The FBI has joined NASCAR in an investigation into who left a noose in the racetrack garage of African American driver Bubba Wallace.
The incident happened Sunday in Wallace's garage area at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Stock car's top drivers are there for the annual Talladega race. It was postponed Sunday because of bad weather and rescheduled for Monday.
Wallace is the only Black driver in NASCAR's top circuit. He's been the focus of attention since his successful lobbying led the stock car racing organization to impose a historic ban on the Confederate flag at NASCAR events.
In a pre-race media teleconference Monday, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said the joint NASCAR / FBI investigation doesn't yet have a lot of answers about what he calls the "very, very serious act" of planting the noose in Wallace's garage.
Phelps said it's too early to get into specifics about what might've been captured on video cameras in the garage area. He did talk about who might've had access to the area he refers to as "the footprint" at the racetrack.
"We have a very small number of people that are in the footprint," Phelps said, noting security is tight even when there isn't a pandemic limiting access. "Only essential personnel who [were] there. Obviously we'll review the entire list with the FBI about who had access at that particular time."
"We also use something called compartmentalization – we look at who was in that particular area and we'll able to narrow that down."
Phelps was asked about possible security breaches.
"I can't say no for certain," Phelps said, adding "the security around getting into the footprint is significant." Essential personnel reportedly includes team members, NASCAR and track officials and safety crews.
Phelps is adamant about the ultimate punishment for the culprit(s).
"Unequivocally they'll be banned [from NASCAR] for life," he said. "There's no room for this at all and we won't tolerate it. I don't care who they are, they will not be here."
Phelps said NASCAR also has stepped up security for Wallace.
"This is a family that needs to take care of one of its family members who's been attacked," Phelps said.
Indeed, Wallace is getting widespread support throughout NASCAR.
Legendary driver Richard Petty, who owns Wallace's number 43 car, announced before Monday's rescheduled Talladega race that he would be there to support Wallace.
The 82-year-old Petty said he's enraged by the incident.
"There's absolutely no place in our sport or society for racism," he said in a statement. "This filthy act serves as a reminder of how far we still have to go to eradicate racial prejudice, and it galvanizes my resolve to use the resources of Richard Petty Motorsports to create change. This sick person who perpetrated this act must be found, exposed and swiftly and immediately expelled from NASCAR."
Prior to Monday's race, Wallace posted a selfie on social media with him and his car in the foreground, and fellow drivers in the background gathered in a semi-circle of support.
Accompanying the photo, the word "together."