As engines fell silent and drivers climbed from their cars, another sound emerged Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.
It started with a couple of fans chanting.
“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”
Soon more joined.
“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”
Lydia Diaz, a 30-year-old mother of two and Walmart employee, yelled so much that her head began to hurt, but she kept chanting Bubba Wallace’s name.
Diaz was among a group of about 15 Black fans who came from Atlanta to support Wallace, a day after NASCAR stated that a noose was discovered in his team’s garage stall at Talladega.
The FBI later said that no federal hate crime was committed against Wallace because the noose had been there since Oct. 2019 and there was no way to know back then that his team would be in that particular stall this year. A NASCAR investigation could not determine why the pull down rope for the garage bay door was fashioned that way and who did it.
In the stands with Diaz on Monday was fiancé Mel Rose and friend Brionne Horne. Also there was Errin Bentley and Greg Drumwright, a senior minister at the Citadel of Praise Church and Campus Ministries. Bentley had called Drumwright, telling him about the noose found in Wallace’s garage stall and asked Drumwright to help organize a group to go to Talladega.
When the race ended, Wallace was so far away on pit road from the stands that Daiz said he looked “a little like an ant” to her. But the group continued to chant Wallace’s name.
“I heard the Bubba chants, and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands,” Wallace said. “I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.”
He did. Wallace slapped their hands through the fence and thanked them for being there.
“That was an epic moment for me,” said the 36-year-old Bentley, a restaurant employee. “That was an out-of-body experience.”
It was a bigger moment for the sport, said Brad Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team.
“When I saw those fans leaning against the fence, I thought, man, this is awesome, this is what we need,” Daugherty said. “We need the symbolism of people not being discouraged to come and participate in our sport.
“It made me feel great. I’m so excited. I’m telling you, the folks at NASCAR better watch out. I’ve got about a hundred people that I want to get garage and pit passes for. It’s going to be big. They want to come to the racetrack.
“It’s going to be great to see a sea of color as well as being embraced by our Caucasian brothers and sisters while we’re there. Maybe we can get back to this being about race, but the human race.”
They call Drumwright Pastor Greg. His church is in Greensboro, North Carolina, but his ministry is where healing and justice are needed.
He went to Brunswick, Georgia after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a white man while jogging.
Drumwright was in Minneapolis where George Floyd died after a since-fired white police officer had his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Drumwright traveled to Houston for Floyd’s funeral.
Drumwright then went to Atlanta after a since-fired white police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks.
Never did Drumwright expect he would go next to Talladega, Alabama.
But Bentley felt something had to be done after seeing the reports about the noose.
“I felt like if I was to be just like the other millions of people that say I’ll let somebody else handle it, then I’ll become part of the problem,” Bentley said. “It’s really that simple to me. That is really a big major problem that we have, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, whether it’s human rights, civil rights or anything of that nature, someone is always trying to pass something over to somebody else.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility. Nobody wants to stand up and be the face. Too many people are afraid. That’s part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution.”
For as much as NASCAR has progressed with diversity, its past and stereotype cast a long shadow over the sport. When Drumwright organized the group to go Talladega on Monday, he and others got calls from friends and families urging them not to go.
“This far into 2020, it is still a commonly held belief that Black folks are not safe in an overwhelmingly white space in the Deep South,” Drumwright said.
It had been less than two weeks that NASCAR announced it was banning the display of the Confederate flag at all its events and facilities. Just the day before they were at the track, a plane flew over the speedway towing a Confederate flag and the message to Defund NASCAR.
When the group with Drumwright stopped at a Dollar General store in Alabama to purchase supplies for posters to take to the track, he said “we were literally told by local residents, you all need to be careful … but we were also told, we are glad you are here, We needed you all to come here. Thank you for being here.”
Drumwright wore a black shirt that read “We Still Can’t Breathe” on it. Horne was among a few in the group who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt. The message on Bentley’s shirt stated: “We march. Y’all mad. We sit down. Y’all mad. We speak up. Y’all mad. We kneel. Y’all mad. We die. Silence.”
The posters they carried included those that stated:
“We stand with Bubba”
“We Bang with Bubba”
“Let Freedom Ring”
“Take Your Knee Off Our Neck”
When they arrived at the track, they saw a tent set up not on track property selling Confederate flags.
“It’s still difficult to look at it,” Horne said of the Confederate flag.
Those in the group admit to getting stares, eye rolls and seeing some people look away after they arrived at the track.
But those that made the trip to Talladega also said they were warmly welcomed by fans.
Horne, a 20-year-old student at Georgia Southern, said a fan came to members of the group and asked to take a picture with them.
“After that, it was like family after family after person after person kept asking us to take pictures (with them), showing their support and their love for what we were out there doing for the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “That, I feel like, completely changed the fear, the anxiety we had walking into Talladega.”
