Bubba Wallace changes NASCAR landscape

Bubba Wallace -Photo courtesy of Yahoo Sports

Bubba Wallace changes NASCAR landscape
October 13
13:48 2021

Bubba Wallace won the NASCAR playoff cup race at Talladega, becoming the first Black driver to win a race on NASCAR’s premiere level since Wendell Scott did so in 1963 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Last week’s race was red-flagged due to rain with around 70 laps remaining and with Wallace in the lead. After reaching the halfway point, the race was considered official and was finally called following more rain soaking the track. Along with the rain, lightning factored into the weather delays as well.  

Wallace made it to the front of the field just five laps before the race was called. NASCAR attempted to dry the track, but with sunset soon approaching, officials called the race. Wallace was waiting on his pit stand and upon hearing the news that the race was called, he celebrated with his crew.

“This is for all the kids out there that want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said, holding back tears. “You’re going to go through a lot of (BS).  But you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you.

“Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry.  Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.”

Wallace is in his first season driving for 23XI Racing, a team owned by both Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. After 142 career Cup starts, Wallace finally has the metaphorical monkey off his back. He did have six victories in the NASCAR Truck Series from 2013 through 2015, but winning on NASCAR’s biggest stage is something else entirely.

It’s kind of ironic that Wallace would win his first race in Talladega, since that was where the infamous noose in the garage was found. After investigating, the FBI found that the noose had been tied and was there months prior to being spotted, meaning thankfully, Wallace was not a victim of a hate crime. Wallace is also an Alabama native, born in Mobile, so that adds another layer of satisfaction to his victory.  

Hamlin finished seventh in the race and was excited for his driver to come away with his first victory. Both men celebrated together after the win.

“It’s just way more emotional because I know how difficult it is,” Hamlin said. “These guys have worked so hard over the last 10 months to put this team together. We’re still in the beginning stages of our team. We’re still growing. We’ve got some great things on the horizon. It’s just a great morale booster for everyone.”

That win also validates Wallace somewhat. Some of the criticism he has faced was due to not yet having won a race on the series; now he has scratched that off the list of things to do. You could tell he really wanted that win.

“Got some credibility to my name now,” he said. I’m just like, ‘Finally, I’m a winner and I’m a winner in the Cup level,’ and it’s just like ‘Hell Yeah!’ It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”

Now that Wallace is with a team where money is not an object, he has no excuses not to perform at the best of his abilities. With Jordan and Hamlin as owners of the team, Wallace will more than likely be afforded the best of the best equipment.

Along with the noose incident, Wallace has been in the news for his stance on social justice issues. With many NASCAR fans embracing Confederate symbolism, Wallace and his views are a stark contrast to how many of them feel.

“It’s definitely been tough going to some of the tracks this year, we get some of the most boos now,” Wallace said. “Everybody says as long as they’re making noise that’s fine, but you know, I get booed for different reasons, and that’s the tough thing to swallow. I appreciate all those who were there doing the rain dance with us, pulling for us, supporting me my whole career, but especially those who have supported me with everything that’s gone on the last 15-16 months.”

This is a great thing for not only Wallace and the 23XI team, but for NASCAR as a whole. NASCAR has been attempting to expand their reach beyond their Southern roots and has done a great job by partnering with HBCUs in an effort to bring more diversity to the sport.

This win by Wallace is a great visual for those young people who may be interested in stock car racing in the future, because we all know that representation matters. What I fear is that Wallace will have a similar effect on stock car racing as Tiger Woods did on golf. And what I mean by that is yes, he may bring more eyeballs to TV sets to watch a race, but that may not translate into more minority participation due to several factors.

Since Wallace’s arrival on the NASCAR scene, I have found myself stopping on a channel that is showing a race just to check and see how Wallace is doing. I am not breaking any appointments or setting my DVR to record a race, but I am genuinely interested in seeing the young man succeed at a high level, because it must be difficult to not only perform on the track, but also to endure the things he has to off of it as well.

The fact that Wallace has Jordan as part owner of the team won’t hurt either. The Jordan name carries a lot of weight, especially in the minority community. Usually anything affiliated with the Jordan brand is successful, so if Wallace continues his winning ways, who knows the effect he could have on the sport. 

For now, I am just going to sit back and enjoy watching the young man navigate through the sport.

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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