On Sunday, as Juneteenth celebrations drew to a close, a noose was found in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Ala.
ESPN reports that Wallace, the only black driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series, never saw the noose—it was discovered by a member of his team—but it was clear that a message was being sent after Wallace successfully pushed the sport to ban the Confederate flag from its events moving forward.
“Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me 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,” Wallace wrote on Twitter. “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.”
In response to this disturbing discovery, NASCAR issued its own statement:
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act. We have launched an immediate investigation and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport. As we have stated unequivolcally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.
NASCAR has attempted to disassociate itself from the Confederate flag in recent years, but the results have been negligible. In 2015, in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston church massacre, NASCAR asked fans to leave their symbols of hatred and oppression where they belong: in the past. However, fans ensured that their flags were still on full display at nearby campsites and campers infield. Not much has been done since to address the issue until the death of George Floyd finally pushed NASCAR to ban them outright.
Unsurprisingly, the sport has received tremendous backlash from its fanbase as a result of that decision. On Sunday, Confederate flags weren’t allowed at the track, but “vehicles waving and flying Confederate flags lined the boulevard” outside, according to ESPN, and “and a plane flew above the track towing a banner of the Confederate flag that read, ‘Defund NASCAR.’”
After learning about the situation, LeBron James offered Wallace some words of encouragement on Twitter.
“Sickening! @BubbaWallace my brother!” he tweeted. “Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete.”
I can’t imagine what Wallace must feel like being the only black man in his sport and time traveling to the 1950s every time he steps foot on the race track. But if NASCAR is serious about cleaning up its image and caustic environment, the punishment for this noose better be both swift and severe.