Bubba Wallace becomes first Black driver in nearly 60 years to win a NASCAR Cup Series race
Mobile, Alabama native, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace celebrated an emotional, history-making win earlier this week at his "home" track in Talladega. Wallace's victory marks the first time a Black driver has won a major race in NASCAR's Cup Series of races.
On Monday, Wallace, 27, successfully converted slow race start into a top tier finish at the Yellawood 500. As one of racing's newest stars, Wallace's energetic and youthful approach to the sport is matched by that of his team, which happens to be owned by billionaire basketball hall-of-famer and businessman, Michael Jordan. This year's NASCAR season is the first that Wallace and Jordan's Team 23XI (pronounced twenty-three eleven), has raced. With the fresh, yet experienced phenom at the helm of the Toyota #23 car, Team 23XI narrowly avoided a potentially devastating crash early in the race. The Monday win was Wallace's first victory in more than 140 cup level races and it came with some controversy.
Mother nature, some are arguing, gave Bubba a helping hand, as the weather at the Yellawood 500 caused early rain delays and ultimately ended the race 71 laps short of its full course. As clouds loomed in Talledega with Wallace in first, fans began to chant for rain. Bubba even joined fans with his own rain dance after race officials signaled drivers into their pits pending the rain stoppage. After the skies opened and watered the Talladega tarmac, officials waved the red flag and Darrell "Bubba" Wallace's historic first place win was cemented.
"Doesn't matter if I won by a thousand laps or won a rain-shortened race, not everybody is going to be happy with it," said an ecstatic Wallace after the race. "That's okay because I know one person that is happy and that's me."
Despite his lack of prior first place finishes, Wallace's ascent in the sport of NASCAR has been nothing short of meteoric. Starting at the age of nine, Wallace began racing in the Bandolero and Legends car racing series, winning 35 of the Bandolero Series' 48 races in 2005. In 2008, he became the youngest driver to win at Virginia's famed Franklin County Speedway. Currently, he drives full time in the NASCAR Cup Series, as well as part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Wallace's victory this week has been a long time coming, literally. The last time a Black racer won a NASCAR Cup Series race was in December 1963 when Wendell Oliver Scott, the first Black man to race in professionally in a sanctioned NASCAR event, placed first in the Grand National Series at Jacksonville's Speedway Park. Scott began racing at the age of 30 when officials at the Dixie Circuit racing organization recruited him to race as a gimmick since no other racing outfits employed any non-white drivers.
Like many other Black athletes of the early and mid-20th century, Scott's participation in competitive racing broke so-called "color barriers" and made space for drivers of today like Bubba Wallace. Unfortunately, despite great progress, NASCAR still suffers from some of the same race-related issues of yesterday.
Since joining NASCAR as a professional driver, Bubba has been the lone Black driver each time he has competed in any of the sport's three national race series: The Xfinity Series, The Cup Series, and The Truck Series. Wallace has also garnered the spotlight for his outspoken support of Black Lives Matter.
In 2020, the racer also grabbed headlines after a noose was found hanging in his team's garage; the noose had been fashioned as a pull handle for the garage door. A subsequent NASCAR and FBI investigation found no hate-related motivation for the noose-handle, but the event nevertheless sent shock waves through NASCAR, sparking the organization to re-evaluate its diversity policies and its image. And racing officials moved quickly to address a glaring symbol of racial divisiveness in the sport: the confederate flag. In the immediate aftermath of the noose-handle scandal, NASCAR banned confederate flags, a longtime race day mainstay, from its events.
Beyond advancing the diversity conversation in a sport with its share of race-related problems, Wallace is serving as an inspiration to a new generation of race fans and drivers from all walks of life.
“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,” said Wallace, through 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,” reflected the star.
Keep shining, Bubba Wallace. Keep shining.