Ahead of the Noose at Talladega, Bubba Wallace was encouraged to get a gun for protection
2020 was a roller-coaster year for everyone. However, for one NASCAR driver, it was a year that would likely put the rest of us in therapy
“If you could somehow capture a bald eagle, flying over a dumpster fire, during a rainy day but also a rainbow showing. I think that’s 2020 right there,” Bubba Wallace explained his picture of last year with a laugh to ESPN.
Last year, riots took place all over America over the death of George Floyd. Bubba Wallace encouraged NASCAR to speak up. Just ahead of the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a plan was forming.
“NASCAR, guys we really need to speak on this issue,” Bubba Wallace recalled his conversation with sport executives in the E60 special on ESPN. “This is an important time for our country, our sport.”
“Cant be just some, ‘NASCAR stands with everybody.’ NASCAR is here [low bar] when it comes to diversity in sports. Sitting out that it’s going to go even lower. Y’all have got to do something here.”
Wallace reached out to drivers in an effort to get them to speak on the social issues. However, none came to his side.
Black Lives Matter Shirt: Atlanta
“I text the top dogs, the one’s you see winning every week. We had good conversations. A lot of it was sponsors, like, ‘It’s tough, they don’t want us to talk about it.’ “
“I get it from that standpoint. I also get it from the other side of, ‘It doesn’t effect me, I don’t have to talk about it.’ But, it’s so much bigger than you, so much bigger than your race team, bigger than your sponsors. This is about life. That’s what’s tough and they didn’t want to speak on that.”
“I was like, ‘I’ll roll up my sleeves and let the rest of us do the work.”
Bubba Wallace showed up to the grid at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a Black Lives Matter shirt.
“I could feel the whole garage looking at me as I walked through the turn four gate. Walking down pit road, saw everybody looking.
In the same race, the President of NASCAR stepped up. Just ahead of the green flag, he brought all the cars to a stop on the front stretch and told them to shut off the engines. Phelps then delivered a speech, asking NASCAR to do better as a whole regarding diversity.
After the race, Bubba Wallace passed out on national tv, twice.
Talladega Security following Confederate flag ban
Soon after, Bubba Wallace spoke on the Confederate flag. He encouraged NASCAR to ban the flag to present a welcoming environment, for everyone.
Weeks later, Talladega Superspeedway hosted the first race allowing fans in the stands since the pandemic began. Ahead of the race, a plane flew over the race track pulling a Confederate flag as well as the phrase, ‘Defund NASCAR’ along with it.
“There was kinda heightened awareness, around Talladega. It’s like, ‘Ok’. So, they’re going to have security around ya, pick you up from the airplane, take you to your bus and stuff.”
“My dad said, ‘You got a gun?’ I was like, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You might want to get one and just watch your back’ for voicing my opinion about the Confederate flag.”
Wallace’s father Darrell Wallace Sr stated, “I was scared for his safety. I lived in Alabama for 5 years. I’ve been in some of the roughest parts of Alabama, the backwoods, working. I was worried for his safety.”
“There’s protests outside the race track. There’s people flying the flag above the track. Which is just ridiculous,” Wallace’s fiancee Amanda Carter explained.
Then, NASCAR president Steve Phelps called for a surprise meeting with Bubba Wallace.
“He looked up with tears in his eyes and he said, ‘There was a hate crime that was committed today.’ I was like, ‘My mom, my dad, my sisters, is Amanda ok?’ That’s what I thought about.”
“He was like, ‘There was a noose found in your garage.’ I was like, ‘Cool, family wasn’t attacked.’ I was like, ‘Alright, that sucks.’ “
NASCAR issued statements and made it clear that the person who committed the hate crime would be handed a lifetime ban. The FBI was called to investigate, they sent 15 agents.
“The phone call that woke me up was NASCAR security, ‘Hey man, just so you know the FBI is here.’ I’m like, ‘Oh shit! Ok, this is a big deal.’ “
NASCAR drivers come to the side of Bubba Wallace
“Then, I pulled up the driver group chat. The same one that was silent. Jimmie was like, ‘I plan on standing with Bubba Wallace today.’ And I was lost.”
But, Jimmie wasn’t the only one who stepped up. Every driver stood behind Wallace and pushed his car to the front of the grid ahead of the Talladega race that Monday morning.
“The most incredible non-competitive moment in sports that I’d ever seen,” Phelps stated.
“You could feel the weight of that moment and I think we all did as we were walking,” Johnson added.
Wallace added, “I get out of the car. I look back and I was like, ‘Holy shit! It’s the whole garage.’ That’s when I lost it.”
Wallace hid his face under his arm as he cried at the front of the grid.
However, the driver hasn’t forgotten many of the drivers in that same chat that were previously silent ahead of the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I still don’t forget. You can let down your guard a little bit. But, I don’t forget the ones that were silent.”
FBI investigation concludes
Less than 24 hours after the investigation began, it was determined that rope was tied in the same way since at least October 2019. That’s a full year before Wallace was in the stall. That indicated it wasn’t a hate crime targeted at Bubba Wallace.
“It’s bullshit. We’re never going to find out who did it,” Wallace’s sister Brittant Gillispie stated. “But, I wasn’t ready for the conspiracy theories of him doing it himself. That was pretty hurtful. The one I remember the most is someone telling my brother to use that noose and put it around his neck.”
“Darrell was trying to make a real change in the sport. There’s angry people. Why would we not think it was a real threat,” Bubba’s fiancee Amanda added. “I went and checked his house. I went and checked his property for threats. It felt very real.”
“There wasn’t a hate crime,” Phelps added. “Isn’t that a good thing? Thank god there wasn’t a hate crime.”
NASCAR reviewed every garage pull across 29 tracks. 1,684 stalls were inspected, just one was found with a noose.
Bubba Wallace reflects on becoming the most hated driver
Bubba Wallace clarified, “It went from, ‘Bubba Wallace is a somewhat favorite driver.’ To, the worst hated driver in the sport.”
“Look at the picture. What’s it look like to you? Or is that just another fisherman’s knot? Do you tie your shoestrings like that? No. That took time to do. So, there you go.”
In July 2020, Wallace walked out on the stage for driver introductions at Bristol Motor Speedway to a sea of boos.
“Walking in and hearing the boos at Bristol. That was solid. It pissed me off in a good way. Because you guys are booing off some BS. It’s so sad that people don’t want to take the time to read the facts. Make a judgement off BS. That’s ok. Y’all live your life. I’ll live mine, way better than you are.”
Overnight, Wallace became a household name. A year later, at the same track, the driver grabbed his first NASCAR Cup Series win.
“If Bubba Wallace wins and competes for wins, he has an opportunity to be a crossover star. He’s going to be in pop culture. To go to a different stratosphere that few in NASCAR history has gone,” Phelps added.