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NASCAR race begins after show of support for Bubba Wallace

Driver Bubba Wallace is overcome with emotion as he sits in his car prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series race

In an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only black driver, dozens of drivers pushed the car belonging to Bubba Wallace to the front of the field before Monday’s race as FBI agents nearby tried to find out who left a noose in his garage stall over the weekend.

The stock car series was left reeling and angered by the racist act that came less than two weeks after it banned the Confederate flag on its properties at Wallace’s urging. It has vowed to permanently bar the person responsible, but the investigation was in its early stages.

The 26-year-old Wallace was surrounded by all 39 other drivers in the moments before the race and they were joined by their crews in a march down pit road as they pushed his No. 43 to the front of the line. Wallace climbed out of his car and wept.

It was a stirring move to support Wallace at a track in the heart of the South where flags have flown for decades and were seen outside the superspeedway all weekend long by fans opposed to NASCAR’s ban. Wallace is a native of Mobile, Alabama, which is a four-hour drive from Talladega. 

 

Driver Bubba Wallace takes a selfie with himself and other drivers that pushed his car to the front in the pits of the Talladega Superspeedway before the start of a NASCAR Cup Series race

Driver Bubba Wallace takes a selfie with himself and other drivers that pushed his car to the front in the pits of the Talladega Superspeedway before the start of a NASCAR Cup Series race

Driver Bubba Wallace, right, is overcome with emotion as he and team owner Richard Petty walk to his car in the pits of the Talladega Superspeedway prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Talladega Superspeedway

Driver Bubba Wallace, right, is overcome with emotion as he and team owner Richard Petty walk to his car in the pits of the Talladega Superspeedway prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, left, and Corey LaJoie, right, join other drivers and crews as they push the car of Bubba Wallace to the front of the field prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR drivers Kyle Busch, left, and Corey LaJoie, right, join other drivers and crews as they push the car of Bubba Wallace to the front of the field prior to the start of the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the Talladega Superspeedway

Standing alongside Wallace for the national anthem was Richard Petty, the 82-year-old Hall of Fame driver known as ‘The King.’ Wallace drives for Petty, who issued a scathing rebuke after the noose was found that called for the ‘sick person’ to be expelled from NASCAR forever – a move NASCAR President Steve Phelps insisted would happen should they be caught.

The race began with Martin Truex Jr. on the pole in front of a mostly empty venue. Up to 5,000 fans were allowed into Talladega for the race – only the second race with fans since NASCAR returned from the pandemic-forced shutdown – but attendance was significantly lower Monday after the one-day postponement because of rain.

Workers painted ‘#IStandWithBubbaWallace’ on the infield grass before the race and Confederate flags were nowhere to be seen inside the sprawling facility that can hold 80,000-plus and usually sees dozens of TVs lined up across its infield.

Hours after Sunday’s race was postponed by rain, NASCAR said the noose had been found. The sanctioning body vowed to do everything possible to find who was responsible and ‘eliminate them from the sport.’ It has not offered other details. 

Bubba Wallace, 26, was overwhelmed with the support he received from his fellow NASCAR drivers in his native Alabama

Bubba Wallace, 26, was overwhelmed with the support he received from his fellow NASCAR drivers in his native Alabama 

NASCAR drivers push the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, driven by Bubba Wallace, to the front of the grid as a sign of solidarity with the driver prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR drivers push the #43 Victory Junction Chevrolet, driven by Bubba Wallace, to the front of the grid as a sign of solidarity with the driver prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Two weeks ago, Wallace successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its venues, though the sanctioning body has not outlined plans on how it will enforce the restriction. Disgruntled fans with Confederate flags drove past the main entrance to the Alabama race track prior to Sunday’s scheduled race, while a plane flew above the track pulling a banner of the flag that read ‘Defund NASCAR.’ 

Smaller numbers of Black Lives Matters supporters were seen lining the streets and waving the American flag. One demonstrator held a sign that read ‘Not My South.’ 

