The discovery of a noose in his racetrack garage isn’t going to deter Bubba Wallace from speaking out about racial issues.

Wallace, the only African American driver on NASCAR’s top circuit, was one of the leaders in the drive that led NASCAR to ban Confederate flags from racetracks and is growing more comfortable in a leadership role at the age of 26.

“I’ve been proud to kind of … step away from Bubba Wallace the athlete and to step up as Bubba Wallace the human for the first time and not be so ‘I don’t know if I can touch that. I don’t know if I can say these types of things.’ I’m letting that guard down,” Wallace said Wednesday night on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” He added that he has the support of his sponsors, his Richard Petty Motorsports team, fellow drivers and NASCAR, of course.

“With me doing this, they have to know the bigger picture of everything. It’s not about racing. It’s about race,” he said. “So ever since having that voice and being vocal about it and coming out and standing my ground, to helping NASCAR paint a new picture for sport and for the next generation to see and latch onto, getting rid of the Confederate flag, I knew, like: ‘All right, roll the sleeves up. It’s about to be tough.’ ”

An Alabama native, Wallace understood that he might face backlash at Talladega Superspeedway, where there would be heightened awareness of the Confederate flag ban and fans would be present for the first time since the novel coronavirus pandemic shut down sports. But he was “emotional,” as was Steve Phelps when the NASCAR president told him Saturday night about the noose, and his team and Phelps rallied around him. “I was relieved that it wasn’t my family, but I was emotional,” he explained of the moment he learned a noose had been found.

He drove in the Geico 500 on Monday, when it was held after being postponed by rain Sunday. By that time, his fellow drivers had joined him on the track in a show of solidarity and the FBI was investigating the noose incident. It quickly determined that the noose was not functional and had been hanging in that stall since October, long before it was assigned to Wallace.

Wallace promised that his activism is only beginning, even as he said “I am not a political person” and that he “tries to avoid that at all costs.” But he is now a recognizable sports figure and a leader in his sport.

“I am looked at as an African American guy because of the color of my skin,” Wallace said. “I am darker. I am not white. I am not black. I am mixed, and it’s something that I’ve never once tried to bring in. I’ve always tried to bring in the competitive nature: ‘Don’t mess with me; I won’t mess with you.’ Let’s race our hearts out, and that’s it.”

He speaks for the side of his family that doesn’t have a voice, as well as for others. “Having a voice, having a platform, being vocal, standing up for what I believe is right, standing up for a race that feels defeated, that is afraid to speak out because they don’t know what’s going to happen — I don’t want to see my people go down like that. I want to stand up for them. I want to stand up with them — arm in arm, hand in hand — to show that, hey, I have a voice, and I want to create change in my sport and in my community, and I want you guys to be a part of it.”

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