TALLADEGA, Ala. — It started with a group text message. It turned into a statement of unity that will be remembered for years to come.
With the NASCAR community reeling from the news that a noose had been discovered in the Talladega Superspeedway garage stall of the sport’s only African American driver, Bubba Wallace, on Sunday, NASCAR’s top stars decided to do something to support their fellow competitor and friend.
The result was every NASCAR driver pushing Wallace’s car, with Wallace sitting inside, to the front of the grid prior to the start of Monday’s GEICO 500. They were followed closely by seemingly every crew member and NASCAR official in the garage area.
It was truly an emotional sight. Wallace emerged from his car and was greeted, one by one, by his competitors and friends. His team owner, 82-year-old Richard Petty, was also there to support the 26-year-old Alabama native amid one of the most difficult 24-hour periods of his life.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson explained after Monday’s race how the idea to escort Wallace and his car to the front of the field prior to the race came about.
“Early on this morning I mentioned to the driver group (text) that I was just going to go stand with Bubba at his car during the National Anthem and if anybody wanted to meet me there, I was going to stand with him and just be there,” Johnson said. “When that seed was planted, the group really started coming up with ideas. Everybody wanted to get involved.
“After the drivers had a short period of time conversing, I understood that team managers and crew chiefs caught wind and they wanted to be involved,” Johnson continued. “Within a short period of time there was a plan in place. Of course, NASCAR was behind what we wanted to do 100 percent and supported that. That’s really the details leading into what happened today.”
Johnson said Monday’s statement of unity was the result of all of the drivers coming together. He credited Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick with the idea to push Wallace’s car down pit road to the front of the field prior to the race.
“A lot of people reached out to me in the morning with ideas and wanting to do something,” Johnson said. “I certainly have been involved in playing a role in trying to help organize and get things executed and done, but this is really a driver initiative. Many drivers chipped in. Kevin Harvick had the idea of pushing Bubba’s car down the frontstretch up to the front of the field and having the teams follow.
“I’m happy to play a role in it. I want to, I know I need to. I feel like to see the garage area to stand up as they have as well the last few weeks and again today is just sending a very strong message and I’m very proud of our sport.”
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