SONOMA, Calif. - A suspected noose found on the grounds of Sonoma Raceway is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
"We're looking at footage and we're working closely with the FBI," said Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Juan Valencia. "We are looking into it to see who basically tied it up and what their intention was."
June is when Nascar usually roars into wine country for a weekend of racing.
But the pandemic has quieted the track, with all events canceled.
On Saturday morning, a raceway employee reported the rope, hanging from a tree.
In a statement, Sonoma Raceway says "a staff member discovered a piece of twine tied in what appeared to be a noose".
Management notes it "takes this incident very seriously and is dedicated to operating a facility that is welcoming to everyone."
The Sheriff's Office is sharing photos of the rope, hanging 14 feet off the ground.
"There's no ladder or anything in the vicinity that anyone could have used to climb that," said Valencia.
The tree is near a seldom-used building that once held raceway offices.
Now the area houses tenants: auto-related businesses that rent space.
The noose has not been associated with a particular vendor.
"Why was it tied in that fashion, that's one thing we want answered," said Valencia.
Investigators spent a few hours at the track and found one longtime tenant who remembers noticing the rope dangling many years ago.
"He said it has been there about seven to eight years, the rope was examined and appears to be weathered, and it was about a quarter of an inch thick," said Valencia.
But the man doesn't remember seeing the rope fashioned into coils.
To be considered a hate crime, it would need to have the intent of threatening or intimidating a person or group based on ethnicity.
"The problem is we don't have a specific target or a specific victim as to why that rope was there," said Valencia.
On the Sheriff's Department Facebook page, more than 100 commenters are split on whether the investigation has merit, or is an over-reaction.
But as issues of racial justice rock the nation and Nascar bans confederate flags at races, detectives are mindful of the current climate.
"We are looking into anything and everything that could give us a reason why that rope was there," said Valencia.
There are about 75 independently owned businesses on the raceway's 1600 acre property.
Investigators plan to keep reaching out to tenants and scanning security videos, for any activity that would indicate a malicious motive.