Monday, Sep 26

Transcript: Steve Phelps updates Bubba Wallace incident at Talladega Superspeedway

ERIC NYQUIST:  Thank you, and thank you all for making the time to join us here today.  We wanted to take the time here to update you on some of the findings we have had over the last several days and answer the questions that you have about the investigation.

            We know this has been a difficult week and we appreciate all your patience and professionalism throughout it.  We have looked forward to the time that we could speak with each of you and that time is now.

            So with that said, I'll turn it over to NASCAR president, Steve Phelps.  Steve.

            STEVE PHELPS:  Thank you, Eric.  And everyone, appreciate your time, as always.  We think it's important to get back together as quickly as we could.  I want to thank you for your patience during this process.  I know there are a lot of questions, and I didn't have the opportunity to take questions on Tuesday.

            When I spoke on late Tuesday, the federal investigation had just been completed.  Before then we were not allowed to comment beyond what was disclosed and we wanted to make sure we had a complete investigation before commenting in detail and fielding the questions.  So we will be fielding questions at the end.  But as I said on Tuesday, we thought it was important you heard from us as quickly as we could.

            At this time we now have completed our own investigation.  Before opening up for questions, I do want to say a few things to add some context and color around the events at Talladega and the days since.  First, I want to touch on our approach and decision to investigate.  As I mentioned on Tuesday, given the facts presented to us, we would have pursued this with the same sense of urgency and purpose.

            Upon learning of and seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver.  We're living in a highly charged and emotional time.  What we saw was a symbol of hate and was only present in one area of the garage, that of the 43 car of Bubba Wallace.  In hindsight, we should have, I should have used the word "alleged" in our statement.

            Many of you have seen the photo.  As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba.  With similar emotion, others across our industry and our media stood up to defend the NASCAR family, our NASCAR family, because they are part of the NASCAR family too.  We are proud to see so many stand up for what's right.

            I think it's important to briefly go through the timeline, now that our investigation is complete.  It's not exhaustive, but I think it will give you a sense for what happened and the procedures and how we went forward with the investigation.

            On Sunday, after initial inspection and prior to the race, a member of the 43 team noticed the noose in the garage stall.  At roughly 4:30 NASCAR was alerted to the presence of the noose.  At that point we did a full sweep of the garage by our security team, and only the rope of the 43 team saw was a noose, all the others were regular ropes.

            At about 6:00 NASCAR senior leadership met and immediately determined this needed to be investigated and began those initial steps of the investigation.  At approximately 7:30 I notified Bubba Wallace of what was found in the garage.  After that we continued to gather facts and conduct our investigation, we thought it was important to put out a statement as quickly as we could, which we did at roughly 10:40 on Sunday evening.

            Early Monday morning the FBI Birmingham office reached out to us.  By roughly 10:00 the FBI arrived with 15 field agents to begin their investigation.  We provided the FBI with a list of personnel with access to the garage, as well as video and images taken from the weekend and the 2019 fall weekend as well.

            During the course of the day the FBI interviewed race team personnel from multiple teams, NASCAR officials, track fire and safety personnel and track custodial staff.  Talladega Superspeedway also provided the FBI with a list of events that had taken place since October of 2019, which is when the new garages opened.

            The FBI reports back at the end of the day that their interviews are complete for the day and the evidence so far or thus far at that point was inconclusive, with plans to continue their investigation the following morning.

            On Tuesday morning NASCAR received additional video from the team and provided it to the FBI.  The video corroborated the testimony from one of the interviews that the FBI had conducted that the noose was present in that stall during the fall Cup event.  The U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI informed NASCAR that their investigation had conclusively found this was not a hate crime.

            We were asked to keep this confidential until the release.  Their release went out at roughly 4:10.  About 4:15 we released our own statement and then we had our NASCAR teleconference on Tuesday evening.  So those are the events of the day.

            I want to talk a little bit what's happened since then.  Through the investigation, the examination of the video and photographic evidence, the FBI was able to determine the noose was present in the same garage stall as last fall.  It was still our responsibility to find answers to key questions as we had talked about on Tuesday:  How did the noose get there?  Was anyone an intended target?  Was this a code‑of‑conduct violation?  Are nooses present elsewhere in other garages where we race?

