing to feel welcomed and a part of our NASCAR family and our industry is going to protect our own against anyone that feels differently,” Phelps said.
The image was released two days after the authorities concluded that no federal crimes were committed.
The noose was discovered Sunday afternoon by a member of Wallace’s racing team, who alerted NASCAR officials, Phelps said. The organization then informed Wallace of the discovery and released a statement that evening calling it a “heinous act.” The following day, federal officials opened an investigation.
Jay E. Town, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Johnnie Sharp Jr., the head of the F.B.I.’s office in Birmingham, Ala., said that video footage showed the noose had been in the garage as early as October 2019, before anyone knew it would be assigned to Wallace for the Geico 500 on Monday.
“I think we’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternatives could have been,” he added.
The discovery of the noose came amid national protests over police brutality and systemic racism following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, and NASCAR’s recent ban of the Confederate battle flag from its events and properties. Wallace, who called for the ban, had also unveiled a “Black Lives Matter” message on his racecar this month.
On Thursday, Phelps defended his initial response.
“Should we have toned that message down slightly? Maybe we should have,” he said. “And I’ll take responsibility for that. I stand by the actions that we took and I think they were the right ones.”
As part of NASCAR’s investigation, 1,684 garage areas across 29 racetracks were inspected, he said. Only 11 pull-down ropes tied into a knot were found and only one of those — the one found in Wallace’s garage — was tied in a noose, he said.
Phelps said he was surprised by the results of the federal investigation, since he and others initially believed it may have been a hate crime.
He said he was troubled by the idea that several people saw the noose before it was brought to the attention of NASCAR officials.
“Odds are someone saw it and didn’t react negatively to it,” Phelps said. “So we need to make sure that doesn’t happen in the future.”
Juliet Macur and Alan Blinder contributed reporting.