NASCAR is in an interesting spot. After years of shrinking sponsorship deals and ratings the racing league has been looking to regain the popularity and loyal fanbase that they’ve had throughout the Cup’s history in the United States. As most people know, NASCAR is extremely popular in the South and has long received a stigma of being full of red necks who only turn left. Now obviously this isn’t true, and as NASCAR has expanded races across the nation they have had to fight these stereotypes in order to bring in new viewers and further increase marketability of the sport.
A big, smart step that NASCAR took as a response to George Floyd, the BLM movement, and to better connect with more Americans was the recent banning of the Confederate flag inside the stadiums at their races. With huge presence in the South, this has had some backlash from some of their fans. But still at the end of the day NASCAR made the right choice and has the right to ban these flags.
Now Bubba Wallace is the only full-time African American driver for NASCAR’s Cup Series and has been receiving a lot of media attention since the George Floyd murder. Bubba made headlines when he styled his car with “Black Lives Matter” and has been wearing “I can’t breathe” t-shirts before races. He’s been very outspoken about these beliefs in tuning out the hate and he has helped usher in a ton of support for him and NASCAR from other superstar athletes like Alvin Kamara, Lebron James and Steph Curry.
Of course there is nothing wrong with this, and NASCAR should do their best to expand to as many fans as possible and grow the sport to be as big as it can possibly be. These drivers have a growing platform and are using it to spread a message that they believe is the direction that we should move towards as a country. Whether you agree or disagree with the message is fine, but clearly people are on edge during these trying times.
This leads to this past weekend in Talladega, Alabama. After a rain delay on Sunday, it was announced that in Bubba Wallace’s garage a “noose” was found in what seemed to be a clear, distinct act of racism in response to him being an outspoken advocate for BLM and the ban of the Confederate flag. Almost immediately NASCAR and Bubba Wallace released statements condemning this vile action and claiming to pursue action against whoever planted the heinous object.
When I initially heard the news I immediately thought it was a disgusting display from these “stereotypical” NASCAR rednecks. I imagined a 2 inch thick, brown rope that would be covered in rust, dirt, and blood as a direct attack to strike fear into Bubba Wallace, and other’s, lives.
But, some facts started to come out. First, the location of this “noose” was found in the driver’s garage that presumably would have security footage monitoring the area. Ways to quickly identify the person could be used to find out who was responsible, ban them from NASCAR, and press charges.
Then, there was the actual “noose” itself and how it was not discovered, if even seen, by Bubba Wallace. It also hadn’t been shown to the public. It was found by someone on his team and brought to NASCAR’s attention. There have been mixed statements as to if Bubba himself ever saw the actual “noose” and to be fair, when it was thought to be a real hate crime there really wouldn’t be a reason to show it to him.
But this led to NASCAR and Bubba Wallace issuing strong statements calling out this act of hate and saying how it’s unacceptable. All of these actions and statements seemed justified at the time. NASCAR even made what was initially an incredible gesture by having all the drivers push Wallace’s #43 car to the front of Talladega’s track before Monday’s restart and standing in solidarity with him. All these were what I believed were great acknowledgements to show that they accepted Bubba and are fighting racism to achieve equality. This still remains true, but it just now feels different.
Because after the FBI was called in to investigate this crime it only took just about 2 days to discover that the whole thing was fake. It took twitter less than that amount of time. The FBI announced Tuesday evening that the “noose” that was found in his garage was really just a rope loop used to close the garage. It had been tracked back to being in that Talladega garage since 2019. NASCAR fans, especially in the South, were ridiculed and labeled racists while Bubba Wallace was increasing his national profile and taking interviews on The View. NASCAR should apologize to their fans.
Now the response that NASCAR made, like I said, were all seen as great actions by the sport at the time. This was when it made almost conclusive to the public that it was a hate crime. As a result of NASCAR doing zero due diligence themselves into finding facts and using logic about this situation, it led to one of the biggest embarrassments and overblowing of a story that I can remember in sports.
Thinking back on it, not only would the driver’s area be super restricted because of both security and COVID, but there also had to be footage that could be looked at to find if there was even a target suspect. It couldn’t have been hard for NASCAR to do just a little bit of research before straight up accusing someone of a hate crime right when it was found. It’s really a tough look for everyone involved and it shed an unfair light on people who are fans of the sport.
I don’t blame NASCAR, or Bubba Wallace, entirely for this fiasco either. It’s in part to blame the media and cancel culture mob as well. With all the coverage that racial relations have been getting in recent years, everyone is so concerned about not being labeled a racist. It’s scary and people truly don’t know what they can and can’t say anymore without being a target of the mob. It really seems like everything that we are doing now is looked solely through the lens of race. So, when something that could potentially be perceived as racist came to NASCAR’s attention, they took swift action.
This hypertension that is so prevalent within ourselves makes us worried about any potential controversy, being labeled a racist, and then losing our livelihoods. NASCAR knew immediately that if they didn’t take clear, immediate actions condemning this thought-to-be hate crime, then they would be cancelled in a second. Realistically, NASCAR believes they’re a perfect target for the woke mob, and they played right to their own stereotypes to try and get ahead of the story.
And doing the right thing should never be criticized, but they didn’t even consider the situation or the facts of the matter. When this fear of being called a bigot supersedes any ability to think critically, decipher facts, or make logical decisions then it leads to people getting hurt.
Luckily, no one was truly harmed in this case, but like I said before NASCAR and Bubba Wallace owe their fans an apology. I understand that many fans were upset with the flag ban and that’s fair to voice your disagreements in regards to the Confederate flag.
But the escalation to this hate crime was unfair and unjust. It looked to label all the sport’s most loyal source of revenue, their fans, as “deplorable and irredeemable” and it painted a terrible light on the sport overall. NASCAR looked reactionary and showed that they believe their fans truly hate the #43 driver solely because of the color of his skin.
It’s really sad and it will be interesting to see how the fans and the sport perform in the future. Now like I said, NASCAR did take good steps in terms of crisis management, but they were acting on completely false pretenses. Sorry Steph, but it was fake. This will play an interesting role in how fans and sponsors view the sport in the coming years as NASCAR continues to try and grow across the country. Only time will tell.