            So let me talk about the last one first.  NASCAR conducted a thorough sweep of all the garage areas across the tracks that we race.  So across those 29 tracks and 1,684 garage stalls, we found only 11 total that had a pull‑down rope tied in a knot.  And only one noose:  The one discovered on Sunday in Bubba Wallace's garage.

            We further determined that the noose was not in place when the October 2019 race weekend began but was created at some point during that weekend.  Given that timing and the garage access policies and procedures at the time, we were unfortunately unable to determine with any certainty who tied this rope in this manner or why it was done.

            We know it brings up another question:  How could it have gone unnoticed by so many people in October 2019 and for the morning on June 21, 2020?  Our ultimate conclusion for this investigation is to ensure that this never happens again, that no one walks by a noose without recognizing the potential damage it can do.

            Moving forward we'll be conducting thorough sweeps of the garage area to ensure nothing like this happens again, and we are installing additional cameras in all of our garages.  We'll make any changes necessary to our sanctions and our code of conduct and we will mandate that all members of our industry complete sensitivity and unconscious bias training with specifics and timing forthcoming.

            Going forward, our efforts are best spent on making sure every competitor feels safe and every guest feels welcome.  I would also like to reinforce that we did see at Talladega in pre‑race on Monday our drivers, crews and officials proudly demonstrated that we are united in the belief that there is no place for racism in our sport.

            We want to thank ‑‑ we want everyone with a love for racing to feel welcome and a part of our NASCAR family, and our industry is going to protect our own against anyone that feels differently.  My hope is that the fortunate results of the FBI investigation should not diminish the impact of that moment nor the message our sport sent.  The world saw our true colors and it made us all incredibly proud.

            Before I turn this over to questions, let me reiterate two things.  Bubba Wallace and the 43 team had nothing to do with this.  Bubba Wallace has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity.  It is offensive seeing anyone suggest otherwise, and frankly it's further evidence as to how far we still need to go as a society.  Secondly there's been discussion and criticism on how this was handled and characterized.  Some feel that the phrasing or words used were not right.  That comes with the territory, and I will take full responsibility for that and for the emotion that was attached to it.  Based on the evidence we had, we thought our drivers ‑‑ that one of our drivers had been threatened, a driver who had been extremely courageous in recent words and actions.  It's our responsibility to react and investigate, and that's exactly what we did.

            On that, I'll open it up for questions.


  1. I actually have two quick questions.  Is there anything of the very polarizing reaction to this entire matter or anything that is perhaps untrue in the reaction that you've read or heard that has been most bothersome to you personally?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I think that I've tried to stay off of Twitter as much as I can.  I do think anyone who would suggest that this was a hoax or manufactured or that the events around this ‑‑ I just find, again, personally offensive.  I don't know how people frankly think that way and I'm not going to try to, but I would say of all those things that's probably the most offensive to me.


  1. And one other thing, some NASCAR fans have said that they feel hurt, maybe even embarrassed, and they shouldn't, but because non‑fans reacting maybe make them look bad or stupid or people reporting who don't understand the sport.  Do you have a message for the fans who maybe feel that way right now?

            STEVE PHELPS:  Here's what I would say to the fans:  I think it goes to the industry broadly and not just the fan base, which is there was something ‑‑ a member of our community, in this case Bubba Wallace, we believed was under attack, right?  That the events that we found or that the crew member of the 43 found and the subsequent things that happened after that, that it was, we needed to protect ‑‑ kind of protect our ranks and protect our family member.  So I don't want anyone to feel ‑‑ I don't think anyone should feel embarrassed, right.  I don't think anyone, those people who are not part of our sport and are making comments about what we should or shouldn't have done or it was a hoax and this is all fake, I just, I can't speak to that, but I would say, again, NASCAR showed its true colors on Monday, our drivers, our crews, anyone at the racetrack, but more importantly, all the fans that watched it on TV.  I watched it on television, and I'm not embarrassed to say, I cried.  It was an emotional, moving moment for our sport and I think an important one that suggests that NASCAR is welcome to all.


