Last year, a member of African-American NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s team reported that he had happened upon a noose in Wallace’s garage ahead of the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
In the immediate aftermath, Wallace received an outpouring of support for the purportedly racially motivated incident. In the intermediate aftermath, an FBI investigation determined that the “noose” was a pulldown rope that had been in the garage since 2019. NASCAR released a statement professing to be “thankful to learn that this was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba.”
Wallace took issue with the the investigation’s findings, though, appearing on Don Lemon’s CNN show to argue that “people want to call it a garage-pull, and put out old videos and photos of knots, as their evidence, but from the evidence that we have, that I have, it’s a straight-up noose.”
“Whether tied in 2019 or whatever, it was a noose. So it wasn’t directed at me, but somebody tied a noose, that’s what I’m saying,” continued Wallace.
ESPN, which reported on the FBI’s determination at the time (“FBI Says Rope had Been in Talladega Garage Since October; Bubba Wallace Not Victim of Hate Crime”), nevertheless placed the incident at the center of a documentary released Tuesday night — less than a week after actor Jussie Smollett was convicted of staging a fake hate crime against himself — called Fistful of Steel: The Rise of Bubba Wallace, which it promoted using the following tweet, siding with Wallace’s interpretation over the bureau’s:
Last year, a noose was found in Bubba Wallace's stall at Talladega Superspeedway. The next day, the NASCAR community stood with him in unity.
"I was like, 'Holy s—, it's the whole garage.' … That's when I lost it." pic.twitter.com/Zh5HWumagX
— ESPN (@espn) December 14, 2021
The documentary, which opens with Wallace telling an anecdote in which he asserts he “could have been another George Floyd incident,” also includes the driver’s own bit of media criticism. Journalists, he argues are too eager to publish “clickbait” focused on his race.
It also included the moving story of Wallace’s cousin, who was shot by police when he reached into his pocket for his cell phone after being asked to keep his hands in the air, as well as a description of the various challenges Wallace faced as he tried to make a name for himself in a sport with few fellow black drivers. Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the interlude about Wendell Scott, the first black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s Grand National Series.
But while Wallace’s journey to prominence in the world of racing is included, the noose incident serves as the film’s climax, and is presented as confirmation of the indictments of America that Wallace lays out as it progresses.
And despite the evidence to the contrary, Wallace and his family continue to believe that a noose was placed in Wallace’s garage to send a message. In the documentary, Wallace submits that the fifteen FBI agents sent to investigate got it wrong, offering of the knot, “that took time to do. It’s a noose.”
His sister, meanwhile, called the investigation “bullsh**,” and insisted that “we’re never going to find out who did it.”
NASCAR president Steve Phelps disagreed, telling ESPN “there wasn’t a hate crime, isn’t that a good thing? There wasn’t a hate crime, thank God there wasn’t a hate crime.”
“Look at the picture, what’s it look like to you? Is that a noose to you?” Wallace asked his interviewer in Fistful of Steel. “You tie your shoes like that?”
“It’s so sad that people don’t want to take the time to read the facts, and just make a judgment off of B.S.,” reflected Wallace.