Los Angeles (AFP)

The hanged rope found in the garage of the African-American pilot Bubba Wallace "was real" and although he was not targeted by a racist act, the concern for him was justified, said the president on Thursday Nascar, Steve Phelps.

"Upon learning of and seeing this noose, our initial reaction was to protect our pilot," said Phelps during a conference call the day after the FBI concluded that this rope had been placed at this location in the fall of 2019 and therefore did not target Wallace.

"We live in a very emotional time. What we saw was a symbol of hatred and was only present in one garage and it was that of Bubba Wallace's car," said Phelps.

"With hindsight, I should have used the word" presumed "in our statement," added the leader who had mentioned "an odious act" Sunday evening when the rope was discovered in the paddock of the Talladega circuit in the 'Alabama.

The FBI's conclusion sparked many reactions on social media, with some claiming the incident was a hoax, which sparked Wallace's outrage and anger and prompted Phelps to defend the NASCAR position.

"The noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba," he insisted, while neither the FBI investigation nor that of his agency found who had tied the rope, whose presence "n is nothing normal "in a garage.

- Context of racial tensions -

NASCAR asked each circuit where its races take place to inspect their places. Of the 1,684 garages on the 29 circuits in question, 11 have a rope tied to fold it and only one had a noose: that of Wallace last weekend.

"Our conclusion after this investigation is to ensure that this does not happen again," said Phelps, adding that NASCAR would install more cameras in garages.

The discovery on Sunday of this rope had caused a great stir, in a context of racial tensions in the United States. The noose-shaped ropes are reminiscent of the lynchings targeting black populations in this country during the slave and segregationist periods.

"It won't break me. I won't give up, and I won't back down," said Wallace. He also obtained from NASCAR the ban on the circuits of the Confederate flag, traditionally very present in the south of the United States, but considered by many as a symbol of slavery and racism.

In the aftermath of the incident, all the pilots showed their support for Wallace, just before the race, pushing his racing car to the start line and then huddling behind him for a solemn moment charged with emotion.

"I am proud to have seen so many people defending what is right," said Phelps, saying that everyone "should support Bubba Wallace, who represents this sport with courage, class, dignity".

© 2020 AFP