Just over a year after almost single-handedly forcing American auto racing to confront the sport’s long-standing issues with racism, Darrell Wallace Jr., known as Bubba, has only become the second black winner of the best series of NASCAR, finishing first in a rain. abridged test at the Talladega Superspeedway Monday afternoon.
Wallace, 27, rose from relative obscurity to national importance last year when he added his voice to the broad national protest movement for racial justice and equality following the murder of George Floyd. It was not unusual to hear an athlete speak out on the subject, but it was unusual to hear a NASCAR driver do so.
It was moving for many, then, to see Wallace, currently the only black NASCAR driver in the Cup Series, wear an “I can’t breathe” shirt – referring to the last words of Floyd and Eric Garner, who died in 2014 after a New York City police officer placed him in a banned stranglehold – and displays the slogan “Black Lives Matter” on his car l ‘last year. He spoke about the racism he experienced on a daily basis as a black man in a predominantly white sport. His drive for activism, in particular, persuaded NASCAR to ban the display of Confederate flags, long a staple of American motor racing.
On Monday, Wallace enjoyed his greatest success on a racetrack, maneuvering to lead the field five laps before the competition ended in rain, with 104 of 188 laps completed. After the race, Wallace held back tears when asked about his milestone.
“I never think about those things, but when you say it like that, it obviously brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy, to my family, my fans, my friends,” Wallace said in a TV interview on the edge of. track with NBC Sports. “This is pretty darn cool.”
The only other black driver to win at the highest level of NASCAR was Wendell Scott, in 1963.
Wallace, who is in his first season racing for 23X1 Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan, was born in Alabama and raised in North Carolina. Her mother is black and her father is white.
Wallace told the New York Times last year that until recently he hadn’t spent much time thinking about his place as a black man in a predominantly white sport. That changed in 2020 after watching video of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was shot while jogging in a predominantly white neighborhood in Georgia. Wallace said he was inspired to think more deeply about the racial dynamics of his country and his sport – and, finally, to speak out.
On June 21 of last year, a member of the Wallace team reported find a noose hung in the driver’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway. The next day, in solidarity, the other competitors and teammates from Talladega pushed Wallace’s car forward onto the pit lane before their race. The FBI, which investigated the incident, ultimately concluded that the rope had been hanging in the garage from the previous year and that Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime. NASCAR nevertheless announced that its employees would be required to complete unconscious bias training.
Wallace had a much happier experience in Talladega on Monday afternoon.
Officials canceled the event after the second afternoon rain delay. Wallace and his team, who were waiting at his booth, erupted in screams and glee when the decision was made.
Wallace was joined on the catwalk for his victory photographs by his dog, a mix of Australian Shepherd and Poodle named Asher.
“You always have to stay true to your path and not let nonsense get to you and stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry,” Wallace said after the race. “There were a lot of times I wanted to give up. But you surround yourself with the right people, and it’s times like this that you enjoy.