A noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday afternoon, NASCAR announced. Wallace is NASCAR’s only black full-time driver and recently led the push to ban the Confederate flag from NASCAR events.
The race itself — the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 — was postponed until Monday due to rain.
“We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” NASCAR said in a statement Sunday night. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.”
In a statement, Wallace called the display a “despicable act of racism and hatred,” and said it left him “incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism.”
“Together, our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone. Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate. As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you.’ This 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.”
Before the race on Monday afternoon, drivers and team members pushed Wallace’s car to the front of the track in Talladega.
Jimmie Johnson, in an interview on Fox before the race, spoke about why the other drivers made the show of solidarity. “As everybody knows, this is such a big family in the garage area, and the news really has disturbed us al. We want justice in a sense, and we want to know who and why. Until all those [questions] are answered, we want to stand with our friend. We want to stand with Bubba.”
“As this idea came together today, it started within the drivers, and then as the crew members caught wind that we wanted to push Bubba’s car down and stand with him during the national anthem, the teams wanted to get involved as well, and you saw the support, it was pretty amazing.”
The FBI on Monday announced it would investigate the incident. “Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society,” U.S. Attorney Jay Town of the Northern District of Alabama said in a statement.
Earlier this month, NASCAR banned the display of Confederate flags at their events. Wallace, who was seen wearing an “I can’t breathe” shirt at a race the weekend before the decision was announced, had called for the flag to be banned as protests against police brutality and racism took place throughout the U.S.
“There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family that feels some type of way about something they have seen, an object they have seen flying,” Wallace told CNN at the time. “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them.”
Late Sunday, driver Michael McDowell tweeted, “God help us. The level of evil it takes to do something like this is disgusting. This is enraging and heartbreaking all at the same time. “
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also weighed in early Monday, tweeting simply, “Hope Bubba wins it tomorrow.”
Before the race on Sunday, a plane could be seen flying over Talladega Superspeedway towing the now-banned Confederate flag with a sign that read “DEFUND NASCAR.” A caravan of vehicles draped with the flag also drove by the venue in protest.