NASCAR stars have rallied around driver Bubba Wallace after a noose was left in his garage stall, as the FBI investigates the incident.
The noose was found in Wallace’s stall at the Talladega circuit in Alabama, where a race was to be held on Sunday before being postponed due to storms.
Following the incident, Wallace – the sport’s only full-time African-American driver – posted a selfie on Twitter in front of his racing car surrounded by his NASCAR rivals with the caption: “Together”.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 22, 2020
NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney and champion Kyle Busch had pushed Wallace’s Number 43 car to the front of the pit road, before the entire 40-driver field and all their crew members followed.
After the car came to a stop, Wallace climbed out, sat on the window ledge and sobbed.
Richard Petty, his NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner, placed a hand on Wallace’s shoulder.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said: “The news has disturbed us all and of course we want justice and know who and why. And we want to stand with our friend.”
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Federal authorities descended on Talladega Superspeedway to investigate the discovery of the noose.
Wallace had successfully pushed two weeks ago for NASCAR to ban the contentious Confederate flag at its tracks and properties amid protests against the killing of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Though the sanctioning body has not outlined plans on how it will enforce the restriction, disgruntled fans with Confederate flags drove past the main entrance to the Alabama race track prior to Sunday’s race.
A plane also flew above the track pulling a banner of the flag that read Defund NASCAR.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said security has been stepped up for Wallace. His team had been granted access to its car on Monday morning to ensure it had not been tampered with overnight.
Mr Phelps said the FBI director had told agents in Birmingham, Alabama to “use all their resources” to find the culprit.
“Unequivocally they will be banned from this sport for life,” he added.
“There is no room for this at all. We won’t tolerate it. They won’t be here. I don’t care who they are, they will not be here.”
Alabama Govenor Kay Ivey said she was “shocked and appalled” by the “vile act” against Wallace.
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“There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state,” Ms Ivey said.
Following the discovery of the noose, Wallace posted a statement on social media in which he said “the despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened”.
The 26-year-old said the incident “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”.
“As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you’,” he wrote.
“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.”