Noose at Talladega overshadows NASCAR effort to move beyond Confederate flag and turn toward inclusion, racial justice

TALLADEGA, Ala. – The new and somewhat fractured world of NASCAR stopped in Alabama, long prime stock car racing country, over the weekend.

The result was one of the most bizarre and troubling scenarios in the 70-year history of America’s top form of stock car racing, and it included a jolting incident that sent shock waves through the sport – and beyond.

NASCAR said a noose was found Sunday afternoon in the track garage stall of driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team. Wallace, the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top series, has been outspoken about recent social unrest. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from its speedways after Wallace took an aggressive stand against it.

NASCAR announced the discovery of the noose after Sunday’s scheduled GEICO 500 had been rained out and postponed to 3 p.m. (ET) Monday. Stock car's governing body condemned the noose at a "heinous act" and pledged to find the individual responsible.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI announced they are looking into the incident to  determine if federal law was broken. A Justice Department statement said, in part, "Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society."

SportsPulse: Bubba Wallace wasn't afraid to address NASCAR fans who may have been irked by the organizations ban on Confederate flag, reminding them to put themselves in the shoes of others.

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NASCAR legend Richard Petty, who once drove the No. 43 Wallace now drives and is a partial owner of the team, went to Twitter and described the incident as a “filthy act” committed by a “sick person” and called for them to be identified and “swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR.”

Although Petty, 82, has not been at a NASCAR race since its return during the coronavirus pandemic, he planned to attend Monday afternoon to  support Wallace, FOX Sports and ESPN reported.

The NASCAR announcement was the most striking moment of a surreal weekend at NASCAR’s biggest speedway. At a track whose sprawling grandstands seat about 80,000, only a few thousand were allowed entry to the race because of the coronavirus. The huge campgrounds and parking areas around the track – party headquarters on typical race weekends – were largely empty.

Also missing from the track landscape was a long-time track staple – the Confederate flag.

Talladega Superspeedway has been a capital of stock car racing for most of the track’s 50-year existence. Here, fans love the bedrock families of stock car racing – the Earnhardts, the Allisons, the Pettys. They arrive in the colors of their favorite drivers, and they’re often raucous,  throwbacks to racing’s rowdier days. For many years, the infield has been a stage for fun, frolic and, not incidentally, drunken shenanigans.

The racing and the revelry in the so-called “Heart of Dixie” has had a distinct Southern flavor. The track’s first press box was named in honor of the late Alabama governor George Wallace, one of the country’s most outspoken segregationists before modifying his views late in life. Wallace was a friend of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who built the Talladega track.

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