Thank You, Bubba Wallace
“This is [for] all these kids out there that want to have an opportunity at whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do.”
I grew up watching the two uncles on my mother’s side soup up old boxy General Motors (GM) vehicles. They turned overlooked Chevrolet S-10 trucks and old Malibu station wagons into sub-10-second quarter-mile speedsters. Yet, they were the exception, not the rule. Aside from my uncles, I didn’t know anyone who looked like me in motorsport. That’s why Bubba Wallace winning this past Monday’s rain-delayed YellaWood 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway was so important. In doing so, he became the second black person ever to win a race in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Rain poured that Monday afternoon, and as a result, the race’s laps were cut from 188 to 117. Wallace defended his position, as crashes and incidents took other drivers out of the race. After the second red flag on the second stage, the race was called and Wallace was declared the winner.
It’s no secret that motorsport hasn’t historically been the most welcoming to black drivers, and the treatment continues in different forms today. Lewis Hamilton, for example, is at the top of his game, with the most wins of any F1 driver ever. At a recent race, involvement in an unavoidable accident with Max Verstappen sent thousands of fans into Hamilton’s social media, filling the comments with racial epithets, slurs, and demeaning emojis. Furthermore, Bubba Wallace’s team found a noose in his pit garage in 2020. Although an FBI investigation concluded it was not a premeditated threat and no hate crime had been committed, some very vocal fans were not okay with Wallace’s request for justice and an investigation into what looked to be a very racist, threatening gesture from someone in NASCAR. Droves of fans were also upset about Wallace’s successful push for a Confederate flag ban at tracks. Some have angrily accused NASCAR of virtue signaling or “going woke” for standing behind and assuring the safety of (at the time) its lone black driver.
The last black person to win a race in NASCAR’s top series was at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963. His name was Wendell Scott, and he didn’t even win right away, as officials originally gave the title to the second-place finisher, Buck Baker. It’s been theorized that this was done on purpose so a black man didn’t have a podium finish, where he would have been celebrated and kissed by a white woman. It was only this year, in 2021, that Scott’s family was finally awarded a trophy for his achievement.
As a minority, when you take all those stories of hardship and add in the great cost it takes to train and run in a race like this, it can be very easy to say, “Why the hell do it?” It’s so easy to think that even if you’ve got the chops, these folks do not want me there. That’s likely true of some, but the wave of support for Wallace after this win shows there are people on the other side, as well.
“This is [for] all these kids out there that want to have an opportunity at whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said with tears in his eyes, according to the Associated Press. “You’re going to go through a lot of bullshit. … [There were] plenty of times I’ve wanted to give up.”
But Wallace persisted. He won the race on his merit. I don’t always follow motorsport, but in the ever-pertinent words of Issa Rae, I’m always rooting for everybody black. Because lord knows a lot of people aren’t.
Bubba Wallace is an inspiration, and I can only hope that his win shows that a brighter, more welcoming and all-encompassing future exists for NASCAR and motorsport as a whole.
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