According to a joint statement from U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent Johnnie Sharp, the finding was based on interviews conducted by 15 FBI special agents and a review of the facts and evidence.
“The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week,” the statement read. “The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019. Although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps announced that the sport’s own investigation will continue, however, focusing on why the noose, which NASCAR’s statement described as “a garage pull rope fashioned like a noose,” was in a garage stall at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway in the first place.
“For us at NASCAR, this is the best result we could hope for,” Phelps said in a late afternoon conference call with reporters. “It was disturbing to hear it was thought that one of our own had committed this heinous act. It is fantastic to hear from the FBI definitively that there was not a hate crime.”
Phelps provided a few details on the process that led to Sunday night’s announcement and a dramatic scene before Monday’s race, but he took no questions, citing NASCAR’s ongoing investigation, leaving many unanswered.
Earlier this month, Wallace, 26, called for NASCAR to ban displays of the Confederate flag at its tracks. Phelps did so June 10, triggering outrage among a subset of fans.
Shortly before Sunday’s rain-delayed race, a member of Wallace’s No. 43 team reported finding a noose in the team’s garage stall and reported it to NASCAR, Phelps said. The sport issued a news release about the discovery Sunday night, and the news was met with outrage and condemnation by drivers and team owners throughout the sport.
The FBI was summoned Monday morning.
What then was widely perceived as a targeted attack on Wallace prompted an outpouring of support by NASCAR’s drivers and crew members, who in a show of unity pushed his No. 43 Chevrolet to the front of the grid before the start of that afternoon’s rescheduled event and stood with him throughout prerace ceremonies.
In speaking to reporters Tuesday, Phelps said that given what was reported to NASCAR officials, the sport took the proper steps.
“I do want to make sure everyone understands that, if given the evidence that we had . . . delivered to us [Sunday] night or [Sunday] afternoon, we would do the same thing,” Phelps said. “We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do. There is no place in our sport for this type of racism or hatred. It’s not part of who we are as a sport.”
The immediate reaction to the FBI’s finding on social media was fierce and polarized. Many voiced skepticism of the FBI’s conclusion; others said they believed the event was staged all along.
Under NASCAR’s protocols amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, teams may bring only essential personnel to the track, up to a maximum of 16, which consists of the driver, crew chief, pit crew, mechanics and engineers.
To further minimize social interaction in the garage, NASCAR drivers are not allowed in the garage to socialize with their teams or one another before races. Instead, they’re required to go to their infield motor homes upon arriving at the track and stay there until they report to their cars, which are stationed on pit road in the proper starting order.
In an apparent allusion to conspiracy theories that Wallace or his team had staged the event, Phelps said: “I want to be clear about the 43 team. The 43 team had nothing to do with this. The evidence is very clear that the noose that was in that garage had been in the garage previously. The last race we had had there in October, that noose was present. . . . The fact that it was not found until a member of the 43 team came there is something that is a fact. . . . The crew member went back in there. He looked and saw the noose, brought it to the attention of his crew chief, who then went to the NASCAR series director, Jay Fabian, and we launched this investigation.”
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Wallace’s team, Richard Petty Motorsports, said: “No member of Richard Petty Motorsports, nor Wallace had any involvement with the presence of the rope. We are thankful for the swift and thorough investigation by NASCAR and all of the authorities involved. We are also appreciative of the support from NASCAR, the motorsports industry, and our fans.”
Phelps said that the broad show of support for Wallace — a member of the NASCAR community who appeared to have been targeted and threatened — was profound.
“It turned out that that was not the case,” Phelps said, “but at the time that’s what our industry thought, so drivers, crew, our officials, everyone supported Bubba Wallace and the 43 team, and that was a very powerful image in not just the history of our sport but I think in all sports.”