CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bubba Wallace said he was "pissed."
"I’m mad because people are trying to test my character and the person that I am and my integrity," Wallace told Don Lemon on CNN on Tuesday night. "And, they’re not stealing that away, but they’re just trying to test that."
Wallace was referring to comments on social media that arose after NASCAR announced Tuesday that an FBI investigation determined the noose found in Wallace’s car garage at Talladega was not a hate crime targeted at the only Black driver in the sport’s top series.
Many individuals on Twitter compared Wallace to Jussie Smollett, a Black actor who said he was the victim of a hate crime last year and was later charged with making a false police report. Others ridiculed NASCAR and the media for jumping to conclusions.
NASCAR and the FBI were unequivocal in their language from the beginning, calling the rope on the garage door a "noose." Both organizations reaffirmed that language Tuesday.
"The FBI learned that garage number 4, where the noose was found, was assigned to Bubba Wallace last week," the FBI statement said. "The investigation also revealed evidence, including authentic video confirmed by NASCAR, that the noose found in garage number 4 was in that garage as early as October 2019.
"Wallace was also adamant in the description of the rope, saying, "It’s a straight up noose."
"It was a noose whether tied in 2019 or whatever," Wallace said. "It was a noose. Wasn’t directed at me, but somebody tied a noose."
Wallace said he did not see the noose in person, nor did he report it. He said that he saw photos of it and had discussions with his team members, including his crew chief Jerry Baxter, to confirm the rope was a noose.
"The image that I have seen of what was hanging in my garage is not a garage pull," Wallace said. "I’ve been racing all my life. We’ve raced out of hundreds of garages that never had garage pulls like that."
The 26-year-old driver said he received a call from the sport’s president, Steve Phelps, on Sunday evening informing him about the discovery. Wallace said it was a conversation he’ll never forget.
"It’s one of those phone calls where you can automatically tell within the first couple seconds that something is wrong," Wallace said.
Wallace also said that he thought NASCAR’s recent ban of the Confederate flag at races, a decision the No. 43 driver prompted, helped fuel the sport’s hypersensitivity around acts of retaliation at Talladega. A plane flying a banner with the Confederate flag and a sign that read "DEFUND NASCAR" flew over the superspeedway before the race’s scheduled start on Sunday.
"NASCAR was worried about Talladega," Wallace said about the Alabama track. "Being there and knowing we were allowing fans back and some of the most passionate fans are down there."
Wallace called the superspeedway "one of the best race tracks to go to," but said NASCAR had the race "circled on the radar with everything going around."
The driver wore a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt before NASCAR’s race at Atlanta two weeks ago amid nationwide protests against racial injustice. He also publicly called on NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag later that week, and the sanctioning body swiftly did so.
"I think that definitely intensified everything that went on," Wallace said.
The Cup driver, who is in his third season racing the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports, said those who don’t believe him only serve to motivate him.
"None of the allegations of it being a hoax will break me or tear me down," Wallace said. "Will it piss me off? Absolutely."
"But it only fuels the competitive drive in me to shut everybody up," Wallace continued. "To get back out on the race track next weekend in Pocono and showcase what I can do behind the wheel under tremendous amounts of B.S."
He added that criticism is "what happens when you have a voice and you have a platform."
"People are going to try to take that away from you with all their power," Wallace said. "They will lose sleep over making sure you don’t succeed. So you have to be strong, always keep your head on a swivel and always watch your back."
But always stand up for what’s right."