Bubba Wallace

NASCAR's public support of Bubba Wallace was 'the most powerful scene in all of sports'

NASCAR's public support of Bubba Wallace was 'the most powerful scene in all of sports'

Over the last month, America has been having a long-overdue conversation about race, justice and equality in our society. At NBC Sports Washington, we wanted to further the dialogue by providing a forum for DMV-area sports figures who are thought leaders on these important issues.

NBC Sports Washington is launching the second part of an ongoing video series entitled Race in America. This week, Renaldo Wynn and Ish Smith joined Chis Miller for the second of these roundtable discussions to share their experiences, thoughts and how they’re using their platforms in this fight. To watch the full interview, click here.

NASCAR made two monumental statements over the past month that drastically changed how the sport is perceived by the world at large. 

The sport banned the Confederate flag from all of its events and also made an incredible, moving show of support for its lone Black driver, Bubba Wallace. 

Given the organization's history of a predominately white workforce and fan base, both messages were huge. It signaled a new era of inclusivity that many in the Black community did not feel before. 

RACE IN AMERICA: WATCH ISH SMITH & RENALDO WYNN'S FULL DISCUSSION

But with everything that has happened in NASCAR since Wallace first wore a 'Black Lives Matter' shirt in late May, the most powerful statement for NASCAR was them pushing down his car on the starting grid. Wizards player Ish Smith and former Redskins player Renaldo Wynn think that moment was one of the most powerful images in sports.

"I'm getting chills thinking about it," Smith said in NBC Sports Washington's Race in America series

The sign of solidarity came after a garage pull rope was fashioned like a noose was found in Wallace's garage at Talladega Superspeedway. Before the race the next day, all of NASCAR's current drivers and crew members from its top series physically and metaphorically pushed Wallace and his car to the front of the starting grid. 

While the FBI determined the noose was not a hate crime after the fact, the symbolism of that act reverberated across society. 

"That scene has gotta be the most powerful scene in all of sports," Wynn, who also works in auto racing, said. "Not just sports but history, because again... we talk about the history of NASCAR. Yeah, that would have been powerful for football or basketball, but this is NASCAR!"

RELATED: SMITH & WYNN MOVED BY NASCAR'S CONFEDERATE FLAG BAN

"It was like... a one-two punch, to let America know [NASCAR is] not being silent and we're going to stand behind Bubba. And the thing of it is, people don't know the journey that it took for him to get to that point to where he is right then and there."

Both Smith and Wynn knew Wallace at one point in their lives. Smith grew up with Wallace's sister, Brittany Gillespie, and became familiar with Bubba at an early age. 

He knows that Wallace is not comfortable with the limelight and controversy surrounding him. Nor is the publicity that came with it wanted, despite some conspiracy theorists. Still, Smith is proud of how Wallace has handled the pressure and media spotlight as only the second full-time Black driver in NASCAR's Cup Series' history. 

"To see who he is now, to see who the man he is now, I get chills because there becomes a time when you have to make a stand. I know he's uncomfortable sometimes walking in some of those areas when you're the sole Black person. To be as good as he is, he's already beaten the odds in that way. And then to speak up on what he said and how he said it, and then for NASCAR to make that action and then for them to push him- I was like, this is powerful," Smith said.

Wynn interacted with Wallace when they crossed paths at Joe Gibbs Racing. Wallace drove for JGR briefly in 2014 and 2015 for the Xfinity Series (NASCAR's second-tier series). Sponsorship issues arose halfway through the season and Wallace was granted a release from his contract before signing with another team. 

There, Wallace told Wynn about his experiences climbing up the racing ranks. He told him about dealing with racism and the Confederate flag being a common staple among smaller tiers in the South. 

"The thing of it is, he wasn't bitter. So he still had, like that joy... he didn't allow that to cause him be bitter to go through all that stuff. He's just still is like 'man, I'm going to out there and be the best and I'm not going to let that change me or cause me to be bitter'."

Some of those early experiences might still occur for young, up-and-coming Black drivers. But in the last month, Wallace has led incredible change in the racing community from leading the charge against the removal of the Confederate flag and facing several forms of racism. 

You can watch the full panel by clicking here.

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Donald Trump lashes out at NASCAR, Bubba Wallace over flag, noose incidents

Donald Trump lashes out at NASCAR, Bubba Wallace over flag, noose incidents

After a weekend spent stoking division, President Donald Trump on Monday went after NASCAR's only Black driver and criticized its decision to ban the Confederate flag at its races and venues.

