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Noose found at Sonoma Raceway

Sheriff’s deputies are investigating the discovery of a hangman’s noose dangling from a tree at Sonoma Raceway, a possible hate crime.

The knotted rope, a symbol of white supremacy linked to lynchings in the South after the Civil War, was found Saturday morning. It was a day later that a noose was discovered in the garage stall of Bubba Wallace, NASCAR's only full-time Black driver, at Talladega Speedway in Alabama.

Wallace, a passionate advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests against systemic racism, convinced the stock car series to ban the Confederate flag at its venues two weeks ago. Sonoma Raceway has banned the flag since 2018.

“If this is what it appears to be, it is distressing and disgusting, and it has no place in the sport,” said Steve Page, the raceway’s president and general manager.

The noose, a loosely-tied knot in an old piece of twine, was noticed by staff around 8 a.m. Saturday hanging from a tree outside the raceway’s former administrative building. The building’s entrance is being used for health screenings as a precaution against coronavirus.

Maintenance workers cut the rope down shortly afterward. When the rope dropped, the knot fell apart – but an examination of the twine was convincing to Page.

“Someone had taken the time to tie it into a noose,” said Page. “We think it is what it appears to be.”

The twine had been in the tree for some time – perhaps formerly used to suspend meat for the birds in an owl box – but the knot was new, Page said.

The discovery was unsettling to employees at the raceway and industrial park where it leases office and workshop space to about 100 tenants, Page said. The workforce at the raceway is very diverse, he said, and includes Black people.

On Sunday, Page emailed a photo of the noose to raceway staff and tenants and asked if anyone could identify the person who placed it in the tree or provide an alternative explanation for the knotted rope.

“Other than multiple expressions of disgust, no one had anything that would aid us in an internal investigation, so I called the sheriff this morning,” Page said Monday. “In retrospect, I probably should have done so earlier.”

Raceway officials spoke with Sonoma County sheriff’s deputies for over two hours on Monday and gave them access to security cameras.

“The Sheriff's Office is investigating this as a possible hate crime. Sonoma Raceway is cooperating with us during this investigation,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Misti Wood said in a statement.

The raceway believes someone fashioned the noose on or around Friday, Page said in an email to staff and tenants.

“We take this very seriously. We know you share our goal of operating a facility that is open and welcoming to everyone and we appreciate your support in preventing hostile and offensive activities that violate that spirit,” he wrote.

Email Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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