An interview with: NASCAR President Steve Phelps
ERIC NYQUIST: Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. We fully realize there’s many questions about yesterday’s heinous act and we’ll answer them as best we can. However, please be reminded that the investigation is ongoing and there are many that we cannot answer. We thank you for your understanding in this area.
Now let me hand it over to NASCAR president Steve Phelps. Steve, can you give us some opening remarks, please.
STEVE PHELPS: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Appreciate your time on short notice.
As Eric said, we don’t have a lot of answers at this moment but did want to make sure we had a media availability to let you understand where we are to date. As more things come to light, we will keep you informed, as well.
Before we get into some timeline things, I won’t read our full statement, but I thought there was one sentence that was particularly important to talk about. I will read it now:
As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR. This act only strengthens our resolve to make this sport open and welcoming to all.
Before I open it up to a few brief questions, I want to summarize in a very short order what happened yesterday afternoon.
Late yesterday afternoon a crew member from the 43 team discovered a noose in the 43 garage stall. That crew member informed NASCAR. NASCAR security got involved. I got a small group of senior leaders in the sport at NASCAR together to try to determine what the next steps would be.
First thing was to launch an immediate investigation into this heinous act. As part of that, we this morning at 7:30 notified the Birmingham office of the FBI. They are currently on site. They’ve started their investigation.
We are, as I said, in the early stages of this. We will continue to keep the media informed as we learn more. Obviously this is a very, very serious act. We take it as such. We will do everything in our power to make sure that whoever has committed this act comes to justice and comes to light and we rid this type of behavior from our sport.
With that I’ll turn it back over to Eric quickly.
ERIC NYQUIST: Thank you, Steve.
We’ll open up the line for media questions.
Q. Question about cameras in the garage. We know Talladega has cameras in the garage. How many cameras are there? Were they working? Have you been able to get any video from them yet?
STEVE PHELPS: We’re not going to get into the specifics about the number of cameras, what is on the cameras, how many. We will collect all that information. It will be obviously part of what the FBI is looking at.
Again, as details become available that we can share, we will share. But too early to get into specifics around video usage or what we were able to capture on video.
Q. I guess you’re not going to go over the timeline when it was discovered, but who would have had access to the garage? Crew members? NASCAR employees? Who had access to that garage stall?
STEVE PHELPS: As you are aware, we have a very small number of people that are in the footprint, only essential personnel there. Obviously we’ll review the entire list with the FBI about who had access at that particular time.
We also use something called ‘compartmentalization’. We’ll look at who was in that particular area. We’ll be able to narrow that down.
Again, getting into the specifics about what the FBI is going to do working with our security people, it’s kind of too early to determine. I don’t have access to the information at this point.
Q. Could there have been any breaches?
STEVE PHELPS: You know what, I can’t say no for certain. The security around getting into the footprint is significant. As I’m sure you guys are aware, we have limited it just to essential personnel. Security is very tight getting in and out of the footprint.
I can’t speculate whether there would be a breach or not.
Q. Can you confirm, was the rope the rope that normally you would pull down the garage door?
STEVE PHELPS: I am not sure. I have no information on that.
Q. Are you confident you’ll be able to figure out who did it or do you feel you may never find out?
STEVE PHELPS: I would say this. We’re going to use every effort we can to determine who has done this, whether it’s a single person or multiple people. I know that the director of the FBI has informed the Birmingham office to use all their resources to find out, as well, all the resources available to NASCAR, the FBI.
The teams and drivers and anyone who would have any access to this have all said, Hey, we want to make sure we figure out who has done this vile act.
Q. I know there will be an ‘I stand with Bubba’ on the grass. Any other things that NASCAR, the competitors will do before today’s event? Obviously there are various opinions out there on social media. There are those who would suggest this is a staged event. How would you address those individuals who believe that what has happened was a staged event?
STEVE PHELPS: Well, listen, I can’t speak for those on social media who would say this is a staged event. I would say that is something that personally offends me. This is a terrible, terrible act that has happened. For those who would think this is staged, I don’t even know where to go with that frankly.
With respect to the first part of the question around things that would happen, yes, there is a grass stencil that is being put in. I know the drivers are interested in trying to do something. I don’t have full knowledge of exactly what is going to happen or the timing around that.
The drivers feel very strongly that they want to show their support of Bubba. He’s a member of the NASCAR community. He’s a member of the NASCAR family. The outpouring of support over the last couple weeks from our drivers, from the industry as a whole, from the fans, has been phenomenal.
Whatever happens, it’s going to happen organically. It will be heartfelt. I’m looking forward to whatever they come up with.
Q. As I’m sure you know, Richard Petty has called for the immediate expulsion of whoever did this once that person is found, person or people. Can you say now with certainty, assuming the person or people are found, that NASCAR will ban them from the sport for life?
STEVE PHELPS: Unequivocally they will be banned from this sport for life. There is no room for this at all. We won’t tolerate it. They won’t be here. I don’t care who they are, they will not be here.
I had the opportunity to speak with the King this morning. He and I met in person. He is resolved, and his team, to figure out how we work together to get this solved and figure out the person who did this act.
Q. Have you spoken with Bubba? What was that conversation like? Can you talk about allowing the 43 team to maybe check the car to make sure it’s safe? Have you stepped up security as a result of this for Bubba, for the team, for anything beyond that?
STEVE PHELPS: I’ll address them as they came.
Yes, I have spoken to Bubba. In fact, I’m the one that informed Bubba that this act had happened. It’s a difficult moment for Bubba. It’s a difficult moment for me. He’s handled it with the grace that he has handled everything that’s happened over the last few weeks.
With respect to the car, that’s something that we did allow the team to look at, make sure the car is in good shape. Won’t get into any specifics about that, but yes, the team was allowed to do that.
Q. Have you stepped up security? People were sending notes saying, Are you going to take care of Bubba? Is there additional security as a result of this, even though access to the garage, et cetera, is limited?
STEVE PHELPS: Yes, we want to make sure that Bubba is safe. We have stepped up security. Again, this is a family that needs to take care of one of its family members who has been attacked. We will firmly support as an industry, as a family and community, to make sure Bubba and everyone else in this sport is safe.
I’ll send it back over to Eric. I want to thank everyone for their time. This is a difficult time for our sport. We are going to react swiftly. Again, we’re going to use all the means, resources at our disposal and those of the FBI to make sure this person or persons are caught swiftly and severely.
Thank you all for your time.
ERIC NYQUIST: Thank you to all the media here for making the time to join us. We look forward to providing more details once the investigation is complete. We’ll let you all know about another media availability in the near future at that time. Again, thank you all for making the time. Have a great rest of your day.
— NASCAR —