Bubba Wallace Explains How He Became A ‘Woke’ NASCAR Activist
How NASCAR became the platform of choice for driver Bubba Wallace to push his social justice activism in 2020 and beyond.
Bubba Wallace made a name for himself last year as the Colin Kaepernick of NASCAR when he became “woke” and fought to have the Confederate flag banned from the racing world. Now, he’s opening up about the events that lead to his decision to become a social justice activist and use NASCAR as his platform.
There is only 1 driver from an African American background at the top level of our sport..I am the 1. You're not gonna stop hearing about "the black driver" for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey..
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) November 8, 2017
NASCAR Driver Bubba Wallace’s Father Speaks Out
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.’s father Darrell Wallace Sr. said that it was not until 2020 that his son decided he wanted to become a radically leftwing voice in racing.
Wallace Sr. told ESPN:
“Bubba always cared, he was always aware of what was happening in the world when it came to race relations, because he saw it firsthand. But he’s also Bubba. He doesn’t take too much too serious, and he never has. At least, he didn’t until this year.”
“Now he understands, it’s time to stop putting up with this. It’s time to have a conversation, whether people want to have it or not. I think that you could say that about nearly everybody in America this year. You could say it about everybody in the world. But everybody doesn’t have the stage Bubba has, and most haven’t had the year that he has had, either.”
Bubba Wallace Uses NASCAR As Social Justice Platform
27-year-old Wallace says his life was changed the day he watched the video of jogger Ahmaud Arbery being shot. The tragic shooting took place just days after the No. 43 driver took 15th at the Daytona 500.
That was May 5th. More than two months after the Arbery shooting and less than two weeks before he’d return to racetrack.
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A few weeks prior on April 12th, Kyle Larson infamously blurted the n-word during a virtual iRacing event.
The Larson incident triggered a race conversation within NASCAR. Wallace participated in a group chat which included other drivers at Darlington on May 17 and NASCAR execs.
Then, on May 25, 2020, George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Floyd’s death prompted Wallace to take his activism next level.
Given NASCAR was one of the few professional sports on the air in May, Wallace felt it was the perfect platform for his social justice agenda.
“I said to the group, ‘We really need to speak on this issue, guys. Like, this is an important time for our country and our sport,'” Wallace said of the text group. “[The response] was like, ‘What tire are we going to be running at the next race?’ … Somebody asks about family coming back to the racetrack. It’s like, ‘Guys, we’ve got to do better than when is family going to be allowed at the racetrack.’ And I just put, ‘OK.’ What a joke.”
Not giving up, Wallace sat down with some of the biggest names in NASCAR for one-on-one conversations. Though he said most of the talks were good, some devolved into a broken record.
“A lot of it was sponsors,” Wallace said. “It’s tough. ‘They don’t want us to talk about it.'”
‘I Was Kind Of Running NASCAR At That Moment’
NASCAR president Steve Phelps was so supportive that Bubba Wallace even joked, “For a split second, I was kind of running NASCAR at that moment.”
Wallace was overjoyed when Phelps called him to say that the Confederate flag was about to be banned.
“I wanted to let him know it was about damn time,” Wallace said. “We shared a quick laugh over that, but he was like, ‘Yeah, I think that’s a start.’ I said, it’s a big start. It’s going to be tough to implement, but it shows that we’re not messing around, you know? It shows that NASCAR is listening and they’re understanding, which is what we’ve been asking for.”
Going into 2021, Bubba Wallace will drive No. 23 car for Michael Jordan’s new NASCAR racing team 23XI Racing. Wallace claims that his focus in the year ahead will be on unifying his fellow Americans.
“We’re all Americans. We’re all people. Doesn’t matter what country you’re from. We’re all people,” he said.
“We’re all brought here for a purpose, and it’s not to hate each other because of the way you look. It’s to figure how to make this place better, how to make your lives better, how to make your children’s lives better. I don’t know if my purpose is to drive race cars. It feels like it is, but who knows?”