By: Cole Cusumano
Sunday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway an alleged noose was found dangling above the garage stall of Bubba Wallace’s No. 43 machine. When the details broke later in the evening, it blindsided the NASCAR community and headlined major news outlets across the world. The disgusting deed left many sick and enraged — Jimmie Johnson included.
The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion discovered the news relatively late, after heading to sleep early to prepare for the postponed Geico 500. Johnson was appalled once he figured out the situation and felt the need to take a stand to support his fellow competitor.
The 44-year-old reached out via text to an exclusive drivers group chat, saying he would stand alongside Wallace during the National Anthem. In what Johnson called a “driver initiative,” everyone involved in the group expressed their own ideas to comfort their friend in distress. It was revealed that 2014 Champion, Kevin Harvick, came up with the plan to push the No. 43 Camaro in unison to the front of the grid for the pre-race ceremonies.
The end result was one of the most important and iconic moments in sporting history.
Wallace’s No. 43 steamrolled to the front of pit road with the backing of an entire industry. Alongside the Alabama-native was car owner and racing legend, Richard Petty, who made his first appearance at a track since COVID-19 began. Over the shoulders of two men who’ve paved the way for the sport was a seemingly endless sea of drivers, crew members and NASCAR officials who all marched in solidarity for one of their own.
Tears streamed down Wallace’s face while hunched over his ride and being embraced by ‘The King.’ Hugs and handshakes followed an emotional opening ceremony for the Cup Series. In one of the most profound and vitally important displays that extends far past the sport itself, NASCAR had a stronghold of the eyes of the world.
“I think after seeing some of the photos the first rain delay, I noticed the magnitude and impact of what we did as a group today,” Johnson said. “Until we started walking and I could see every driver there, and looked back and saw each team jump off the wall and fall in line — to see how many people were on pit road showing their support for Bubba, that warmed me up tremendously.”
Following a raw and powerful statement by the sport, the psychological impact of having to turn around and drive 500 miles at one of the largest and fastest tracks on the circuit seemed like a tall task. Shockingly, for the driver who initiated the movement on pit road, the reality was quite the opposite.
“For me it was such a moment of pride that I shifted out of the dark place I was this morning and the disbelief that I had,” Johnson told POPULAR SPEED. “Whoever did what they did is hopefully watching and realizes that not here, not in our sport. It switched to a far different emotion than I really even anticipated.
“I know it was tough on Bubba. He was quite emotional at different points. I think he probably had a harder transition from what was taking place on pit road to firing the engine and going to work than myself for sure.”
At the conclusion of a monumental day for NASCAR, Wallace emerged from his Camaro all smiles after finishing 14th — one spot behind Johnson. The Alabama-native stood silently on the frontstretch, taking in the love of appreciation from his home crowd. “The sport is changing,” Wallace said as he gleamed at the spectators in the stands. Albeit interacting without a required facemask, this was the intent of the Team Chevy driver who wanted to show the perpetrator he would not be broken.
In a shocking turn of events the following day, the FBI report came back and there were no charges set forth for a threat or hate crime. Reported by a team member, the rope in question was actually a pulldown for the door tied in a noose-like fashion, and it had been installed as early as October of 2019.
While an embarrassing misunderstanding, this should be a happily welcomed twist to an all too real horror film that began Sunday afternoon. Regardless, NASCAR should be commended for their swift and progressive actions in the face of adversity. In what was deemed as one of the darkest days for the industry, the sport came together to get behind their friend and brother when he needed it most.
Johnson took to Twitter saying, ““I’m relieved to hear this wasn’t a hate crime and I’m still so proud of how our sport came together yesterday.”
Wallace came forward with a statement as well, reiterating a unified sense of reassurance from an awkward situation. He also saluted NASCAR and the FBI for finding a hasty resolution, but does not want this to overshadow the sport’s unified and gradual efforts to create a welcoming environment for all fans.
Categories: NASCAR Cup Series