A noose was found Sunday in the Talladega Superspeedway garage stall of the only full-time Black driver on NASCAR's top circuit, Bubba Wallace, after he successfully led the efforts to ban the Confederate flag from races.
"Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism," said Wallace, a 26-year-old from Alabama.
NASCAR officials said in a statement Monday they would investigate and "do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport."
"As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all," officials said.
Federal authorities, including the FBI, are also investigating the incident "to determine whether there are violations of federal law," US Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama Jay E. Town said in a statement.
"Regardless of whether federal charges can be brought, this type of action has no place in our society," Town said.
Less than two weeks ago, NASCAR announced that the displaying of Confederate flags would be banned at all events.
“The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry,” NASCAR officials said in a statement. “Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that creates it is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be banned from all NASCAR events and properties.”
In the lead-up to NASCAR's announcement of the ban, Wallace had spoken out extensively about the flag's presence at races.
"My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags. No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race,” he told CNN earlier this month. “So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them."
At a race earlier this month, Wallace wore a shirt that read "I Can't Breathe" and debuted car printed with messages and images about the Black Lives Matter movement.
NASCAR, which has a large right-wing fanbase, has a long history of Confederate flags being flown at races.
In 2015, after nine Black people were murdered by a white supremacist in a mass shooting in a Charleston church, NASCAR banned "the use of the Confederate Flag symbol in any official NASCAR capacity."
But the flying of the flag continued among fans for years afterward.
On Sunday, many NASCAR fans continued to display the flag in protest outside the track, according to ESPN. A plane was flown over the track trailing a Confederate flag and the words "defund NASCAR."
In his statement on Sunday, Wallace said he's been "overwhelmed by the support" from people in the NASCAR community, including other drivers.
"God help us," tweeted NASCAR driver Michael McDowell. "The level of evil it takes to do something like this is disgusting. This is enraging and heartbreaking all at the same time."
"I can’t begin to fathom the pain this action has caused," tweeted fellow driver Jimmie Johnson. "I stand with you Bubba Wallace."
Athletes outside of NASCAR also spoke out in support of Wallace.
LeBron James called the incident "sickening."
"I'm right here with you as well as every other athlete," James said. "I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports!"
Wallace said this incident would not slow down his commitment to fighting against racism in his sport.
"Together, our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone," he said. "Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate.
"As my mother told me today, 'They are just trying to scare you,'" he said. "This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in."