THE hard part wasn’t dodging his way around a crash and then driving to the front of the field at Talladega Superspeedway. That was just instinct for Bubba Wallace.
The challenge was the 45 minutes after Wallace took the lead, when the sky opened and he anxiously sat in the rain—hoping, wishing, praying—that Nascar would call off Monday’s rescheduled race and declare him the winner.
With a crowd gathered behind his pit stand chanting its support—one man told his six-year-old son, clad in a Wallace shirt and jumping up and down along the fence, that he was “witnessing history”—Nascar pulled the plug and Wallace became just the second Black driver to win a race at the Cup Series level.
“Got some credibility to my name now,” said Wallace, a first-time Cup winner in his 143 starts. “I’m just like, ‘Finally, I’m a winner and I’m a winner in the Cup level,’ and it’s just like ‘Hell yeah!’ It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
This was so much more than just a first win.
Wallace is the first Black driver to win at the top level of the elite stock car series since Wendell Scott in 1963, a race where he wasn’t declared the victor until long after Buck Baker had already been awarded the trophy. Nascar at last presented Scott’s family with his trophy from that race two months ago.
“You can’t swim standing on the Bank!!,” tweeted Warrick Scott Sr., who is Scott’s grandson. “RIP Wendell Scott. Congratulations @bubbawallace!!” A second post showed his grandfather leaning against a car and read: “PaPa was there the whole time chilling in the rain.”
The Wallace victory earned praise from rapper Big Sean, the University of Tennessee football team and Bill Lester, a Black driver who raced intermittently in Nascar from 1999 through a Trucks Series start this season, among others.
“Finally, it’s official, you’ve done it!” Lester posted. “So proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. Your win moves the @Nascar needle forward on so many fronts. Glad I was a witness.”
The race was spotlighted on NBC’s “Nightly News” at the top of Monday’s broadcast, illustrating how culturally important Wallace’s win was for Nascar, a predominantly white sport with deep Southern roots and a longtime embrace of Confederate symbols.
As much as Wallace wanted the moment to be solely about his first career win, he couldn’t ignore the significance.
“It’s definitely been tough going to some of the tracks this year, we get some of the most boos now,” Wallace said. “Everybody says as long as they’re making noise that’s fine, but you know, I get booed for different reasons and that’s the tough thing to swallow. I appreciate all those who were there doing the rain dance with us, pulling for us, supporting me my whole career, but especially those who have supported me with everything that’s gone on in the last 15-16 months.”
Wallace had been waiting atop his pit stand and celebrated wildly with his crew when the decision came. Wallace is in his first season driving for 23X1 Racing, a team owned by both Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
“I’m so happy for Bubba and our entire 23XI Racing team. This is a huge milestone and a historic win for us,” Jordan said in a tweeted statement. “From the day we signed him, I knew Bubba had the talent to win and Denny and I could not be more proud of him. Let’s go!”
Wallace broke down in tears after he returned to his parked No. 23 Toyota, the car number picked for Jordan, who wore 23 in the NBA.
“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,” Wallace said as he choked back 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. Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.” (AP)