On Monday, Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of the United States presidency to go after NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.
Using his favored social media platform, Trump tweeted that Wallace should apologize to the drivers and crew members who stood alongside him at Talladega Superspeedway in the aftermath of a discovery of a noose in his garage stall on June 21.
An investigation by both NASCAR and the FBI revealed that Wallace was not the target of a federal hate crime and that a garage pull rope had been fashioned in the form of a hangman’s noose since the previous race at the Alabama superspeedway in October.
NASCAR conducted a thorough sweep of all 1684 garage stalls at all 29 tracks used by the Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Gander Outdoor Truck Series after the incident and found 11 that featured a pull-down rope tied in a knot. Only one took the form of a noose.
Wallace never saw the rope and was informed by NASCAR president Steve Phelps about its discovery. Due to pandemic policies, drivers are not permitted into the garage and are confined to the motorhome lot until the moments just before opening ceremonies.
Drivers rallied around Wallace the next morning at Talladega before the postponed race—pushing his car to the front of the field and standing around the 26-year-old during the invocation and national anthem.
Trump called the incident a "hoax" and asserted that the circumstances of that situation combined with NASCAR’s ban on the Confederate flag have led to record low television ratings.
The tweet followed a weekend in which Trump used a pair of Independence Day speeches to stoke racial tension across the country in the aftermath of national protests calling for justice and equality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.
In response, Trump has threatened to veto a bipartisan military spending bill that included a provision to rename U.S. bases named after Confederate generals and vowed to pass legislation that would imprison those who upend statues of Confederate leaders. During a speech on Friday night with Mount Rushmore as a backdrop, Trump promised to "safeguard our values, traditions customs and beliefs."
Wallace appears to have come under fire from the president after engaging in a back-and-forth Twitter spat over the weekend with retired Major League Baseball player Aubrey Huff—a staunch supporter of Trump.
Wallace has been in the spotlight for his advocacy of social change even before the incident in Talladega. He successfully pushed for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag and has worn a shirt saying "I Can't Breathe" alongside a Black Lives Matter paint scheme at Martinsville Speedway last month.
As for Trump's claims, television ratings are actually up since returning from the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic on May 17.
Two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and current Cup Series Rookie of the Year leader Tyler Reddick chimed in with support for Wallace. The tweet has since been deleted.
Trump attended the Daytona 500 in February and gave the command to fire engines before taking a series of ceremonial pace laps in his presidential limo, a.k.a. The Beast, as pictured at top.