Drivers, crew members, fans and even FBI agents descended on Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway on Monday as both the NASCAR Cup Series Geico 500 race and a federal investigation began.
The race - which is the second open to fans since the lifting of COVID-19 novel coronavirus-related restrictions - was postponed on Sunday due to inclement weather and became a site for solidarity after a noose was found in the garage stall of the No. 43 Chevrolet, which is operated by Wallace.
NASCAR released a statement that night condemning the act.
“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. 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,” the organization said.
According to the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer, Monday’s showing of solidarity within the sport began with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson’s message to a group chat, noting that he was going to stand with Wallace during the national anthem.
The end result, however, included all 40 drivers, their crew members and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty, who owns the team for which Wallace drives, uniting in a pre-race demonstration.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps confirmed to AP that FBI agents were “currently on site” at the speedway on Monday.
Prior to the start of Monday’s race, Petty said the "most important thing for me right now is hugging my driver,” according to sources who spoke to ESPN's Marty Smith.
The 82-year-old also issued a statement on the incident via the official Richard Petty Motorsports Twitter account.
NASCAR recently announced that the Confederate flag would be banned from its races and venues. Though no formal announcement of potential punishments for breaking the rule has followed, there was immediate pushback from fans and Ray Ciccarelli, a part-time driver in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series who said he would be quitting NASCAR after the season’s end.
“My viewpoint, all I was trying to say is how do you take [the flag] from one group and help support the group that it offends, and then what do you do to the group that you took it from? Now, they get outraged,” he said in an interview with NASCAR reporter Toby Christie, as reported by New England Sports Network.
Ciccarelli argued that NASCAR’s abrupt change in stance regarding the Confederate flag and its recent allowance of kneeling during the national anthem appear disingenuous and forced by the current climate - which has included nationwide protests honoring the memory of George Floyd and other Black victims of police brutality.
“We’re told one thing that we can’t do, then you’re told you can do. Just to go back about two years during the [Colin] Kaepernick deal, NASCAR did release a statement stating that team owners should take action to any teammates that decide to kneel during the national anthem. It was not going to be condoned what-so-ever.”