This week has been a defining one in NASCAR. Sunday, a supposed heinous act of racism – a noose – was displayed in the garage. On Monday afternoon, the teams and the industry came together to support Bubba Wallace through a very turbulent time. Then on Tuesday we learned that the supposed and reported act of racism was nothing but a big misunderstanding.
The noose that was found in the garage area at Talladega Superspeedway was a garage pull-down rope that is very common in garages all across the world. However, this particular rope was tied in a noose, for reasons unknown to anybody. How long the noose has been in that particular garage stall at Talladega is also unknown. Through video evidence, we know it was there in October 2019 when Paul Menard’s No. 21 team utilized the garage stall. The rope in question can be seen in the screenshot of a video shot by FOX Sports writer Bob Pockrass.
Went back and took a look at my camera roll on my phone and screenshot this from video … rope on the left: pic.twitter.com/Od1Z4aKaxi
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) June 23, 2020
The incident turns out to be the best case scenario for all involved. Still, there were some missteps taken by NASCAR. Their initial statement on the matter included words such as “racism” and “heinous act” and suggested that it was done by someone with malicious intent. This was all before the facts came out to prove that none of that was true.
Clayton Caldwell thinks that someone should be held responsible for the error. Mark Kristl thinks that NASCAR did everything correctly, handling a tough situation the best they could. Let the debate begin.
This Mistake Is Inexcusable
There’s no doubt. What happened Monday at Talladega Superspeedway was incredible. The way the sport and the entire industry came together to support Bubba Wallace was remarkable. Everyone involved in the ceremony and pre-race festivities deserves a ton of credit. We proved as an industry that we love one another and that we can overcome anything. There’s no question about it.
However, much like in family, honesty is the best policy. That’s why I decided to contribute to this piece. Because there was irreparable damage that was done during this situation, and these mistakes and missteps are ones that someone in the NASCAR industry needs to be held accountable for.
In this era of social media, the phrase “be right, not first” is certainly one that a lot of reporters try to abide by when gathering information for a news piece. Anyone who has worked in the media industry will tell you, they’d rather be right than first. I remember the night Jason Leffler passed away and reading articles about it. I found one from a local paper and asked my boss at the time if I should post the news about his passing. He said “no, we need a better source.” The information turned out to be 100% true but taking that chance for the small little website I wrote for at the time was too risky.
The media members of this sport and in this world try and wait for reputable sources to come out with facts before they go out and provide information to the public. They trust that the information that comes from these reputable sources is 100% fact. In sports reporting, the most reputable sources are the leagues themselves. If the NBA posts news to their Twitter feed, no one questions it. It’s the NBA. They won’t spew falsities. They won’t report something that isn’t true.
A lot of people feel the same way about NASCAR. Whenever information is distributed by NASCAR everyone assumes that it is 100% fact. We assume the information we get from NASCAR is concrete. That’s why when we all read NASCAR’s statement on Sunday night, we all got sick to our stomachs.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 22, 2020
It left little doubt that the situation that took place on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway was intended as a heinous, racist act by the person who committed it.
I’m confident in saying that when this news broke, most everyone in the NASCAR world felt the same way I did. I was ashamed, saddened, and shocked that someone close to NASCAR could have done such a horrific act. I, for one, woke up in the middle of the night, read it and couldn’t go back to bed for an hour. My heart ached for Bubba Wallace. I was angry that someone so close to the sport could do something so awful. NASCAR did the right thing launching an FBI investigation to get an idea of who was responsible.
One thing we certainly thought was the information that was in the statement was 100% fact. Well, come to find out, that was not the case.
Some might say, “So what? No big deal! It’s just a statement.” But it’s not just a statement. It was a statement that hundreds if not thousands of media members across the globe, NASCAR fans and the general public took as absolute fact.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 23, 2020
Since the news came that the incident was not ill-intended, several in the NASCAR media world have been accused of reporting false information. Unfortunately, that sentiment is true. The folks who did report on the incident on Monday and Tuesday reported false information. It wasn’t intentional, and it wasn’t their fault because it was information they trusted from an extremely reliable source and it turned out as false.
Those media members deserve an apology. They’re the ones who have now been thrown out to the wolves to try to come up with some kind of reason as to why they would report false information. I feel terrible for the people in the industry who have to go to work the next three days and defend that without any help from NASCAR.
I thought about what would happen if a media member reported on something that was false, portrayed it as fact for 36 hours and then came out to say that they were incorrect the entire time. Ask anyone: several repercussions would occur if that was the case. It would be a career defining moment for that reporter – and not in a good way. NASCAR should be held to the same standard.
NASCAR’s press conference on Tuesday was unacceptable. They basically patted themselves on the back for their assistance with the FBI in their investigation. They took no questions afterwards, but more importantly, they left their media members out to dry providing no explanation for how or why they presented false information to the public. They didn’t offer any apologizes. They admitted no fault at all.
Yep, they took the easy way out. If they had come out and admitted they made mistakes, I would not feel the same way I do now. We’ve all made mistakes; I know I have. Some may think writing this piece is one of them. Folks are much more forgiving if you own up to your mistakes and admit your faults. Sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime. Just ask Richard Nixon.
