Sunday was not the greatest day of Darrell “Bubba” Wallace’s racing career. A trio of pit-road speeding penalties relegated him to 26th place in Sunday’s Pocono 400, his inaugural Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start in “King” Richard Petty’s iconic No. 43 Ford.
After his imperfect Pocono outing, Wallace became lightheaded and fainted on pit road, before being treated and released at the track’s Infield Care Center.
“Heck of a way to end it, passing out,” joked Wallace, who became the first African-American driver to compete in NASCAR premier series event since Bill Lester in 2006. "It has happened three times now where I’m just so mad that I pass out."
The 23-year old Alabama native drove in place of Aric Almirola Sunday, after Almirola suffered a broken vertebra in a crash at Kansas Speedway last month. And earlier in the weekend, he spoke at length about the opportunity, admitting that he is conscious of the role he plays as an African American driver in a predominantly white sport.
“This is a huge step for NASCAR, bringing diversity to its top‑tier level of NASCAR,” said Wallace. “I'm glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It shows that we're trying to bring in a new demographic. We're trying to bring in new faces, get a younger generation, no matter what color (or) what age. We're trying to get everybody involved. It's been a fun journey.”
He said that the perception of NASCAR as a sport unwelcoming to people of color was “shut down a long time ago. It's just a matter of finding what race track is in your area, going out and purchasing a ticket… just coming out and enjoying the sport. I think (minority) fans are making that call, wanting to come out and enjoy the sport; knowing they can get in, have a great time and cheer on their favorite driver. And I could be their new favorite driver.”
Wallace said he has never been deterred by the lack of minority drivers in NASCAR, adding, “I started out in the sport because it was something fun and new for me. I never even paid attention to see if there was anybody that looked like me growing up in the sport.
He said he ignores the continued presence of Confederate flags in the track’s infield each week, adding, “The only flags I see are green, white and checkered.
“I think that goes back to my parents, teaching me at a young age to never see it as black and white. Everybody's equal. Everybody deserves the same opportunity, the same challenge. Everybody should live their lives to the fullest with no hassles, no hold‑backs, no matter what age (or) what color you are. We should have no barriers on what we want to do in life; no matter your color, your age, gender, disabilities, no matter what. It's something that should be taken care of.
“I've hit a couple barriers growing up. There's definitely been some flak in the way. I would get the gestures and everything thrown out, (then) we'd show up the next weekend and win. That's how I was taught. My mom and dad always told me to block out the bad and take the good, use it as motivation.
“That's how I was raised, to ignore the stupidity, continue on and do what I need to do.”
Wallace said he spoke recently with the family of NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott, who broke NASCAR’s color barrier decades ago with 495 starts and a single win in NASCAR’s premier series.
“Wendell Scott, Jr. called me last night,” revealed Wallace. “He was so pumped up. He said he was helping me drive the car this weekend. He was pumped up about… this opportunity. That's huge when you still have that connection with the family (who) continue to carry on a legacy that their father laid.”
Asked about his inability to attract full-time sponsorship in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series, Wallace pointed to his won/loss record, rather than the color of his skin.
“Being honest, it's probably the win column,” he said. “There's not a day that goes by where I don't think about that. That's probably the biggest battle. You can look at (my wins in) Trucks, but that was three or four years ago. Now, it's a new year. Times have changed. We're winless (and) that may have something to do with it. I'm beating myself up over it,
“At the end of the day, it is one of the most demanding and grueling sports. Nobody loves finishing second. You want to get everything you can out of it, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. The sponsorship stuff, everybody's battling that. I just happen to be one of those guys.”
The Alabama native admitted he has no idea what his future holds, once Almirola is cleared to return to competition.
“I can't really touch on that, because I don't know what's going to happen,” he said. “One thing I can touch on is I know I'll go out there and prove to everybody -- inside the racetrack, outside the racetrack, on TV -- that I belong in the Cup Series. I’ll do the best that I can, give an extra 200% each and every time I climb in the car for Ford, for Richard Petty, for everybody on the team (and) for Smithfield.
“There's no need for me to go out there and try to set the world on fire, trying to win races and putting myself in a tough spot,” he said. “If the opportunity presents itself, yeah, we'll jump on it. But there's no need for me to force a hole (and) end up tearing up a race car. I'm getting this opportunity because people believe in me and have seen my talents coming up. I have to go out there and back that up; show them I can manage and perform, and that I belong in the series.”
While admittedly feeling the pressure of his first MENCS opportunity. Wallace said he is also taking time to enjoy the moment.
“(Eventual Pocono winner) Ryan Blaney texted me this morning -- actually woke me up this morning-- and he wants a picture this weekend. He was like, ‘We're driving the two most iconic cars in the sport this weekend. We definitely have to capitalize on that.
“(I am) the first African American since 2006. That's a lot of history. I've always said I like to let the results speak for themselves and… let the history fall in behind that. Not focus on the big spotlight, the African American side, the iconic number. Let all that funnel in after we have our good runs, get out there on the racetrack and show everybody we can do it.”
By the time Almirola returns, Wallace will rank second to Scott on a regrettably short, eight-man list of African American drivers to compete in NASCAR’s top series. But predictably, the Alabama native will remain focused on racing, rather than race.
“I think everybody wanted to see this opportunity happen,” he said. “NASCAR wanted to see it, I believe, for multiple reasons. And Ford has been a great supporter of mine for the last two years, going on three years now. This has been a pretty big couple of days for me. It's an exciting opportunity, not only for myself but my family, my fans… everybody that's helped me get to this level ever since I started racing when I was nine years old.
“This is the perfect opportunity, so I'm very thankful for that. I've always said that God has had my plans in his hands. A new door has opened and we'll go out there and make the most of it.”
“I've been through 14 or 15 years of racing; a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “There's more downs than ups. That's what makes you stronger, keeps you hungry and coming back for more. It's been a lot of blood, sweat and tears; from not only myself, but everybody that's helped me out along the way. A lot of family sacrifices to get me here. Everybody has a different story of how they got to their ultimate level.
“It's (going to be) cool in a couple years to look back on it and see how far we've come.”