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Did NASCAR and Bubba play the media like a fiddle?

by Brian Carroccio
Wednesday, June 24, 2020

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Even Richard Petty flew in special to play to the heartstrings Monday
Even Richard Petty flew in special on Monday to further the narrative
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Late Sunday evening, news broke that a noose had been left in the garage of NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway. Wallace, the driver of the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) Chevrolet is half-African-American and half white, and had played a vital role in the sanction’s recent decision to remove the Confederate flag from NASCAR events. That decision was of course not universally popular. And during Sunday’s rain delay at Talladega, a plane flew over the track displaying the ‘Stars and Bars’ with a sign saying “Defund NASCAR.” Similarly, there were protesters displaying Confederate flags outside Talladega over the weekend.

Therefore, it was not a tremendous leap in logic to suspect that perhaps someone who was not in favor of the Confederate flag ban had targeted Wallace. NASCAR’s statement Sunday regarding the “heinous act,” certainly indicated the sanction’s belief that Wallace had been the victim of a racial crime. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport,” declared NASCAR’s statement.

Well, not so fast.

Fast forward to Tuesday evening when news broke that the FBI, who had been called in by NASCAR to assist in the investigation, found no evidence of wrongdoing. Wallace was NOT the targeted victim of a crime, According to the Bureau, there was a noose in garage number 4 that had been in the garage as early as October 2019. In other words, the noose was simply a looped rope to close the door.  NASCAR President Steve Phelps expanded somewhat in noting that the noose in question was part of the garage door pull-rope.

Yes, you read that correct: the ‘noose’ was actually just a rope; that was part of the garage door.



Now, perhaps this was just one big misunderstanding inflamed by the current political and social climate.  Certainly, NASCAR, which drew a very strong TV rating and put on a good show Monday, wants you to think that. We also know that their longtime ‘See No Evil Hear No Evil’ traveling media corps will simply echo the statements of Phelps and the FBI and move on to Pocono this weekend. Many of them after all are fawning the recent changes in NASCAR, and they wouldn’t want a little thing like say, what actually happened, to get in the way of forwarding their agendas.

We also know that the mainstream media, who have suddenly taken an interest in NASCAR (I know you can’t make this stuff up) will not want to undercut Wallace, or all the perceived recent progress that has been made by, again, finding out what actually happened.

The above noted, I’ll say what so many others won’t: this thing SMELLS. And if the parties above aren’t willing to ask the hard questions, I am.

For one, we were told that the noose was discovered by an RPM crew member, who reported the matter to the team’s crew chief, who then reported the matter to NASCAR. However, did the crew member not realize that the noose or rope was there to make it easier to pull the door closed. Wouldn’t the team have been able to determine – without the help of NASCAR and the FBI – that the garage door pull-rope was not a noose? A noose, when pulled, closes the loop tight around one's neck. This did not.

Secondly, let’s say the team was not able to determine the above. Wouldn’t NASCAR be able to determine the rope was not a noose considering that NASCAR OWNS TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY? Yes, this is not NASCAR visiting a new track or not being familiar with their surroundings. This is a track that again, NASCAR OWNS.

So, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the sanction would head down to the paddock area, and see what’s up. “Hey guys, we looked at the door rope and it looks like someone looped it to make it easier to pull the door down.”

Apparently not.

For whatever reason, NASCAR enlisted the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which I’m sure had nothing pressing on their calendar. Yes, forget calling prospective malcontents to The Hauler and delivering a stern message. Clearly, 15 agents from the Bureau were needed to tell the RPM crew, NASCAR, and the rest of the country, that yes, the rope in Wallace’s garage is the rope that was there since last October as noted by prior photos.

Your taxpayer dollars at work, my friends.

Another thing: in his statement Tuesday, Phelps noted that NASCAR was “very cooperative,” with the Bureau and turned over photographic and video evidence. Is there any reason, this evidence has not been made public yet? Will it be made public in the future? If not, why?

Now, I’ll concede that the current charged climate in the wake of the coronavirus and the protests/riots along with the Confederate flag issue for NASCAR metastasized to create a more charged environment than usual at Talladega. I’ll also concede that the moment NASCAR heard “noose in Bubba’s garage” the sanctioning body knew it could not react slowly. If such news had leaked out from a party other than NASCAR, the perception could easily have been that in spite of their recent lip service about the Confederate flag, NASCAR was covering up racism.

In essence, going to the FBI – while seemingly extreme – may have been NASCAR’s way of getting ahead of the story, and removing any onus on themselves for an investigation.

The above noted, the decision still backfired. Making matters worse, much of Monday’s broadcast essentially virtue signaling over the incident. While I was very impressed by the drivers’ gesture of walking the No. 43 Chevrolet to the front of the grid before the start of the race, that act seems very shallow in the aftermath. After all, it was done under the assumption that Wallace was a victim of racial hostility, when he merely had a rope in his garage was a rope, that was well, to pull the door shut.

As for Wallace himself, my opinion on his role in this has evolved somewhat. Initially, I saw Wallace as a victim of whatever the outcome was. In other words, if there was a noose in his garage with racist intent, then clearly he would have been a victim. However, Wallace also would have been a victim had someone say fabricated a noose in order to curry favor for their agenda.

Now, there is perhaps some sympathy to be had for Wallace in that NASCAR mishandled the investigation and essentially misled him about the ‘noose’. However, Wallace did not exactly adopt a let’s wait and see approach. Rather, he seemed to lean into his new found celebrity whether it was taking selfies, going on The View or CNN, or even going out to the stands after a race in which he finished 14th. In other words, Wallace didn’t exactly seem that he wanted to avoid the limelight and just drive race cars.

Look, I doubt we’ll ever really know what happened. The timeline of events is sketchy, and the urgency of bringing the FBI in was never really explained. Whatever evidence NASCAR does have, I don’t think we’re ever going to see. And it’s not like we can count on the traveling NASCAR media who probably took their pompoms back out to probe for details. Whatever evidence NASCAR does have, I don’t think we’re ever going to see.

What I do think we can say is that NASCAR and Wallace each got themselves more than a little sideways here. The series, which has been desperate to reverse a more-than-decade long downward trend in ratings, attendance, sponsorship, and relevance finally found itself with a lot more people paying attention. The problem, of course, is that many of those people don’t have really have any interest in NASCAR and certainly don’t care about the long-term interests of the sport. They only care that the sport is momentarily being perceived to forward their agenda.

Similar words can be said for Wallace. A young driver fighting to keep himself at the sport’s top level, Wallace has found himself the center of much attention in recent weeks. However, it appears he showed himself not exactly to handle the sudden attention for non-traditional viewers and media. And whether fair or unfair, Wallace will probably forever be viewed as a Jussie Smollett-type figure by many outside racing.

I suppose, such is the nature of the times were living we’re in, particularly with respect to alleged hate crimes as reported by a thirsty media. The initial outrage comes in like a breaker, but when the facts emerge, the story goes out to sea.

I think it’s safe to say that here NASCAR and Wallace got caught up in the tide. And neither were ready for the rough waters.  

Brian Carroccio is a senior columnist for AutoRacing1.com. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.

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