Bentley, who had never been to a NASCAR race before Monday said he was more afraid going to Talladega than any time he has protested in the streets. Bentley said after attending Monday’s race, he would encourage Black fans to go to a race and support Wallace.
“I would tell them don’t be afraid,” he said. “If they were afraid, you don’t have to afraid anymore.
“As long as we are afraid to do something, we don’t have any control. We don’t have any fight. You’ve got to have courage, you’ve got to have heart, that will to want. (Wallace) needs our support. We need his support.”
NASCAR Cup races this weekend at Pocono Raceway, July 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and July 12 at Kentucky Speedway will be held without fans. The next race scheduled to have fans will be the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will admit up to 30,000 fans.
Drumwright, who wants a meeting with NASCAR leadership, said he is looking to organize a larger group for the Bristol race.
Diaz, a mother of boys ages 2 and 3, said it was “mission accomplished” for the Talladega trip but acknowledges more can be done in society.
“I’ve been out here for the last month, fighting for everybody to be equal so my kids, when they are older, they can go wherever they want and they do whatever they want and they don’t have to worry about nobody judging them because of who their father is or who their mother is or the color of their skin,” she said. “That’s what I’m out here for, honestly, every day.
“I wanted Bubba to know that we supported him for that noose that was found in his garage. I wanted him to know that we were there for him.”
This hits hard for me. Ill never forget the chants, I’ll never forget this image! pic.twitter.com/x8nVLdvsWz
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 26, 2020
With a recent uptick in positive test results for COVID-19 in parts of the country, NASCAR driver Joey Logano isn’t taking anything to chance.
“I’ve tried to treat everyone like they have COVID-19,” Logano said during a media teleconference Friday afternoon. “That’s at least my way of trying to stay safe.”
The philosophy works for Logano, which is significant partly because one member of Team Penske tested positive for the virus nearly a week ago, along with two employees of Stewart-Haas Racing.
There is also a reported increase of positive tests and hospitalizations in the Charlotte area, according to The Charlotte Observer.
“If you look at Team Penske, I can’t speak for all the teams, but they are very strict at how seriously they’re taking this virus,” Logano said. “Everybody in that place has a mask on all day long. If you get on a team plane, you’re (wearing a) mask and rubber gloves the whole time.
“They’ve done a really good job at that. If you look at who else they needed to quarantine after that, it’s a very small group because everybody has been so strict at Team Penske to where it doesn’t shut down our whole race shop.
“We’ve done a real good job social distancing where we can, but also wearing our PPE (personal protective equipment) all the time. That’s the most important things we can do.”
Some of he best advice I’ve gotten out of this whole thing is assume everybody has coronavirus and what would you do?
“Some of the best advice I’ve gotten out of this whole thing is assume everybody has coronavirus and what would you do? You’re obviously not going to shake someone’s hand, you’re going to stay a little more distant, you’re going to wear your mask, you’re going to wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer. You’re going to do that stuff.
“If you have that mindset that the person next to you has COVID-19, you’re going to obviously be nervous about it. So I’ve tried to treat everyone like they have COVID-19. That’s at least my way of trying to stay safe. Our sport has done a real good job at it and I think Team Penske has done even better, in my opinion.”
In another teleconference earlier in the day, Greg Ives, crew chief for Alex Bowman and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE also spoke about precautions he and the organization are taking — particularly when teams are on the road at races — in light of the virus resurgence.
“On an individual basis, you have to have those conversations with each guy that you have on your team,” Ives said. “From the comfort level of traveling to different areas. I’ve had that conversation with them.
“The other thing is, everybody at Hendrick Motorsports is taking this time seriously. When we are traveling to Pocono, how are we going to feed our guys and supply them with the food they need? It may sound trivial, but (one way is) not having them go to restaurants to potentially expose them.
“And we’ve come up with plans where basically we give them the meals they need so they are only going to one location. Making sure they eat at the track versus going out to somewhere else. Those types of things, even from how we are feeding the guys to how we are protecting them, is definitely very much important to not only myself, but everybody at Hendrick Motorsports.
“I feel like we’re doing it the best way, the safest way. For those that may feel uncomfortable in those scenarios or situations, we’re definitely hearing their voice and taking the proper protocol.”
The NASCAR Cup Series’ Pocono Raceway doubleheader weekend begins Saturday afternoon with a 325-mile race around the “Tricky Triangle.”
The first Cup event is one of five races scheduled for this weekend, including a Truck Series race earlier Saturday and a Xfinity Series race on Sunday.
The top-20 finishers for Saturday’s Cup race will be inverted for Sunday’s starting lineup.
Can Joe Gibbs Racing extend its current streak of five consecutive Pocono wins?
Here are the details for Saturday’s race:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines will be given by actors Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne at 3:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:54 p.m.
