Bubba Wallace steered the No. 43 to the front of pit road, NASCAR champion Kyle Busch pushing the famous car on one side and close friend Ryan Blaney pushing on the other.
The entire 40-driver field and all their crew members followed. After the car came to a stop, Wallace climbed out, sat on the window ledge and sobbed. Richard Petty, his Hall of Fame team owner, gently placed a hand on Wallace’s shoulder.
As federal authorities descended on Talladega Superspeedway on Monday to investigate the discovery of a noose in Wallace’s garage stall, the entire industry rallied around the Cup Series’ only Black driver.
“The news has disturbed us all and of course we want justice and know who and why,” said seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. “And we want to stand with our friend.”
The 82-year-old Petty, at his first race since the coronavirus pandemic began and at Talladega on race day for the first time in more than 10 years, stood side by side with Wallace during the national anthem before Monday’s rain-postponed event. Everyone stood behind the car while Brad Keselowski held the American flag at the front of the display of solidarity.
The idea to stand with Wallace started with Johnson, while former series champion Kevin Harvick suggested they all push the car to the front of the grid, Wallace said.
One by one, after the anthem, they hugged Wallace. He then had a long embrace with Petty.
And then he went racing.
It was Wallace who successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues less than two weeks ago and he was the target when the noose was found hanging in the Richard Petty Motorsports garage stall Sunday afternoon at the Alabama track. A member of Wallace’s crew reported it to NASCAR, and by Monday morning U.S. Attorney Jay Town said his office, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division were involved.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said security has been stepped up for Wallace — his team was also granted unusual access to its car Monday morning to ensure it had not been tampered with overnight — and the FBI was “currently on site” at the track.
The stock car series has tried to distance itself from the flag for years at the risk of alienating a core group of its fan base. At Wallace’s urging, it went ahead with the ban as the nation grapples with social unrest largely tied to George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.
NASCAR has not outlined how it will enforce the restriction and this week’s race at Talladega, in the heart of the South, presented the series with its biggest test in the early going. Disgruntled fans with Confederate flags drove past the main entrance to the track all weekend and a plane flew above the track Sunday pulling a banner of the flag that read “Defund NASCAR.”
Petty said in a statement he was “enraged” by the “filthy act” of racism. Retired champion Jeff Gordon called it a “cowardly” act while retired champion and current team owner Tony Stewart seethed in a social media post: “Angry. Outraged. Disappointed. Those words don’t fully describe how I feel. #IStandWithBubba and I’ll damn sure stand up to anyone who engages in this kind of behavior.”
Phelps said he was the one who told Wallace about the noose.
“It was a difficult moment for Bubba, a difficult moment for me,” he said. “He’s handled it with the grace that he has handled everything that’s happened over the last few weeks.”
The 26-year-old Wallace has not commented since a statement on social media late Sunday in which he declared: “T his will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.”
Wallace has worn a shirt that says “I Can’t Breathe” over his firesuit and sported a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in a race last month in Martinsville, Virginia.
Under strict new health guidelines, a very limited number of people can access the garage. That would include crew members for each of the 40 teams, NASCAR employees, Talladega staff members and any contracted safety crews or security guards.
Phelps declined to discuss whether cameras in the garage area might have captured anything of value but noted NASCAR has an approved list of who is allowed access that has been turned over to authorities.
“It will be part of what the FBI is looking at,” he said.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel: https://bit.ly/2TwO8Gm
QUICKTAKE ON SOCIAL:
Follow QuickTake on Twitter: twitter.com/quicktake
Like QuickTake on Facebook: facebook.com/quicktake
Follow QuickTake on Instagram: instagram.com/quicktake
Subscribe to our newsletter: https://bit.ly/2FJ0oQZ
Email us at [email protected]
QuickTake by Bloomberg is a global news network delivering up-to-the-minute analysis on the biggest news, trends and ideas for a new generation of leaders.