  1. I'm curious about the photo release you guys put out of the formulated noose in Bubba's garage.  What was the origin of the photo, when and how was it taken and who captured that photo, for anybody that doesn't believe it's authentic?

            STEVE PHELPS:  Yeah, that was captured by NASCAR security as part of our investigation.  I think it speaks volumes for why we reacted the way we did.  I know that you and others had supported where we were on Sunday night and on Monday and the twists and turns that this has taken, and we appreciate the support that all people have given to Bubba and our sport overall.  I'll go back to it; I don't think that anyone should hang their head at all.  I think that everyone should hold their head tall on this and stand tall with Bubba on this and stand tall as an industry, and that's what we're going to do.


  1. You said that you couldn't determine who put the rope in the garage, so I'm curious, a couple questions:  One, have you talked to the Wood Brothers and what was their explanation on why that was in their garage stall last year at Talladega?  And secondly, if the Wood Brothers say they didn't do it and that would seem to infer that this was done in a manner that wasn't intent to pull down the garage stall and that there might be a deeper meaning there; is that correct?

            STEVE PHELPS:  We did have a lot of conversations as part of our investigation with the Wood Brothers, as we did with others in the industry.  We could not determine whether it was someone on their team or someone else, but extensive conversations there.  And to your point, we have no idea what the intent was at all, whether there was any malice in it or whether it was just fashioned as a noose for a pulley.  We don't know that.


  1. Just a question, you went into the timeline of everything that took place that led to the conclusions that everybody seemed to reach as a general consensus.  I was wondering how much you felt the circumstances surrounding the weekend, such as the Confederate flag parade, the plane flying over the speedway the day before sort of added to a confluence of various circumstances, in addition to what already was going on in the weeks and month prior to the race weekend?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I would say it absolutely it was a factor in it.  I think that being at the racetrack and someone's ability to protest peacefully outside of our facility, we were all for, right?  A guy flying overhead in a crop duster with a Confederate flag, saying "defund NASCAR," you know, and frankly all the points to your points, things that have led up to that, including the banning of the Confederate flag, something that we were enforcing for the first time that weekend and fortunately we didn't see any incidents of the Confederate flag on the property and our fans respected that.  And it was a great first step on that front.  But were there heightened emotions and what has gone on over the past two and a half weeks in our country and then in our sport?  I think it absolutely was emotionally charged for a lot of people, and I'll include myself in that.


  1. And one quick follow‑up question, in regards to Bubba, as you pointed out, he really in terms of the discovery of this had nothing to do with it, yet of course on social media and on across TV and so forth he's bearing a lot of undeserved negative connotations.  I was just wondering if you had a chance to speak with him again since then and wondered how you thought he was holding up.

            STEVE PHELPS: I have.  I've spoken to Bubba a couple of times.  You know, I think it's hard.  The kind of twists and turns that happened on Tuesday, it was surprising for me.  I know it was surprising for Bubba.  It was surprising for our entire industry that we're trying to point towards solving for what we believe was ‑‑ it was an alleged hate crime, right?  So that's what we were solving for.  And then to have it be, hey, this is something that actually was coincidental, that's a very difficult thing to try to get to.  But, listen, Bubba is a warrior, he is strong, he's resolute in what he thinks is right.  I find it, I just find it incredibly disturbing and that there are those that are out there that just feel the need to spread the hate or to spread false things, I just, I don't understand it, I really don't.


  1. Do you know, is it a functioning noose?  Does the knot actually slip?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I don't know.  I think that ‑‑ I saw the picture and it looked like ‑‑ obviously it looks like a noose, and I'm no expert on nooses.  I'm sure there are experts out there that would suggest that it function or it can't function, I just don't know.


  1. And NASCAR obviously owns Talladega, and maybe there haven't been maybe as many events there obviously because of COVID‑19, but do you have any idea how many people have been in the garage that would have potentially have seen that from the Monday of the October race this year until Sunday of last week?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I'm not sure.  We can follow‑up on that.  I don't know.


