When Richard Petty Motorsports signed 24-year-old Bubba Wallace in 2017 to be the first Black driver to race in the Cup Series since 2006, no one could have known the significance of their decision. Today, Wallace’s name is widely known for his work for social change in NASCAR.
Affected by events surrounding him, Wallace asked NASCAR on June 8 to ban Confederate flags at all NASCAR races. Just two days later, the league answered Wallace’s call and banned all Confederate flags from flying inside NASCAR stadiums. That same day, Wallace raced in a “Black Lives Matter” themed car.
Last Sunday, the day before he raced in the Talladega 500, a member of Wallace’s crew found a rope that appeared to be tied like a noose hanging from Wallace’s garage door. The rope was initially perceived as a hate crime against Wallace before an FBI investigation discovered the noose had been tied to the garage a year before. The FBI later announced the noose was not a hate crime.
The following day at Talladega Superspeedway, Wallace was supported by the entire field of the GEICO 500 as his car was pushed by competitors and teammates alike to the front position of pit road for the Monday afternoon race.
“Aric Amarola sent a nice text right before all of that on Monday saying we’re not friends and we don’t act like we are, but we’re going to stand next to each other. I thought that was pretty special because we don’t click very well at all,” Wallace said during a media call Friday. “Alex Bowman had come up and said that we don’t see eye to eye on everything, but he stood behind me 100 percent. We’ve definitely butted heads and lost respect for each other at times, that shows we can all come together.”
While Wallace had never planned on speaking up or being seen as a social rights activist, recent events like the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd inspired Wallace to speak up.
“Seeing the Ahmaud Arbery video changed something inside of me to be more vocal and to stand up and help people who feel like they don’t have a voice and don’t have a platform to speak out on how they feel,” Wallace said. “On the tough subjects that a lot of people are afraid to touch on, I’m not afraid to speak my mind. I’m 100 percent raw and real.”
Wallace is also happy with the way his voice has grown the involvement of minorities in NASCAR.
“A lot of people of color are coming out and are saying that they’re watching for the first time and have been watching since. It was pretty cool to see that crowd there in Talladega,” Wallace said.
While Wallace’s actions have inspired and influenced change for many people across the world, he has faced plenty of backlash as well. Since the Confederate flag was banned from all NASCAR stadiums on June 10, protests have formed outside the stadiums full of Confederate flags flying high. In Talladega, a small plane flew a “Defund NASCAR’ banner with the flag attached over the stadium.
“It’s their right for a peaceful protest," Wallace said. "That’s part of it, but you won’t see them inside the race tracks where we’re having a good time with fans. You won’t see it flying. Outside, they’re just going to be making a lot of noise.”
Despite the significance of all of his actions in the last few weeks, Wallace says he simply wants to get back to racing.
“Let’s focus on racing," Wallace said. "Let’s focus on how we can push the message of love, compassion and understanding and let’s help fight the good fight. Let’s get new fans out to the racetrack and encourage old fans to welcome them with open arms and show them a good time. Let’s get away from what happened at Talladega and get back in the race car life.”