BY DAVID WILSON
MIAMI – For Bubba Wallace, trips to South Florida aren’t much more than a straight shot down Miami International Airport to Homestead-Miami Speedway, where NASCAR hosts its annual season-ending race.
The only Black full-time NASCAR driver knows Miami for its outside reputation for its beaches and its nightlife.
On Friday, Feb. 8, Wallace saw a different side of the city.
As part of Black History Month, Wallace made a quick stop in Miami before driving up to Daytona Beach the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 to learn about the Overtown neighborhood of Miami.
For nearly three hours, Wallace toured Lyric Theater, the home of Dana A. Dorsey and the Overtown Performing Arts Center.
“It makes you think about, what are the cities that you go to that
Wallace said after finishing his tour. “This is ground-level stuff and you wonder, Is everywhere we go like that? And it is.”
Wallace, whose real name is Darrell Wallace Jr., is truly a trailblazer in NASCAR, which is partially how this trip came together. Wallace flew into MIA from Charlotte early in the morning, then drove up to Daytona in the afternoon.
In between, he learned about the history of the area where he’ll finish his season with the Ford EcoBoost 400 in November.
Wallace, though, never thought about the trail he might blaze. Although he was raised in Charlotte, Wallace didn’t grow up following NASCAR.
He wound up racing on a whim as a
Black history moment
Wallace didn’t start taking it seriously until he was 16, when he realized he was actually pretty good and could maybe make a living out of driving. He didn’t realize no Black driver had been a full-time racer in NASCAR since 1971 until reporters started to ask him about it.
In Wallace’s opinion, a simple lack of awareness made it easier on him. He didn’t feel as if he had pressure on him when he debuted at Daytona International Speedway last year.
“I never looked at that and going up through, we never thought like, It’s going to be a tough battle because you’re going to be the only one there,” Wallace said. “We were like, If we get there, we get there. If we don’t, we don’t and we’re here, so we’re making the most of it.”
2018 racing record
If his background made him known even before he drove, his performance at Daytona Speedway in 2018 made him a rising star.
Wallace finished second at Daytona, the highest finish for a Black driver since 1951 and the best finish ever by a full-time rookie driver in the race.
Even though he finished the season in 28th place in the final standings, Wallace’s first race proved he can compete with anyone.
“It gives you the confidence to be able to go out and do it again,” Wallace said. “I made a lot of mistakes on my end, so just cleaning up a lot of things, and going out and getting after it.”
And his story has already made him a fan favorite.
In diversity program
NASCAR has spent years trying to bring in a more diverse audience and Wallace, who came up in its Drive for Diversity program, is one of the faces of a changing sport.
While Wallace was on his way to a disappointing finish to the 2018 season, Ebony named the driver to its Power 100 list in the fall.
He sat alongside the likes of former President Barack Obama, Pittsburgh Steelers superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown and Golden State Warriors former MVP guard Stephen Curry.
For young fans of NASCAR, Wallace is the sort of face they’ve quite literally never seen in the sport.
Wallace likes to downplay the significance of what he’s doing, but he can’t deny the effect it’s having on the next generation.
“It’s humbling. It’s definitely cool to see,” Wallace said. “It makes you kind of get goosebumps when kids come up and be like, ‘I want to be like you.’ It’s like, ‘Bro, I ain’t nobody. I’m just a guy that happens to drive race cars for a living.”