PRERACE: Drivers report to their cars at 3:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:35 p.m. by Billy Mauldin of Motor Racing Outreach. The national anthem will be performed at 3:36 p.m.
DISTANCE: The race is 130 laps (325 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 25. Stage 2 ends on Lap 77.
TV/RADIO: Fox will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 3 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. Its broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 74 degrees and a 70% chance of rain at the race’s start.
STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.
Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:
Theodore Brown, who has been the crew chief for Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 74 car in the Xfinity Series this year, was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Friday for a behavioral violation.
Brown violated Section 12.8.1.e in the rule book.
The section states:
“Member actions that could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension, or termination:
- Public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.
- Being charged with or convicted of significant criminal violations (e.g. Domestic Violence, Trafficking, Assault), or having had determinations rendered by criminal or civil authorities that in NASCAR’s judgement necessitate action. NASCAR will not pre-judge guilt or innocence in the criminal or civil legal system, or the guilt or innocence of the Member, but rather review each matter in its own context and circumstances and with regards to its potential effects upon the sport.”
Brown served as crew chief on the No. 74 last weekend at Talladega.
NBC Sports has reached out to Mike Harmon Racing regarding the suspension and Brown’s status with the team.
Check back for more.
Bubba Wallace said Friday that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind that have left him “wore the hell out … a little frustrated” and “finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
With countless media appearances during that time, as well as discussions with fellow drivers and NASCAR officials about how to make the sport more inclusive, a visibly weary Wallace admitted that he’s struggled at times to keep up with the pace he’s maintained – and that also includes driving a race car in a Cup doubleheader Saturday and Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
“You just have to be mentally strong,” Wallace said on a media teleconference. “Where I’ve gotten my strength from, I couldn’t tell you. … My emotions these days are one, being wore the hell out, two is being a little frustrated, and three is just finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m probably a fool for thinking that because it’s 2020 and something else will probably happen tomorrow and we’ll be right back where we are.”
As the only Black full-time driver in NASCAR’s premier series, Wallace has been front and center of the sport’s efforts to rid itself of the Confederate flag, while also offering a welcoming environment for new minorities.
But he’s also been a target for critics.
“Athletes are put on a pedestal, there’s not a manual or guidebook to tell you how to handle yourself off the court, racetrack or field,” Wallace said. “It’s all something you learn and you go through the trials and tribulations to grow from those incidents and I think that’s what makes you tougher throughout.
“The people that are sitting on the couch, have never done anything with their lives to be able to amount to something and they’re jealous of your lifestyle and they just are trying to spew hate. That’s unfortunate, but you just have to worry about your life and not worry about other people’s lives. You shouldn’t let them dictate how you live your life to the fullest.”
While Wallace singled out Jimmie Johnson as having been one of his biggest supporters, continually reaching out to him, he also applauded two drivers in particular – Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman – for their support, even though they and Wallace have had their conflicts on the track.
“Aric Almirola sent me a nice text right before (the race) Monday that we’re not friends and we don’t act like we are, but we’re going to stand next to each other, that he’d be proud to stand next to me as a brother and being human beings,” Wallace said. “I thought that was pretty special because we don’t click at all very well, we both will tell you that.
“And Alex Bowman coming up saying we don’t see eye to eye on everything but that he stands behind me 100 percent, something along those lines. I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve always had respect for Alex. We’ve butted heads and lost respect at times for each other but it shows we can all get together.”
Following Monday’s race, Almirola spoke about his relationship with Wallace, particularly the “I Stand With Bubba” outpouring on pit road after a noose had been found in Wallace’s garage stall Sunday night.
“It was a lot of emotion, I think we were all just proud to be together,” Almirola said. “I think as competitors we all want to beat each other, but as human beings we all want to show love and support for each other.
“I think that’s one thing about our NASCAR community that has always stood out, is that regardless of what happens on the racetrack, off the racetrack we’re a family. We all support each other. You see it when we put fundraisers on or foundation events. We all show up. We all support each other because we’re a family.
“We live next door to each other 38 weeks a year in the motorhome lot. When you see a brother that’s being singled out, that’s being hurt, you want to show love and you want to show support.”
As for Bowman, he appeared in another teleconference Friday morning and had this to say about his relationship with and support of Wallace:
“There’s no secret we’re not best friends, right? We’ve had our fair share of run-ins and you know that on-track stuff is just going to happen, right? Tempers are going to flare, and if you run into the same guy a couple weeks in a row here and there, it’s not going to go great for your relationship.
“But that’s as a race car driver and that’s on the racetrack. As a human being, I have a big appreciation for him, trying to push us all to be better and speaking up and helping us do the same.
“So I think it really comes down to on the racetrack, we’re probably not going to be friends. But as a person, I appreciate what he’s doing and