NASCAR drivers, pit crew members and others walked alongside Bubba Wallace and escorted his Number 43 car in a show of support at the Talladega Superspeedway on Monday a day after a noose was found in his garage.
In a video tweeted by NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell, Wallace’s car is being followed and pushed down pit row by a large procession of people. Wallace, wearing an American flag face mask, was emotional while hugging drivers and supporters, including NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
Wallace also tweeted a selfie with the crowd of supporters behind him with the word “Together.”
Ryan Blaney ultimately won the Geico 500 NASCAR race in a thrilling photo finish Monday. Wallace finished in 14th place. After the race, a smiling Wallace went to greet a group of fans, some of whom were wearing Black Lives Matter shirts.
“This is probably the most badass moment right here,” he said to FOX Sports. “This sport is changing. The deal that happened yesterday … I wanted to show whoever it was that you’re not going to take away my smile. I’m going to keep on going.
“All in all, we won today. The pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life. … This is truly incredible, and I’m proud be a part of this sport,” Wallace said.
The discovery of the noose Sunday afternoon in Wallace’s garage stall comes as the United States, and NASCAR in particular, more squarely address America’s systemic racism in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top circuit, has been an outspoken advocate of the Black Lives Matter movement and the corresponding protests against racism and police brutality. He wore an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt before one event, repainted his car with the “Black Lives Matter” phrase and pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag.
NASCAR said it is investigating the noose, and federal investigators said they will review the incident as well.
“We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” NASCAR’s statement read. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.”
The racing organization said there is no place for racism in NASCAR and that the incident “only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
In addition, the US Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Alabama, FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are reviewing the incident, US Attorney Jay E. Town said in statement.
“Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society,” Town said.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said a crew member discovered the noose and then informed NASCAR, and a small group of senior leaders then got together to form a plan. Phelps said he was the one who informed Wallace about its discovery.
A source with Richard Petty Motorsports told CNN that Wallace never saw the noose.
Wallace tweeted Sunday that the “despicable act” left him “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.”
“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 said.
NASCAR told CNN the garage area where the noose was found is restricted to essential personnel, which includes race teams, NASCAR officials, security and health and safety personnel.
Monday’s race will be the first time NASCAR fans are allowed to return to the track since the coronavirus pandemic. Sunday, a plane with a Confederate flag and the phrase “Defund NASCAR” was seen flying over the track, and Confederate memorabilia was also being sold across the street.
CNN’s Kevin Dotson, David Close and Amir Vera contributed to this report.