Exploiting racial tensions, Trump wrongly accused Bubba Wallace of perpetrating "a hoax" after one of his crew members discovered a rope shaped like a noose in a garage stall they had been assigned to. Federal authorities ruled last month that the rope had been hanging there since at least last October and was not a hate crime. Wallace has maintained the rope had been fashioned into a noose.

"Has (at)BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?" Trump tweeted. "That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!"

The tweet came after Trump used a pair of Independence Day speeches to dig deeper into America's divisions by accusing protesters who have pushed for racial justice of engaging in a "merciless campaign to wipe out our history." The remarks served as a direct appeal to the Republican president's political base, including many disaffected white voters, with less than four months to go before Election Day.

Wallace, an Alabama native, has taken an active role in the push for racial equality. He has worn a shirt saying "I Can't Breathe," raced with a Black Lives Matter paint scheme in Virginia and successfully lobbied for NASCAR's Confederate flag ban.

For more than 70 years, the flag was a common and complicated sight at NASCAR races. The series first tried to ban the Confederate flag five years ago but did nothing to enforce the order.

While Trump claimed NASCAR's ratings are down, they are actually up.

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No charges in NASCAR noose incident involving Bubba Wallace

No charges in NASCAR noose incident involving Bubba Wallace

TALLADEGA, Ala.  -- The noose found hanging in Bubba Wallace's garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway had been there since at least last October, federal authorities said Tuesday in announcing there will be no charges filed in an incident that rocked NASCAR and its only fulltime Black driver.

U.S. Attorney Jay Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. said an investigation determined “although the noose is now known to have been in garage number 4 in 2019, nobody could have known Mr. Wallace would be assigned to garage number 4 last week.”

A crew member for Richard Petty Motorsports discovered the noose Sunday at the Alabama race track. NASCAR was alerted and contacted the FBI, which sent 15 agents to the track to investigate. They determined no federal crime was committed.

The statement said the garage stall was assigned to Wallace last week in advance of the race scheduled for Sunday but held Monday because of rain. Through video confirmed by NASCAR it was discovered the noose “was in that garage as early as October 2019."

The agencies said the evidence did not support federal charges. NASCAR said a check of every other stall in the garage showed the one for Wallace's car was the only one in which the pull down rope had been fashioned into a noose.

Wallace successfully pushed the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues less than two weeks ago. There has been criticism of the ban by some longtime fans and security had been stepped up for Wallace, a 26-year-old Alabama native who has worn in the last month a shirt over his firesuit that read “I Can't Breathe.” His paint scheme for a race in Virginia was Black Lives Matter.

NASCAR said in a statement that “the FBI report concludes, and photographic evidence confirms, that the garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose had been positioned there since as early as last fall. This was obviously well before the 43 team’s arrival and garage assignment.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the series is continuing its own investigation to determine why a noose had been in that garage stall at all. He added that it wasn't directed at Wallace was “a great conclusion for us” but was adamant NASCAR would have conducted its investigation the same way even now knowing it wasn't a hate crime.

“We would have done the same investigation. It was important for us to do,” he said, stressing that Wallace's race team had nothing to do with the incident.

"The evidence was very clear that the noose that was in the garage was in there previously. The last race we had in October, that noose was present. The evidence we had, it was clear we needed to look into this.”

The Wood Brothers Racing team said one of its employees informed the team he recalled “seeing a tied handle in the garage pull down rope from last fall,” when NASCAR raced at Talladega in October. The team said it immediately alerted NASCAR and assisted the investigation.

The discovery of the noose stunned the stock car series as it takes an active position in a push for inclusion while distancing itself from its rocky racial history. The series first tried to ban the Confederate flag five years ago but did nothing to enforce the order.

Wallace two weeks ago renewed the call for a ban and NASCAR answered, but it has yet to detail how it will stop the display. Talladega marked the first race since the coronavirus pandemic that fans were permitted -- 5,000 were allowed to purchase tickets -- and some upset with the flag ban paraded past the main entrance with the Southern symbol. A banner flew over the speedway Sunday of a Confederate flag that read “Defund NASCAR.”

NASCAR announced late Sunday the noose had been discovered and the industry rallied around Wallace. All 39 of his rival drivers and their crews helped push Wallace's car to the front of pit road before the national anthem and stood behind him in solidarity.

Wallace was joined by his team owner, Hall of Famer Richard Petty, who gently placed a hand on Wallace's shoulder as he sobbed. Wallace after the race went to the fencing along the grandstands and greeted supporters. Many were Black and wearing “I Can't Breathe” shirts.

“It’s just been hectic, you know, carrying this weight,” he said. "I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face. Look at (these fans). Is this the first time you’re here? From Atlanta? That is so cool! The sport is changing.”