  1. Did you get any explanation from people or do you have any sense of why nobody reported or nobody was startled or are they just so busy in the garage that it just didn't register or anything like that?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I'm not sure.  I will go back to the idea that our industry, all of our employees in our industry broadly need to go through sensitivity and bias conscious training.  It's an important thing to do because I'm sure some ‑‑ I'm not sure; odds are that someone saw it and didn't react negatively to it.  So we need to make sure that doesn't happen in the future.  So we can sweep garages for nooses, which we will do, but we're not going to ‑‑ it needs to be ‑‑ we need to be better as an industry.


  1. Considering all that's happened and all the things that have been said, will you have additional security at Pocono in general and specifically for Bubba?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I think during this entire time, because, even before kind of the goings on at Talladega, Bubba has put himself out there and I know there's been a lot of hate that has been spread his way, social media and other places, so it's important for us to increase his security and we have done that.  We need to keep Bubba safe.  We need to keep a member of our family safe.


  1. Considering the pushback you're still getting about the flag ban, do you need to be more aggressive about the reasoning behind all that, or do you just kind of let that sit and go where it goes?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I think that ‑‑ here's what I would say:  We have made a statement that we're going to ban the Confederate flag at all our facilities.  And when I say all of our facilities, I'm not talking about the just the racetracks that we own, but Marcus Smith at SMI, he's resolute that they will do what is necessary to make sure there are no Confederate flags on their properties.  The three independent tracks at our top series that we race at, Dover, Pocono and Indy, they also are very supportive of what we're doing, so we are not going to back off of that policy, it is, we have made the statement and we're going to follow through to its fullest.  So ultimately, when we get back to full grandstands, everyone who walks through the gates or on to our property or one of our tracks or where our races are being held will understand that they will not see the Confederate flag.


  1. I understand what you're saying that you were unable to determine who tied it or why it was done.  But one, do you believe it was a team member who did do this and two, if so, did you get any rational explanation for why a team member would have tied a knot that way?

            STEVE PHELPS:  I really don't know.  I could speculate, but it doesn't, it wouldn't do any good.  I don't know.  And I don't know the intent of what it was as well.  So it's hard and I know that's, we'd like to have complete resolution here and have all the answers.  Based on all the video and photographic evidence and all the interviews we have done we were not able to determine who crafted the noose, so.  I know that's unfulfilling but there's nothing ‑‑ I wish there was more we could do, but we can't and so we have drawn this matter to a close.


  1. You also said that you would have added "allegedly" to your statement Sunday and Monday.  You also said in those statements Sunday and Monday that a heinous act had been committed, presumably you mean last weekend, before it was confirmed by the FBI that no hate crime was committed this past weekend.  Do you have any regrets about saying that a heinous act had been committed before it could be fully vetted that that didn't occur last weekend?

            STEVE PHELPS:  Well, I think to your point, if we had said "alleged", yes, you know, I think ‑‑ I'll go back to the emotion of the moment and I'll take responsibility for that.  And should we have toned that message down slightly?  Maybe we should have.  And I'll take responsibility for that.  I think it's a ‑‑ I stand by the actions that we took and I think they were the right ones.  And as I said before, given the evidence that we had, we would do, we would do the same thing, we would investigate it the same way.  If it comes to where we need to craft a statement differently, and I need to take a little less emotion out of it, that's something I'll do, I'll take responsibility for that.

            Can I make one closing statement?  So I'm asking myself that question.  I do want to say a quick close, because I think it's important, I want to reiterate something.  I want to thank Bubba Wallace and everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports.  Specifically thank Bubba for his leadership over this past three weeks.  Bubba has done nothing but represent this sport with courage, class and dignity and he stood tall for what he believes in.  And we all need to stand with him, I know I'm going to.  As we pivot now and look forward to racing this weekend at Pocono, I think it's important to make sure that we are getting back to something that helps take, people take incredible comfort and enjoy so much, which is our racing and that's what we need to try to get back and doing.  We had a phenomenal race at Talladega with a ton of emotion and we're looking forward to getting to this quadruple weekend of racing in Pocono and I just want to thank everyone for their support and for their time today.

            ERIC NYQUIST: Thanks Steve.  Again, appreciate you making the time on this.  And media, we thank you for making the time today and your patience on what's been a really difficult week and we all appreciate it and we're really looking forward to getting back to some great racing at Pocono.  Everyone have a great day now.  Thank you very much.




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