Wallace, the only Black driver in the sport’s top level, had called for the flag — a symbol long linked to America’s history of racism — to be prohibited earlier this month as protests over police brutality and systemic inequality raged across the country. But the decision sparked controversy among the sport’s mostly white, Southern fan base who argued the flag isn’t a racist symbol but a part of their heritage.
The noose was found in the garage stall for the No. 43 car racing team, which is owned by Richard Petty Motorsports. It’s unclear who has access to Wallace’s stall, which is located in Talladega, Alabama.
The FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are investigating, U.S. Attorney Jay Town said Monday.
“Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society,” Town said.
Nooses are one of the most powerful symbols of hate directed toward Black Americans and are tied to the history of lynchings in the South, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“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 said in a statement on Twitter.
NASCAR condemned the act later Sunday, saying it was “angry and outraged” and couldn’t “state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act.” It said whoever was found responsible would be ejected from the body.
“We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport,” the company said. “As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
The sport banned the Confederate flag shortly after Wallace issued his own call to do so, saying the symbol ran “contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.” The driver had said he had to reckon with his own relationship to the symbol and had come to the conclusion it did not represent anything but hate.
Just days later, he raced the No. 43 car with a new paint scheme featuring Black Lives Matter logos and calls for unity.
Wallace wrote Sunday that he had been overwhelmed by the support he’d received after his call to bar the Confederate flag, and said the sport had made “a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone.” He said he would not be deterred by the racist act.
“This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down,” he said, citing words of encouragement from his mother. “I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in.
In a statement issued Monday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) called the incident “vile” and said she was “shocked and appalled” to hear of it. She apologized to Wallace, who was born in Mobile, on behalf of all Alabamians.
“There is no place for this disgusting display of hatred in our state,” Ivey said. “Racism and threats of this nature will not be condoned nor tolerated, and I commit to assisting in any way possible to ensure that the person responsible for this is caught and punished.”
Hayley Miller contributed reporting.