In an extraordinary act of solidarity with NASCAR’s only Black full-time driver, dozens of drivers pushed the car belonging to Bubba Wallace to the front of the field before Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, one day after a noose was found in his garage stall.
Wallace was surrounded by all 39 other drivers in the moments before the race, and they were joined by their crews in a march down pit road as they pushed his No. 43 to the front of the line. Wallace climbed out of his car and wept.
The idea for the gesture came up earlier Monday. Jimmie Johnson said in a drivers chat that he would stand with Wallace during the national anthem. Then, Kevin Harvick had the idea that they should have the drivers push Wallace’s car to the front
Standing alongside Wallace for the national anthem was Richard Petty, the 82-year-old Hall of Fame driver known as “The King.” Wallace drives the No. 43 Chevrolet for Petty, who issued a scathing rebuke after the noose was found that called for the “sick person” to be expelled from NASCAR forever — a move NASCAR president Steve Phelps insisted would happen should they be caught.
Sources told ESPN’s Marty Smith that Petty decided to travel to Talladega after the noose was found and that he said the “most important thing for me right now is hugging my driver.” This marks the first race Petty has attended since the sport was shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Workers also painted “#IStandWithBubbaWallace” on the infield grass before Monday’s race, which was postponed from Sunday because of inclement weather.
Wallace said in a statement Sunday that he was “incredibly saddened” by the act.
Authorities said Monday that the FBI is investigating the discovery of the noose, and the governor of Alabama condemned the act against Wallace.
Former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. also took to Twitter to offer his support for Wallace in the wake of Sunday’s incident.
I don’t worry about our sport. I have confidence NASCAR’s leadership will find who did this and continue pushing us in the right direction. I do worry about Bubba. I hope Bubba is feeling loved and supported. Keep sending him that love and support. He needs it now more than ever.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 22, 2020
Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1’s only Black driver and its reigning champion, also offered his support via Instagram.
“It’s disgusting that this is happening, stay safe and alert out there bro,” Hamilton wrote. “Supporting you from afar, proud of you.”
Wallace two weeks ago successfully pushed NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its venues, 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, while a plane flew above the track pulling a banner of the flag that read “Defund NASCAR.”
Hours after the race was postponed by rain, NASCAR said the noose had been found. The sanctioning body vowed to do everything possible to find who was responsible and “eliminate them from the sport.”
Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said NASCAR contacted the FBI, which was handling the investigation. The FBI field office in Birmingham did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said she was “shocked and appalled” by the “vile act” against Wallace, an Alabama native.
“There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state,” Ivey said. “Bubba Wallace is one of us; he is a native of Mobile and on behalf of all Alabamians, I apologize to Bubba Wallace as well as to his family and friends for the hurt this has caused and regret the mark this leaves on our state.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.