Instead, NASCAR’s President Steve Phelps left the teleconference without even mentioning the egregious errors that NASCAR had made. That is inexcusable, and the next time information comes from directly from NASCAR, every fan, media member and person in general has the right to question its authenticity. There’s not a worse thing that can happen to an organization and that is something someone needs to be held accountable for it. – Clayton Caldwell
A Great Misunderstanding
When pondering when an individual deserves to be fired, I ask who that individual should be. Because everything in this whole situation went through the proper chains of command. The crew member who noticed the noose inspected other garage stalls to identify whether the No. 43 team had been the only ones targeted.
Wallace adds, Cropps "walked up and down the garage to make sure he wasn't overreacting. When he saw that the other garage pulls were basically just a solid piece of rope, no knots in them, we had a knot that was in the shape of a noose, yeah, that calls."
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) June 24, 2020
The crew member then reported it to NASCAR officials. The information was then subsequently passed all up to the FBI. The FBI did its investigation, and it was announced it was not a hate crime.
Now we are clamoring for someone to be fired. But we are playing Monday morning quarterback. We know all the facts so we want a scapegoat for the “oops” in this situation. Sadly, the only scapegoat could be whoever tied the noose there last year. Other than that individual, no one involved in this past race weekend should be penalized. They ought to be commended for properly reporting it rather than allowing it to fall into speculation.
In the Frontstretch group chat, after knowing the outcome, my colleague Amy Henderson perfectly summarized how the situation was handled.
“It was handled the right way across the board—the team saw it and reported it; it was given to the authorities to investigate,” she said. “Under the circumstances, the team was justified in thinking the worst; Bubba was getting all kinds of threats.”
NASCAR did not take any risks. Had it been a hate crime, it then would have been an attack on Wallace’s life, not simply a criticism of his on-track performance. By involving the FBI, NASCAR was proactive rather than reactive to this situation. It allowed the proper authorities to investigate rather than either NASCAR handle it themselves or deal with it behind closed doors.
The gravitas of everything forced NASCAR to make a statement Sunday night. The sport made changes due to current societal issues. As a result, many fans found themselves on the extreme ends of those changes. Add in the ongoing unrest in the country, and NASCAR was correct to release the news.
Despite the result of it all, NASCAR did not falsify anything in the statement. It was honest; it never named suspects nor attempted to hypothesize how it all transpired. The FBI did its due diligence and the matter was resolved.
Therefore, the circumstances are clouding our judgment. Yes, it undoubtedly looked bad. However, Richard Petty Motorsports spotter Freddie Kraft affirmed it indeed was a noose. A noose placed in the garage stall of the only black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series during these times appeared too improbable to be coincidental.
This matter should not be concluded though. While the FBI is done with its investigation, NASCAR still has questions to answer, such as:
- Who tied the noose in the stall last year?
- Why would one tie a noose?
- How did nobody notice the noose until this past race weekend?
- Based on the statement by Wood Brothers Racing, why did NASCAR opt to involve the FBI first before asking teams if anyone knew anything? Had that employee been asked earlier, this situation could have been de-escalated and prevented embarrassment.
Did NASCAR jump the gun by announcing the statement before the conclusion of the FBI investigation? Yes and no.
Yes, it did, and the blowback from this all is the evidence. However, with all the circumstances, the act appeared horrendous.
No, NASCAR did not jump the gun because it immediately involved law enforcement to discern the truth. Everyone cooperated and the investigation went smoothly, thus part of the reason the case was solved.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps reiterated NASCAR would go through the proper channels again in a similar situation. His remarks left much to be questioned and arguably was not his best day at the helm. But that commitment to learning the truth should never change.
Given the strong opinions surrounding all of this, I ask: What would you have done differently? Furthermore, should someone be fired? After examination of the timeline, I do not see anyone who deserves to be fired. Unfortunately, while there is relief this was not a hate crime, this colossal misunderstanding has brought forth strong feelings from many.
What has become diminished by this outcome is the solidarity from the sport. The images of everyone in the garage rallying behind Wallace, Richard Petty flying to the track in support of his driver, and media members, fans, etc. using #IStandWithBubba left a powerful message. What harm did those actions cause?
NASCAR supported its only black Cup Series driver at a time when racial divides are sweeping across the country. NASCAR boldly affirmed it will not tolerate racism within its sport.
The drivers displayed their unity despite competing against each other. The media backed NASCAR in this decision. This is monumental because many of the sanctioning body’s decisions have been questioned in the past.
Solidarity became a revelatory moment for the fanbase. On social media, too many people are leaving nasty remarks. The sport has shown that it does not want racists supporting it, period.
Additionally, solidarity became an uplifting moment for the sport, even if it was due to a misunderstanding. The unity of the sport made a difference when division is rampant throughout the country.
Finally, NASCAR proved it is no longer a good ol’ boys sport. While it has not been that way for many years, it made a powerful statement for all.
I pray a situation such as this never arises in the future. But an enormous misunderstanding does not equate to firing someone. – Mark Kristl
About the author
Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.
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