FBI: No Federal Crime Committed in Talladega NASCAR Noose Incident

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - JUNE 22: The #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, driven by Bubba Wallace(not pictured), waits in the garage area prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on June 22, 2020 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. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It seems it was all a misunderstanding.  After an investigation, the FBI announced Tuesday that the “noose” found in a garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway had been there in the garage since at least last year.

“On Monday, fifteen FBI special agents conducted numerous interviews regarding the situation at Talladega Superspeedway,” a joint statement from U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. said. “After a thorough review of the facts and evidence surrounding this event, we have concluded that no federal crime was committed.

The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week.  The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019.  Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.

The decision not to pursue federal charges is proper after reviewing all available facts and all applicable federal laws. We offer our thanks to NASCAR, Mr. Wallace, and everyone who cooperated with this investigation.”

NASCAR released a statement at about the same time.

“The FBI has completed its investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime. The FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment. We appreciate the FBI’s quick and thorough investigation and are thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba. We remain steadfast in our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.”

The Wood Brothers Racing team released a statement saying one of their employees had alerted them Monday that he recalled seeing a tied handle in the garage pull-down rope last fall.  The Wood Brothers occupied the same garage last fall as the Wallace team was assigned the past weekend.

The entire incident began Sunday night when someone alerted NASCAR who in turn altered the FBI.   And came less than two weeks after Wallace spoke out against racism and at a time when the subject of racism is at the forefront of America sparked by the killing of a Black man in Minnesota in late May.  Wallace asked for the sport to ban the confederate flag from its events.

The incident resulted in an unprecedented day of unity across the sport.  Prior to the start of Monday’s race, every driver in attendance along with Wallace’s boss Richard Petty who flew in Monday morning just to support his driver, pushed the No. 43 car to the front of pit road.  All gathered there during the invocation and the singing of the National Anthem.  The movement carried over from social media where the hashtag #IStandWithBubba began to trend.  The track painted the hashtag on the infield grass prior to the race. Drivers had been motivated to stand with Wallace thanks to Kevin Harvick who started a group text among the drivers.

Wallace finished 14th in the race. It was the second race where NASCAR allowed fans and after climbing from his car, Wallace walked across the track to several Black fans at the fence who shouted at him that they had come to watch him race from Atlanta. After some high fives Wallace, who was not wearing a mask, turned to talked to the camera.

“The sport is changing,” he said fighting back tears. “The deal that happened yesterday. Sorry I’m not wearing my mask, but I wanted to show whoever it was yesterday; you’re not going to take away my smile. I’m going to keep on going.”

After the statements were released, NASCAR president Steve Phelps held a teleconference with the media. He took no questions.

“First of all, I’d like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI for their obviously very swift and thorough work.  As their statement has said, they’ve concluded their investigation at Talladega Superspeedway and determined that Bubba Wallace was not the target of a hate crime.

“For us at NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for.  It was disturbing to hear that it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act.  It is fantastic to hear from the FBI definitively that there was not a hate crime.

“I do want to make sure everyone understands that if given the evidence that we had was delivered to us on Saturday night or late Saturday afternoon, we would do the same thing.  We would have done the same investigation.  It was important for us to do.  There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred.  It’s not part of who we are as a sport.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that our portion of this with the FBI was something that was    we were very cooperative, as you would expect.  We provided them with roster information, photographic and video evidence that aided them in their conclusions.

“Additionally, the industry was very supportive.  Not just the members of the 43, and I want to be clear about the 43 team.  The 43 team had nothing to do with this.  The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously.  The last race we had had there in October, that noose was present, and it was    the fact that it was not found until a member of the 43 team came there is something that is a fact.  We had not been back to the garage.  It was a quick one day show.  The crew member went back in there.  He looked and saw the noose, brought it to the attention of his crew chief, who then went to the NASCAR series director Jay Fabian, and we launched this investigation.

“To be clear, we would do this again.  Of the evidence that we had, it was clear that we needed to look into this.

“So again, I want to thank the FBI for that.”

“I also want to talk about yesterday.  Yesterday to me as a sport was one of the most important days we’ve had.  It’s one of the most kind of indelible print on my mind until the day I die, seeing the support that Bubba had from not just the drivers but all the crews, all the officials who were down in pit road, anyone who was part of that footprint.  Everyone wanted to show their support for a family member of NASCAR.  We are one big family.  We are one large community.  And everyone’s belief is that someone was attacking a member of our family.

“It turned out that that was not the case, but at the time that’s what our industry thought, so drivers, crew, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.

“We are continuing our portion of the investigation to try to determine why there was a rope fashioned into a noose, which obviously happened sometime last October or before, and we’ll do that.  And when we have further information, we will get back to the media, and at that time I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

“I appreciate everyone’s time.  As I said, this is a great conclusion for us and for Bubba, to understand that he was not targeted.”