NASCAR: Key Remarks in Thursday's Teleconference With Steve Phelps
NASCAR President Steve Phelps addressed the media via teleconference on Thursday to discuss its findings and offer more of a timeline in the investigation of a noose found in the Richard Petty Motorsports garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway. All quotes below are statements made by Phelps.
"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".
"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."
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.
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."
"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."
"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."
Q. 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."
Q. 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."
Q. 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."
Q. 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."
Q. 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."
Brett has been following the sport of NASCAR since the beginning of the 2006 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. Since Brett was 13, he has had a passion of chasing a job in sports that not many get the opportunity of doing. He has been in the NASCAR media since the middle of the 2010 season. Since then, he has been a part of many racing podcast shows to improve his talents. You can find him on twitter @NASCAR_Brett.
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