ST. LOUIS — Before the NASCAR race at the Talladega Superspeedway on Monday, the garage emptied out and an enormous crowd walked down pit row, escorting the car of Bubba Wallace, the Cup Series' only Black driver.
The show of support followed the events of Sunday, when a noose was found hanging in Wallace's garage stall at the track.
That, in addition to the sport's contentious decision to ban the Confederate flag at its events, has thrust NASCAR into the forefront of the current political conversation in the United States.
Retired NASCAR driver and St. Louis native Kenny Wallace (no relation) sat down with Today In St. Louis' Rene Knott to talk about the current state of politics in NASCAR and his support for Bubba Wallace.
Here's a transcript of that Q and A.
Rene: What Did yesterday's moment at Talladega show you?
Wallace: It showed me what NASCAR is all about. Y’know, it’s exaggerated that we’re a southern sport. We’re all over the United States, all over the world. And I’m Kenny Wallace – Bubba Wallace is my brother. We’re showing the world that we love Bubba. He’s a good man.
Rene: When you heard about the noose in Wallace’s garage, did that surprise or shock you?
Wallace: Just devastating, embarrassed, heartbroke.
Just could not believe it. It was 11:30 at night, I was in my race shop. And I got done washing my hands, and I thought, 'I'll get on Twitter and see what up.' And I heard that -- just heartbroke.
Rene: This incident comes after NASCAR banned the Confederate flag from all of its events, yet a lot of the fans showed up outside the event with Confederate flags. What type of PR problem does the sport now have?
Wallace: I think you’re always gonna have that unruly bunch. You know, it was Talladega, Alabama. You know I really love Alabama, it’s a great state, But you know if it was gonna happen anywhere I really feel like that’s the place that people were going to say that, ‘hey look, the confederate flag means this to me’
Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people don’t condone the Confederate flag, and I think the sport is being educated. I think we’re moving forward, I really do. You know, this is something that’s not gonna happen overnight….
With the likes of Lebron James and a lot of very famous people bringing light to this and talking to Bubba on Twitter for the world to watch, I think everybody’s being educated. So it means that we have a ways to go, but it’s at the forefront, it’s on everybody’s mind, and that’s a good thing.
Rene: A number of NASCAR drivers have expressed their support of the Black Lives Matter movement. What kind of role can sports figures play with lending their voice to these social matters?
Sometimes, it's a little embarrassing to say but... Right here in St. Louis some of our biggest heroes are Ozzie Smith or Albert Pujols when Albert was here. So sports figures are very popular because they give us that outlet. You know, we get out, we go down to Busch Stadium, we go to a NASCAR race. So sports figures, even though they don't solve world peace, they're very popular.
Rene: NASCAR was the first to come back and be live sports for America to watch. What now needs to happen for this sport to becomes more mainstream? Because right now, all eyes are on NASCAR.
Wallace: I think we’re doing right now what we have to do. There’s no hockey, there’s no baseball, there’s no football. There’s no concerts, there’s no kids in public swimming pools. It’s all NASCAR, all the time right now. And I think that were doing a good job.
We can’t let those one or few bad apples spoil what Bubba Wallace, my brother, is doing right now. We just gotta keep doing what we’re doing, turn on the TV every weekend, watch these NASCAR races and watch these drivers support Black Lives Matter, because I do. And I think it’s a beautiful thing right now. It’s hard to go through… because it’s very uncomfortable, seeing a few fools make fools of themselves.
You know, NASCAR’s a wonderful thing. So, we’re gonna make it right.