In the stands, fan Luke Johnson said he is against the flag ban, saying: ‘All the NASCAR tracks need to keep on flying them.’ As for the noose left for Wallace, he said: ‘I thought it was funny myself.’

Another fan, Robert Chaisson, said he didn’t have a strong opinion on the ban. He certainly did on what happened to Wallace.

‘That was messed up. I hope they charge that guy with a hate crime,’ Chaisson, who lives in Alabaster, Alabama, said. ‘It doesn’t matter what your opinion is, it’s when you cross that line, then your opinion no longer matters. That’s trying to inflict harm on someone else.’

Wallace is seen crying alongside his No. 43 car with team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty in his trademark hat

Wallace is seen crying alongside his No. 43 car with team owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty in his trademark hat

Owner and former Drive of Bubba Wallace's No. 43 car, 'The King,' Richard Petty rides a golf cart prior to Monday's restart

Owner and former Drive of Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 car, ‘The King,’ Richard Petty rides a golf cart prior to Monday’s restart

Investigators speak with personnel in the garage area prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday. 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

Investigators speak with personnel in the garage area prior to the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday. 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

Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said NASCAR contacted the FBI, which was handling the investigation. 

‘The US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Alabama, FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are reviewing the situation surrounding the noose that was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage to determine whether there are violations of federal law,’ officials said in a statement Monday.

‘Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society. 

Unequivocally, they will be banned from this sport for life. There is no room for this at all and we won’t tolerate it 

NASCAR President Steve Phelps 

NASCAR has vowed to step up security in response to the incident. 

‘We are going to use every effort we can to determine who has done this, whether it’s a single person or multiple people,’ NASCAR president Steve Phelps said during a conference call on Monday. ‘I know that the director of the FBI has informed the Birmingham office to use all their resources to find it as well.

‘Unequivocally, they will be banned from this sport for life. There is no room for this at all and we won’t tolerate it.

‘I don’t care who they are, they will not be here.’

Eighty-two-year-old NASCAR legend Richard Petty, who owns and previously drove Wallace’s No. 43 car, said he was ‘enraged’ by the incident.  

‘There is absolutely no place in our sport or our society for racism,’ Petty said in a statement.

‘This filthy act serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to eradicate racial prejudice and it galvanizes my resolve do use the resources of Richard Petty Motorsports to create change.’ 

Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said NASCAR contacted the FBI, which was handling the investigation. 'The US Attorney's office for the Northern District of Alabama, FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are reviewing the situation surrounding the noose that was found in Bubba Wallace's garage to determine whether there are violations of federal law,' officials said in a statement Monday

Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said NASCAR contacted the FBI, which was handling the investigation. ‘The US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Alabama, FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are reviewing the situation surrounding the noose that was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage to determine whether there are violations of federal law,’ officials said in a statement Monday

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (pictured with the state seal, which includes the Confederate flag) said she was 'shocked and appalled' by the 'vile act' against Wallace, an Alabama native: 'There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state. Bubba Wallace is one of us; he is a native of Mobile and on behalf of all Alabamians, I apologize to Bubba Wallace as well as to his family and friends for the hurt this has caused and regret the mark this leaves on our state.'

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (pictured with the state seal, which includes the Confederate flag) said she was ‘shocked and appalled’ by the ‘vile act’ against Wallace, an Alabama native: ‘There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state. Bubba Wallace is one of us; he is a native of Mobile and on behalf of all Alabamians, I apologize to Bubba Wallace as well as to his family and friends for the hurt this has caused and regret the mark this leaves on our state.’

NASCAR driver Michael McDowell shared his anger about the noose on Twitter

NASCAR driver Michael McDowell shared his anger about the noose on Twitter 

The incident has rocked NASCAR, which returned to racing just last month because of the coronavirus pandemic.

‘We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,’ the series said in a statement. ‘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.’

