BY RICK BONNELL
Michael Jordan says the deal that will make him primary owner of a NASCAR team came together rapidly in the past 10 days.
He will pair with longtime Cup driver Denny Hamlin to form a single-car team for the 2021 season. Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver on NASCAR’s top circuit, has agreed to come aboard.
“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”
‘Want to win’
“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said in an exclusive interview with The Observer.
“I feel like Bubba feels the same, and Denny (with six victories this season) has definitely done that this year. We’ve got the right people involved. Now, we need to get the right equipment. The right information and data. Give Bubba his best chance to win.”
While numerous details are still in the works, Jordan filled in some holes on the plans.
In talks with Gibbs
Jordan is working closely with Joe Gibbs Racing, which has four Toyota teams in the Cup Series, including the one driven by Hamlin.
“We’re in conversations with Gibbs to get the data and create a relationship with them,” Jordan said, adding it’s crucial that a new team has sources for top equipment and car set-up information. Jordan once owned a motorcycle-racing team for seven years and saw then the importance of manufacturer support.
“When I was in motorcycle racing, if you didn’t have the right parts, the support from the manufacturers, you had no chance of winning,” Jordan said.
Jordan has an estimated net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes.
A No. 23 car?
Jordan is interested in the team bearing No. 23, the number he made famous as a Chicago Bull, but Wallace will have the final say on that.
“It’s all going to be what Bubba wants. I’m not going to impose on him with my persona,” Jordan said. “At the end of the day, I want him to have his own identity. If he chooses to drive that number, great! If he chooses another number, that’s great as well.”
Jordan knew Wallace, who is leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, casually before Hamlin pushed for this new team. But Jordan is convinced Wallace has huge talent.
“I think he has the potential to be (a champion). If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t get into this,” Jordan said.
“Luck has a lot of do (with winning) in a lot of sports. But if you feel you have the same knowledge and the same equipment, you give yourself a chance. Then, it’s all up to the driver.”
Fan as a kid
Jordan has been a NASCAR fan since he was a kid in Wilmington. His father, the late James Jordan, used to drive the family to races all around the South as weekend day trips.
“Rockingham, Darlington, Talladega, Daytona, Richmond. We used to go on Sunday family trips: Load up our chicken and Cokes and go spend the day,” Jordan recalled. “Drive up and drive back.”
Was Jordan comfortable at races in the 1970s and ‘80s, when the sport’s culture was not particularly welcoming to African Americans?
“My father was comfortable, so I was comfortable. He was very protective of me. Protective of the family,” Jordan said.
“Did you see a lot of African-Americans at the races (then)? No, you did not. But that does not mean we were not fans of the sport. I think the sport has changed and is changing, and I think Bubba has a lot to do with that. Wendell Scott had a lot to do with that back when he was racing” in the 1960s and ’70s.’
Jordan said he’s pleased by the steps NASCAR has taken toward diversity, including banning the Confederate flag at races.
Jordan said his friendship with Hamlin — a longtime Hornets season-ticket holder — created a comfort level in jumping into NASCAR.
“He was a season-ticket holder when I first got involved with the Hornets. I knew of him, and we just became friends. I just wanted to spend time with him and wanted to understand what his knowledge was about racing,” Jordan said.
“Next thing you know, I became a fan and he became a Jordan (Brand) athlete. We played golf and we enjoy spending time together. He is a basketball nut. I think he has a basketball court at his house. He keeps wanting me to play, but I have no (desire) about that one.”