Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. is just the fourth African-American driver to ever get behind the wheel of a stock car in a NASCAR race.
At Daytona, Wallace became just the second African-American since 1971 to ever compete full-time in the series. Wallace’s career has been full of adversity, much like Wendell Scott’s, who became the first African American to start a NASCAR race.
Prior to the start of The Great American Race, The Daytona 500, there was a lot of attention on Wallace when he got behind the wheel of his Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro. Mid-way into the 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Roush Fenway Racing announced that it was suspending operations of Wallace’s No. 6 Leidos Ford Mustang due to lack of sponsorship.
The decision left Wallace sitting in the dark on the future of his career. The darkness turned to light when Richard Petty Motorsports asked Wallace to sub in for Aric Almirola. Almirola was injured in a violent crash at Kansas Speedway during the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Series season.
Between June and July of last season, Wallace drove for RPM in four races at Pocono Raceway, Michigan International Speedway, Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway. Wallace never started a race better than 16th, but he finished 26th, 19th, 15th and 11th, respectively.
However, when Almirola returned to the track, Wallace was out of a job yet again. All hope still was not lost. Wallace won his lone 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan International Speedway in August.
At the conclusion of the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Series Season, Richard Petty Motorsports hired Wallace to compete full time while driving the iconic No. 43 car. Richard Petty, the King of NASCAR once drove the same car. At the time of the announcement, Wallace received some heckling on Twitter from a Wisconsin high school golf coach.
Cambridge High School coach Brent Nottestad tweeted several times to Wallace. He made a reference to Wallace’s grandmother, who died a year ago, and wrote, “Granny Jan die in a police shooting?”
According to The Cambridge News, Nottestad also tweeted, “Hey @BubbaWallace. Please quit with, ‘I’m black’ bs. You’re terrible. There are 1423 more credible drivers to get that ride than you.”
Nottestad then tweeted to a photo of Wallace and a fan, “Almost looks like going to the zoo.” Nottestad, who coached for four years and held no other positions at the school, told ESPN via direct message that he was disgusted with himself for writing the tweets.
Nottestad, later resigned. Wallace replied to Nottestad’s tweets, and put the conflict behind him and prepared for the upcoming 2018 season. On the last lap of the 2018 Daytona 500, Austin Dillon spun out Aric Almirola’s car and won the race 20 years after Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500. Dillon’s victory was overshadowed by Wallace’s runner-up performance.
It was the highest finish ever for an African-American driver at the Daytona 500. The late Wendell Scott finished 13th in a 1-year-old car in the 1966 Daytona 500, which Richard Petty won. At the post-race press conference, Wallace broke down in tears after hugging his mother and sister.
“It’s a sensitive subject, but I’m just so emotional over where my family has been the last two years,” Wallace said. “I don’t talk about it, but it’s just so hard, and so having them here to support me is...” Wallace paused.
“Pull it together, bud, pull it together,” he said. “You just finished second. It’s awesome. I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to make them proud.”
“Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day,” Wallace said. “But yeah, I just love my family, and having everybody here from my mom, my sister, my uncle, everybody here just means a lot. Next question. Get me off this subject.”
Later on, Petty said he hired Wallace because of his vast potential, not his skin color. But diversity is important to NASCAR, who is trying to appeal to younger fans to fortify sagging TV ratings and live attendance. Wallace, who is 24, joined the prestigious NASCAR ranks as part of its Drive For Diversity program, an initiative aimed at recruiting and training diverse candidates.