On Sunday, a noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage at Talladega, prompting a solidarity walk with Wallace on Monday and an FBI investigation. Officials later said that the noose had been there for months. Today, NASCAR released a picture of the noose, along with the baffling results of its internal investigation.
The picture of the noose is highly disturbing, though also disturbing are NASCAR’s own set of facts.
From NASCAR’s website:
NASCAR officials asked each track to walk their respective garages following Sunday’s discovery. Across the 1,684 garage stalls at 29 tracks, NASCAR found only 11 total that had a pull-down rope tied in a knot and only one noose — the one discovered Sunday in the No. 43 garage stall.
A joint statement from U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. released Tuesday afternoon determined that the noose had been in Cup Series garage stall No. 4 — which had been assigned to the Petty No. 43 team last weekend — since at least last October and that no federal charges would be pursued.
Taken together, those two paragraphs insinuate a couple things: first, that it was just a coincidence that Wallace happened to be assigned the garage with the noose in it, and second, that because this is the only noose NASCAR could find at its tracks, well, this may not be as big of a problem as we first thought.
You could maybe believe that this was all just an unfortunate coincidence, but consider that NASCAR felt the need to search every garage at its tracks because there might be nooses in them. Totally normal stuff.
Which brings us to the photo itself.
NASCAR said that this noose has been at the track since at least October, meaning that a LOT of people walked by it in between now and then and either didn’t notice it or thought, “Huh, seems fine.” That in itself neatly sums up NASCAR’s problem, and NASCAR knows it.
NASCAR’s investigation was not able to nail down a culprit, but they are doing sensitivity training, which is where this story starts to veer into parody.
Sensitivity training is really showing its ass here, as there is nothing about hanging a noose in your garage that rings “unconscious bias.”
There is also something more gross that is going on here in NASCAR’s extremely weak handling of this affair: It is pretending that what happened was all just an innocent misunderstanding. From NASCAR’s website:
“Our ultimate conclusion for this investigation is to ensure that this never happens again, that no one walks by a noose without recognizing the potential damage it can do,” Phelps said.
But the thing is: Everybody knew. Everybody knew. You don’t see a noose, in Alabama, at a NASCAR track, and not know what that means! This is not a sensitivity issue, or a question of making people aware.
Wittingly or not, NASCAR has now set the standard going forward to be “No nooses at the track” and “If you see a noose, say something,” while still declining to seriously engage with the question of why NASCAR’s culture is the way it is, and their own complicity in that.
Up until two weeks ago you could bring a Confederate flag to races; they were only banned after Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver, asked.
That also told you all you needed to know: NASCAR didn’t ban Confederate flags after some long period of introspection, even though asking fans not to bring them in 2015—though not banning them outright—was an admission that it knew better. No, NASCAR made its only Black driver do the work of having to ask for a thing that should’ve happened years ago.
And I don’t know what a real commitment to anti-racism looks like for NASCAR at this point—permanently banning fans who flaunt the flag ban would be a good start—but they could begin by doing more than the bare minimum.