The stock car series, founded in the South more than 70 years ago, has tried to distance itself from the flag for years at the risk of alienating a core group of its fan base. It went ahead with the ban as the nation grapples with social unrest largely tied to George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in the custody of Minneapolis police.

‘God help us,’ NASCAR driver Michael McDowell tweeted after word of the noose went public. ‘The level of evil it takes to do something like this is disgusting. This is enraging and heartbreaking all at the same time.’

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said she was ‘shocked and appalled’ by the ‘vile act’ against Wallace, an Alabama native.

‘There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state,’ Ivey said. ‘Bubba Wallace is one of us; he is a native of Mobile and on behalf of all Alabamians, I apologize to Bubba Wallace as well as to his family and friends for the hurt this has caused and regret the mark this leaves on our state.’

While the Confederate flag remains a symbol of southern pride to some, its history is inextricably linked with slavery and the racist motivations behind the secession of the southern states in 1860.  

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said she was ‘shocked and appalled’ by the ‘vile act’ against Wallace, an Alabama native.

‘There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state,’ Ivey said. ‘Bubba Wallace is one of us; he is a native of Mobile and on behalf of all Alabamians, I apologize to Bubba Wallace as well as to his family and friends for the hurt this has caused and regret the mark this leaves on our state.’

Two weeks ago, Wallace successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its venues, though the sanctioning body has not outlined plans on how it will enforce the restriction. Disgruntled fans with Confederate flags drove past the main entrance to the Alabama race track prior to Sunday's race, while a plane flew above the track pulling a banner of the flag that read 'Defund NASCAR'

Two weeks ago, Wallace successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its venues, though the sanctioning body has not outlined plans on how it will enforce the restriction. Disgruntled fans with Confederate flags drove past the main entrance to the Alabama race track prior to Sunday’s race, while a plane flew above the track pulling a banner of the flag that read ‘Defund NASCAR’

A plane flies a banner reading, 'Defund NASCAR,' near Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday

A plane flies a banner reading, ‘Defund NASCAR,’ near Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday

NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag from being displayed at its events but supporters of the symbol still managed to be seen Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday

NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag from being displayed at its events but supporters of the symbol still managed to be seen Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday 

Black Lives Matter supporter await the arrival of the Confederate Flag supporters on Sunday

Black Lives Matter supporter await the arrival of the Confederate Flag supporters on Sunday 

While the Confederate flag remains a symbol of southern pride to some, its history is inextricably linked with slavery and the racist motivations behind the secession of the southern states in 1860. 

As Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stevens infamously said at the onset of the Civil War: ‘Our new [government’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.’ 

Reaction from Wallace’s fellow drivers was immediate as they prepared for the rescheduled race Monday afternoon. Retired champion Jeff Gordon called it a ‘cowardly’ act and Ryan Blaney, one of Wallace’s closest friends, tweeted: ‘You’re my brother and always will be. Don’t let the people who are lower than life to try and bring you down.’

The 26-year-old Wallace has not commented since a statement on social media late Sunday in which he said the ‘the 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.’

‘As my mother told me today, `They are just trying to scare you,” he wrote. ‘ 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.’

Wallace has worn a shirt that says ‘I Can’t Breathe’ over his firesuit and his No. 43 – made famous by Petty – sported a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in a race last month in Martinsville, Virginia. Wallace previously told AP that NASCAR had assigned him a pair of sheriff’s deputies for security at Martinsville after he called for a ban of the flag.

In this 1962, file photo, a confederate flag is held behind Junior Johnson of Ronda, North Carolina as he poses with his sister, right, and Ginger Pointevint, Miss Sun Fun USA, left, in the winner's circle after the Southern 500 auto race at Darlington Speedway in South Carolina

In this 1962, file photo, a confederate flag is held behind Junior Johnson of Ronda, North Carolina as he poses with his sister, right, and Ginger Pointevint, Miss Sun Fun USA, left, in the winner’s circle after the Southern 500 auto race at Darlington Speedway in South Carolina

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