In a historic first and an ongoing sign of increasing diversity and representation within the world of auto racing, Bubba Wallace has become the first Black driver to win a major NASCAR Cup race since 1963.
The Associated Press and NPR reported that “Bubba Wallace became just the second Black driver to win at NASCAR’s top Cup Series level when rain stopped Monday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.”
According to AP, “Wallace had driven through a crash and to the front of the field five laps before the second rain stoppage of the race. NASCAR tried to dry the track for nearly 45 minutes but called things off as sunset approached and the rain showed no sign of ceasing.”
Media coverage of the race showed Wallace in his pit stand waiting for the official announcement and then celebrating wildly with his pit crew when the race was finally called.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 5, 2021
“Wallace is in his first season driving for 23XI Racing, a team owned by both Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan,” AP reported. “Wallace broke down in tears after he returned to his parked No. 23 Toyota. The car number was picked for co-owner 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. 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,” Wallace said in an interview following the conclusion of the race. “Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.”
NASCAR officials said Wallace is the first Black driver to win at its elite Cup level since Wendell Scott in 1963. In that controversial race, Scott wasn’t declared the winner for a number of months, primarily due to the racist culture at the time. It wasn’t until this past summer, 58 years after his historic win, that NASCAR officially made amends for what it had done to Scott, finally presenting a trophy to his family.
In a tweet, fellow Black NASCAR driver Bill Lester congratulated Wallace, saying, “finally, it’s official, you’ve done it! 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.”
I have a pretty good idea of what he's experienced and had to overcome as a black man in the sport of #NASCAR. Some of my stories are similar and I write about them in my #motivational #memoir, #WinningInReverse @amazon https://t.co/q727pttZhs
— Bill Lester (@Bill_Lester) October 5, 2021
The win for Wallace this year follows a horrific year for the racer in 2020. Last June, members of his pit crew discovered a noose hanging in his assigned garage stall. Following the incident, at Wallace’s urging, NASCAR decided to ban Confederate flags at all future races. That event, like his historic win, also took place at Talladega.
“Wallace has called the noose incident a low point in his life,” AP reported. “He’s been subjected to nonstop online harassment that last year even included a tweet from then-President Donald Trump, who falsely accused Wallace of making up the noose.”
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) October 4, 2021
Following Wallace’s win, the Mobile, Alabama-native reflected on the significance of winning a NASCAR cup in his home state, saying, “it obviously brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy to my family, fans, my friends. It’s pretty cool.”
After the decision was finally called, AP reported that “Wallace went to a makeshift victory lane inside an empty garage stall to celebrate with his 23XI Racing team. The organization was formed a year ago, and Wallace was the centerpiece based on all the corporations that entered NASCAR in support of Wallace and his social justice efforts.”
The Talladega win was a first for Wallace, following 142 previous career Cup starts.