A day after a noose was found in the team garage of African-American race car driver Bubba Wallace, his fellow drivers staged a moving show of support for him Monday.
Shortly before the start of a NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) race at Talladega Superspeedway in the southern state of Alabama, several drivers pushed Wallace’s number 43 car to the front of pit row, followed by a long procession of other drivers and members of their pit crews. The procession moved past an area on the infield grass with the phrase “#IStandWithBubba” painted on it.
An emotional Wallace partially emerged from the car after it came to a stop and broke down in tears. Legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty, who made the number 43 car a cultural icon and is co-owner of Wallace’s team, walked up to Wallace and put his hands on his shoulders.
Wallace is the lone African American driver in NASCAR’s top-level Cup Series. He drew widespread support earlier this month when he successfully urged NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its races in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis last month. The flag, which represented the slave-owning southern U.S. states that split from the North during the 1861-65 Civil War, remains a prominent symbol of southern culture, but many African Americans consider the flag a lasting symbol of slavery, racism and white supremacy.
Floyd’s death has sparked a backlash against other perceived symbols of white supremacy, including statues of Confederate generals and other historical figures. Some statues have either been defaced or torn down by protesters, or removed by local officials.
NASCAR, which also has its roots in southern U.S. culture, said in a statement it will do everything it can to identify who was responsible for the noose “and eliminate them from our sport.” The FBI is also investigating the incident.
Wallace finished 14th in the race, which was scheduled to run Sunday but postponed because of rain. Protesters on Saturday and Sunday drove cars and trucks flying the Confederate flag on roads near the track.
Wallace said after the race that the incident “was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life,” but called the support he received afterwards as “incredible.”