First we were told there was a noose in Bubba Wallace’s pit garage at the legendary Talladega Speedway in Alabama. Since Wallace is the only black driver in the NASCAR series, and since the entire country is undergoing a reckoning on the issue of race, this seemed like a monumentally troubling chapter for a sport whose fans are often put into the worst stereotype of racist, white American culture.
There is some justification for this disturbing image of the NASCAR fan, but the sport now properly sees that as a liability. Just a couple weeks ago, in part at Wallace’s behest, NASCAR prohibited the display of Confederate flags at their events. Then, mere days later, Wallace’s pit crew reports that there is a noose hanging in his garage.
To their substantial credit, NASCAR and its entire roster of drivers, rallied to support Wallace and made a stunning display that rejected what was believed to be a racist threat by some ignorant coward. What makes the story a bit more disturbing at this point is that the culprit must have had access to the garage, which is an otherwise restricted area. This meant that the noose was placed by a member of the NASCAR ‘family.’
After the display of solidarity and a suitably strong statement from NASCAR saying that the perpetrator would be banned for life, there arose an FBI investigation for the purpose of determining if a hate crime had occurred. As much as the incident was disturbing at this point, there were these encouraging signs.
Then the FBI investigation wrapped up almost immediately with a statement that the noose was not a noose at all, but a looped knot at the end of a pull-rope on the garage door. Most importantly, the FBI announced that the rope had been in that garage since October and there was no way to know that Wallace would occupy that particular garage until just a couple days before his team arrived at the track. So, just a big misunderstanding, right?
Not exactly. While those on the far right could hardly wait to call Wallace a race-baiter and compare him to Jussie Smollet, others wanted to see a picture of what got Wallace’s pit crew disturbed enough to think he was being threatened. When we finally got the picture, everybody shut up real fast.
Anyone who would tie THAT knot with no understanding of what it looks like or what it means in American culture, regardless of whether it is today or back in October, and regardless of whether Wallace is in that garage or someone else, anyone who doesn’t know that is a knot associated with killing black people is dangerously ignorant. And Wallace’s crew had every reason to be concerned, and I am glad as hell that this was reported.
I am also impressed with NASCAR’s reaction both before and after the FBI report. Initially, I can imagine that the league’s governing body was afraid it had just taken a knife to the jugular and had to do everything it could to stop the bleeding right away. That’s a survival instinct, but also carried out with a strong sense of what is the right thing to do. Now, the story is a bit different, but NASCAR is not shying away from the question:
How did anyone involved in the sport think this knot was OK to hang in this garage for so long?
Even with the COVID-19 lockdown, this noose was passed countless times and no one said or did anything about it. How is that possible?
NASCAR obviously has some soul searching to do, but there are also positive markers here which should not be overlooked. NASCAR doesn’t exist outside the United States, but the series’ success is the envy of the international racing community. To maintain that status, NASCAR will need to find a way to shed its perceived MAGA persona.