Bubba Wallace: A NASCAR Pioneer

NASCAR has a rich history of athletes from all walks of life getting behind the wheel and tearing up a track, but unfortunately it hasn’t always been easy for some drivers to make a name for themselves in NASCAR specifically. For some, there have been systemic barriers to entry that took many decades to begin to break down. Creating an institution for all walks of life through NASCAR has taken time. However, throughout the story of the sport, we have been introduced to pioneers such as Wendell Scott, Janet Guthrie, Sara Christian, Daniel Su├írez and, most recently, Bubba Wallace.

Born William Darrel “Bubba” Wallace Jr. on October 8, 1993 in Mobile, Ala., Bubba’s passion for high-octane entertainment did not come by chance. Early on in his life, his father, Darrell Wallace, Sr., introduced young Bubba to the racing world and took him across the country to watch racing events.

The speed and enchanting agility of the drivers on the track gave him the dream of becoming a professional racing driver. At the age of 9, Bubba competed in his first race, a Bandolero event for drivers aged 8-11.

In 2004, NASCAR introduced its Drive for Diversity program in an effort to increase the number of BIPOC and female participants. This NASCAR opportunity propelled Bubba forward to prove he could race the best, and lo and behold, he did just that. His determination eventually led to Bubba Wallace winning two races in the NASCAR K&N series, and at the age of 17 he was named NASCAR K&N Rookie of the Year in 2010.

Since 2012, Bubba has won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, the NASCAR Gander RV, and the Cars Super Late Model Tour series just to name a few. Despite this success, he was still on a mission to prove himself at the highest level of NASCAR; the cup series. In 2018, he took a giant step toward that goal when he took second place in the 2018 Daytona 500, arguably the most prestigious race in the sport. At his post-race press conference, Bubba hugged his mother in an emotional celebration.

As racial injustice gained global attention in 2020, Wallace used his platform to call for the permanent removal of the Confederate flag from all NASCAR races. He was successful, but the move unfortunately resulted in threats and hatred against him. In an emotional expression of solidarity, fellow NASCAR drivers and crewmembers walked behind Bubba in his No. 43 Chevy race car into the pit lane ahead of the Geico 500 in Talladega on June 22, 2020.

At the end of 2021, Wallace stepped into his new No. 23 Toyota for the 23XI race team at Talladega. 23XI is owned by NBA legend Michael Jordan and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. In a tense race with many crashes, Bubba held the lead for 45 minutes until it started to rain, making the track too dangerous to drive. Because of the danger, NASCAR made the decision to end the race early, allowing current track leader, Bubba Wallace, to take the win.

This win put Wallace in the history books as the second black American driver to win in the NASCAR Cup Series since the legendary Wendell Scott did the same nearly 60 years ago. We suspect Bubba is just getting started and we look forward to seeing his career blossom and his legend grow. He has already started the 2022 season well with a second-place finish at the Daytona 500, hardly behind the winner.

A 6-part docuseries about the driver’s life has recently appeared on Netflix. The show tells the story of his life and his rise to NASCAR’s elite levels as the only current full-time black driver. Here’s a trailer for Race: Bubba Wallace.