NASCAR has always been the real redneck sport.
Not a city sport like basketball or ice hockey, or a big money sport like NFL or baseball.
NASCAR has always been the sport of the down-home, shit kickin’, good ole boys.
Bubba Wallace is the only full-time black NASCAR driver.
He led a protest to get the Confederate flag removed from NASCAR events.
That flag had become a symbol of racism in the South, the flag of the side that fought to keep slavery, to keep blacks subservient.
The protest was successful and the flag was removed, which didn’t make him popular with white supremacists.
A plane flew over the stadium dragging a huge Confederate flag behind it.
The message was pretty clear.
Bubba’s next race was the Geico 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway, Alabama.
He drove for team 43 and a week before the race they were assigned to Garage 4.
On the Sunday, one of Bubba’s mechanics found a noose hanging in the garage.
Once again, the message was clear.
Bubba didn’t just sit quietly and hope they didn’t kill him, he went public.
The noose outraged the rest of the NASCAR drivers, who weren’t white supremacists.
About a hundred drivers and pit-crew marched alongside Bubba’s car as he slowly drove it into pole position.
The message from them was clear, they did it to show all the crowds watching on TV.
We’re sick of this crap and we’re not putting up with it anymore.
It was incredibly touching, Bubba was visibly moved as the other drivers hugged him.
But then the FBI began investigating this hate crime.
What they found was that it wasn’t actually a noose at all, it was a door-pull.
They found videos and photos from the previous October with it hanging in the garage.
It had been there six months before Bubba’s team had even been assigned that garage.
Sure it was shaped like a noose, but it didn’t symbolise a noose.
But in that atmosphere, what else could Bubba or his team think?
His life was threatened, black men were killed on TV by police, race riots were happening in cities all over America, and here was a noose hanging in his garage.
No wonder his first thought wasn’t: “Oh look, a handy door-pull.”
What we see depends on what we’re conditioned to see.
There’s a saying in India: “When a man has been bitten by a snake, he’s frightened of a coil of rope”.
So the first lesson is that we see what we expect to see.
And that could have turned out badly for Bubba.
But the second, maybe more important, lesson is how Bubba turned it around.
In a message on twitter he said:
“We’ll gladly take a little embarrassment over what the alternative might have been.”
And he added:
“This should not detract from the show of unity we had on Monday, and the progress we’ve made as a sport to be a more welcoming environment for all.”
He defused it with a smile, and made everyone who took it seriously feel proud about what they did in supporting him.
He lifted the entire image of NASCAR and made people feel good about it.
And that’s a great lesson in what to do when you make an honest mistake.
As Werner Erhard said: “Resistance causes persistence”.
Don’t try to cover it up, don’t fight about it, that just makes it worse.
Act as if it’s the result you always wanted, turn it around and make it work for you.