This is the first story in The Shadow League’s “NASCAR Black Prince” series, where we reflect on our Bubba Wallace coverage, dating back to 2013, when he was an unknown and following his rise through 2020. Bubba has evolved into an influential driver for diversity in a sports racing culture that is unapologetically white and over the past 70 years has struggled to become racially-inclusive.
From the first time we interviewed bi-racial NASCAR star Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, he has exhibited the same feisty passion and emotion that became evident to the world as he found himself knee-deep at the center of America’s racial boiling pot that spilled over with protests in the months following the George Floyd murder at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.
After leaving Richard Petty Motorsports earlier this year, he’s in the middle of another historical venture with some iconic figures.
With this new, exciting step along his journey — as the driver for a historical, barrier-breaking racing team — Wallace will blaze more paths and create more history while improving as a driver and inspiring young people to become a part of the NASCAR family.
Wallace responded to the announcement on Twitter, saying, “This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career. I’m grateful and humbled that they believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
2013-2020: 7 Years of Breaking Barriers & Standing Strong
Bubba Wallace’s entire NASCAR existence has been about breaking barriers, setting the tone for future drivers of color, crusading against systemic racism and police brutality. He really earned his stripes as an activist when President Donald Trump egregiously implied that Wallace concocted the entire “noose” in the driver’s garage controversy to gain popularity.
Most people thought that would be the apex of his popularity. He already had a lock on being the ultimate pioneer for Blacks in NASCAR. The list of impactful African-American drivers in NASCAR history only rolls about four deep, but he’s actually just getting started.
In 2014, at the age of 20, Bubba became the first African-American driver since Wendell Scott in 1963, to win in one of NASCAR’s national series, winning the Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 at Martinsville Speedway.
“It was captivating because the light brown-skinned Wallace is a rare African-American in a sport that’s been trying to diversify for 65 years, but remains white as computer paper. The fact that Bubba is the fourth African-American to drive full-time in one of NASCAR’s top three national series, joining Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester is also historical, but hardly reflects the audacity of Wallace’s racing goals…”
By 2016 Wallace was being called “The Tiger Woods of NASCAR” and he hadn’t even touched a Cup Series race until 2017, when the 23-year-old rising star, finally made his Monster Energy Cup Series debut in the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway, becoming the first black driver since Bill Lester in June of 2006 to run in NASCAR’s top series. Wallace stepped in, to sub for the injured Aric Almirola in the iconic No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
In fact, he pulled double duty that day.
“On Saturday, Wallace will seek his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win since joining the circuit in 2012. He will be driving his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford and sits fourth in the current points standings. The following day he will begin his handle of the No. 43 car until Almirola, who is recovering from a compression back fracture suffered May 13 in a race at Kansas, is healthy enough to return.”
By 2018, things were really cooking as Darrell Bubba Wallace Jr. officially signed to The King and his name really started bubbling. He was also part of a situation where NASCAR partnered with Migos to promote the supergroups Motorsports record.
Bubba’s success brought more attention to NASCAR’s Diversity Internship Program (NDIP)
“NDIP welcomed its largest class in program history during the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race weekend. More than 30 top students selected from a smorgasbord of diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines from across the country arrived in Charlotte for orientation at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and other racing venues before attending the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race on May 19 as they prepare to take up various positions across the sport.”
The Daytona 500 was his shining moment and we were there to capture history.
“The 2018 Daytona 500 NASCAR Monster Energy Series race will be remembered for a long time for many reasons, but most importantly it marked the first time since 1971 that an African-American driver would compete full-time for a Cup Series team as Darrell Bubba Wallace Jr. finished second driving the legendary No. 43 car for The King, Richard Pettys RPM outfit. We covered the entire weekend and got the exclusive with Bubba leading up to his historic 2nd place finish at the legendary race, the highest finish for a Black driver in that race’s history.”
WATCH- Bubba Wallace and the 2018 Daytona 500
The kid from North Carolina was making a name for himself in the game, doing collabs for The Black Panther movie.
Then 2020 hit and first Wallace had to respond to fellow driver Kyle Larson using the N-word. Then in June, as COVID, police murders of unarmed Black people and protests against racial injustice gushing from every branch of society rocked the nation, someone supposedly put a noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage.
That inspired the entire NASCAR community of drivers to support Bubba Wallace and Black Lives Matter in a show of solidarity for their driving brother.
The FBI investigated and determined that it was a “tied rope with a loop” used to hold the door shut and had been there for some time, and more importantly, wasn’t placed with the intention of sending any racial hate messages to NASCAR’s lone Black driver. The FBI closes the case as simply a coincidence.
Racial antagonists tried to create something that wasn’t there and attack Wallace, implying he was just an attention seeker looking to capitalize off the moment. It didn’t stop Bubba from standing tall, standing by his story that it was a “straight-up noose” and moving forward.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 22, 2020
The class and dignity in which he handled that situation have continued to bring him blessings. The sky is the limit now that Wallace has the financial backing of a billionaire in MJ, who is now the first Black NASCAR team owner in 50 years.