Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s victory Monday in the rain-shortened 500-mile race at the Talladega Superspeedway should be embraced, and for all of the right reasons.
Wallace was out front when a wave of storms pushed through northeastern Alabama, a day after rain washed out Sunday’s scheduled start. It was apparent the rain wasn’t going to stop, so NASCAR pulled the plug 71 laps early. And in the process, they set off a celebration that was both inevitable and much-needed.
Race fans should be happy because Wallace won four days short of his 28th birthday. The sport always needs an injection of youth exuberance.
Tate Fogleman – yes, I had to look him up, too – won the Truck Series race on Saturday, followed by Brandon Brown’s win in the Xfinity Series. It marked the first time in NASCAR history there were three first-time winners at the same track in the same weekend.
It also was important because it pulls new car owner Michael Jordan deeper into the sport. Diverse ownership that also includes Brad Daugherty at JTG Daugherty Racing, not only brings new ideas, it also brings new fanbases with it. It makes NASCAR more mainstream.
Historically, it marked the second victory by a Black driver in NASCAR history. Wendell Scott won at Jacksonville’s Speedway Park on Dec. 1, 1963. Back then, NASCAR should have been embarrassed by waiting two hours before reversing its call that Buck Baker won. By the time Scott was declared the winner, the fans – and the winner’s trophy – were gone. So were the possible uncomfortable images of a Black man kissing the white race queen in Victory Lane during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
Wallace’s victory, however, should not be considered justification or redemption for one of racing most embarrassing gaffs of all time – the report of a noose found in the Talladega garage area last year that was supposed to be a threat against Wallace.
The FBI sent 15 agents to the track to investigate. They left a few minutes later saying a crewman simply tied a loop to pull the garage door down at the end of the day. Even more embarrassing for NASCAR was the fact it was done a year earlier. The FBI called the entire episode an over-reaction.
NASCAR issued a statement shortly after the FBI left the track, saying the organization was relieved Wallace wasn’t the target of a hate crime in the garage area. The group also said it will continue to strive for “providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all who love racing.”
What NASCAR didn’t do was apologize for putting the sport, and everyone else, on edge.
The sport stuck with its outrage because it made for a good story at a tumultuous time in American history. Nonetheless, Wallace said he’s received a lot of negative attention, but it didn’t stop Jordan and Denny Hamlin from creating 23XI racing and putting Wallace behind the wheel.
Until Monday, the inaugural season has been a struggle with just three top-10 finishes. But his fortunes – along with NASCAR’s – changed five laps ahead of the storm when he smartly and cleverly moved his No. 23 Toyota. It took talent to win Monday; not retribution.
“This is for all those kids out there that want to have an opportunity at whatever they want to achieve and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said. “You’re going to go through a lot of bull****, but you always have to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you. Stay strong, stay humble, stay hungry. There have been plenty of times that I wanted to give up, but you surround yourselves with the right people and it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”
The driver did his part Monday by putting his car in a position to win. The black and white checkered flag was necessary because Mother Nature wasn’t going to relent.
And the sport is better for it.
NASCAR has evolved since its disconnected and ignorant past. Wallace has been given rides in some top-level cars in the Truck and Cup series. Danica Patrick had high-profile and highly competitive cars at JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series and Stewart-Haas Racing at the Cup level. Daniel Suarez, a Mexican from Monterrey, drives for Cuban rapper Pitbull. I can’t wait to see that “party” when Suarez, Pitbull and co-owner Justin Marks win for the first time.
NASCAR proved a long time ago the only color that matters is green – the color of money.
“Words can’t describe it. I never really paid too much attention to it because I didn’t want that to be the winning focus and I just want to go out and drive and be a driver and compete with all my competitors out there,” Wallace said. “This is what happens when we can focus on just going out and competing and being a driver.”
And this is exactly why Bubba Wallace’s victory should be celebrated.