DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A noose has been found in the garage area of NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace. He is the only black driver in the sport's premier cup competition. NASCAR says it has launched an immediate investigation to find the people responsible for this heinous act Sunday's incident at Alabama's Talladega racetrack came less than two weeks after the racing series banned confederate flags at all of its events. Wallace, who led that effort to ban the flag, spoke recently to All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly about its impact.
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BUBBA WALLACE: This may open the doors for new people to want to be a part of our sport now, seeing how big of a change that we are doing with removing a flag and trying to become more diverse.
GREENE: Let's bring in NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman, who has been following this story. Hi, Tom.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: Let's talk about this noose that was found. I mean, this is awful. What do we know right now?
GOLDMAN: Well, according to reports, Bubba Wallace did not see the noose. One of his team members found it and alerted NASCAR officials. Now, Talladega is just the second event since NASCAR's coronavirus shutdown to allow fans back. But fans weren't allowed in the garage area. So it's assumed whoever left the noose was approved to be there, meaning they would've had a NASCAR credential. NASCAR says it'll work with law enforcement officials as it investigates. The organization says it'll do everything it can to identify who did this and eliminate them from the sport.
GREENE: What is Bubba Wallace saying at this point?
GOLDMAN: He released a statement. He said he's incredibly saddened. And the incident 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. He goes on to say - And I'm quoting here, David - "As my mother told me, they're just trying to scare you. This will not break me."
And let's remember what he's done, you know, and the support he's gotten in just the last couple of weeks. He's out there on the tracks wearing an I can't breathe T-shirt he's got Black Lives Matter written on his number 43 car. He's galvanized fellow white drivers who've become engaged and made a dramatic video calling for the Confederate flag ban. With all that dramatic change, there are a lot of people within NASCAR really angry, really disgusted about what happened.
GREENE: Well, so, Tom, this race yesterday was supposed to be the first significant test of this ban on the flag. I mean, I know the race was postponed in the end, but was the flag seen anywhere?
GOLDMAN: It was. Some fans outside the speedway were flying the flag. There was a plane overhead pulling a banner behind it with a Confederate flag and the words, defund NASCAR. Now, some of those showing the flag who were interviewed said what we've often heard before - their allegiance is based on Southern heritage, not hatred. But, in fact, many historians note the flag represents states during the Civil War that wanted to preserve slavery. And it deeply offends.
Bubba Wallace, when he first called for the flag ban, said, we need to come together and meet in the middle and say, you know what? If this bothers you, I don't mind taking it down. But as we saw yesterday in the skies over Talladega and the streets outside, there still are those who do mind.
GREENE: I suppose all of this is the context for this race that's now rescheduled to take place today, right?
GOLDMAN: Yeah. Right. And we will see if, you know, people try and fly the flag on NASCAR property. NASCAR says it'll enforce the ban. It hasn't provided details about how. It's safe to say there will be extra vigilance at today's race in light of this noose incident.
GREENE: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.