NASCAR released a photo of the rope found last weekend at the Talladega Superspeedway garage position assigned to Darrell Wallace Jr., the only black driver in the NASCAR main series, on Thursday after criticism that officials of racing had overreacted.
“As you can see from the photo, the rope was real, as was our concern for Bubba,” Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s president, using Wallace’s nickname, told reporters in a press conference call Thursday.
Federal officials said Tuesday they had determined that Wallace, 26, had not been the target of a hate crime, forcing him to defend himself against the unfounded accusation that he or his racing team organized the incident for publicity. favorable.
While NASCAR characterized the rope as a rope for a garage door that was “made like a rope,” other people insisted it was just a rope with a handle. The Justice Department statement called the rope “rope.”
Phelps acknowledged that NASCAR’s own investigation was inconclusive. “Unfortunately we were unable to determine with certainty who tied this rope this way or why it was made,” he said.
He also said the sport had improved Wallace’s safety, was installing cameras in all NASCAR garages, and that it would require sensitivity training for NASCAR employees to avoid similar episodes in the future.
“We want all racing lovers to feel welcome and a part of our NASCAR family and our industry is going to protect ours against anyone who feels different,” said Phelps.
The image was released two days after authorities concluded that no federal crimes were committed.
The rope was discovered Sunday afternoon by a member of Wallace’s racing team, who alerted NASCAR officials, Phelps said. The organization then informed Wallace of the discovery and issued a statement that night calling it an “heinous act.” The following day, federal officials opened an investigation.
Jay E. Town, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, and Johnnie Sharp Jr., head of the FBI office in Birmingham, Alabama, said the video footage showed the rope had been in the garage as early as October 2019, before anyone knew he would be assigned to Wallace for the Geico 500 on Monday.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Wallace said he was relieved “that the investigation revealed that this was not what we feared.”
“I think we will gladly be ashamed of what the alternatives might have been,” he added.
The discovery of the rope came amid national protests over police brutality and systemic racism following the police assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month, and NASCAR’s recent ban on the Confederate battle flag of its events and properties. . Wallace, who called for the ban, also released a “Black Lives Matter” message in his race car this month.
On Thursday, Phelps defended his initial response.
Should we have slightly toned down that message? Maybe we should have, ”he said. “And I will take responsibility for that. I support the actions we took and I think they were the right ones. “
As part of the NASCAR investigation, 1,684 garage areas on 29 racetracks were inspected, he said. Only 11 deployable ropes tied to a knot were found and only one of them, the one found in Wallace’s garage, was tied to a knot, he said.
Phelps said he was surprised by the results of the federal investigation, as he and others initially believed it may have been a hate crime.
He said he was concerned about the idea that several people saw the knot before drawing the attention of NASCAR officials.
“Most likely, someone has seen it and has not reacted negatively,” said Phelps. “So we have to make sure that that doesn’t happen in the future.”
Juliet Macur and Alan Blinder contributed reporting.