11:01 PM ET
ESPN News Services
A noose was found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Alabama, on Sunday, less than two weeks after Wallace, who is NASCAR’s only black driver, successfully pushed the stock car racing series to ban the Confederate flag at its tracks and facilities.
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” NASCAR said in a statement. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.
“As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
Wallace never saw the noose, ESPN’s Marty Smith reported. It was first seen by a member of Wallace’s team, who immediately brought it to the attention of NASCAR, Smith reported. NASCAR told Fox Sports that it will work with law enforcement.
Wallace, an Alabama native who drives the No. 43 Chevrolet for racing icon Richard Petty, said in a statement that he was “incredibly saddened” by the act.
“Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me 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,” Wallace wrote on Twitter. “Over the last several weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the support from people across the NASCAR industry, including other drivers and team members in the garage. 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.”
NASCAR has spent years trying to distance itself from the Confederate flag, long a part of its moonshine-running roots from its founding more than 70 years ago. Five years ago, former chairman Brian France tried to ban flying the flags at tracks, a proposal that was not enforced and largely ignored.
This year was different, and it was Wallace who led the charge, calling for the sanctioning body to prohibit the flag.
But outside the track on Sunday, vehicles waving and flying Confederate flags lined the boulevard running past the massive speedway, and a plane flew above the track towing a banner of the Confederate flag that read, “Defund NASCAR.”
NASCAR has not said how it plans to stop fans from displaying the flag on track property, and none of the instances Sunday at Talladega were inside the facility.
Andrew Murstein, the co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, told Sports Business Journal that he was “shocked and saddened” by the incident, adding, “You would like to think that the country has changed for the better in the last 40-plus years. Unfortunately, in many ways it hasn’t.”
“I am shocked and appalled to hear of yesterday’s vile act against Bubba Wallace in Talladega — there is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state,” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said in a statement Monday.
Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James also weighed in on Twitter, writing: “Sickening! @BubbaWallace my brother! Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete. I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports! @NASCAR I salute you as well!”
Sunday’s race, which was pushed back to 3 p.m. ET Monday because of inclement weather, is the first amid the coronavirus pandemic for which NASCAR opened the gates for up to 5,000 fans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.