NASCAR’s chase to find the next Bubba Wallace
BEFORE BUBBA WALLACE became the only Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, before he became a symbol of the national movement against racial injustice, he was a reality TV star. Sort of.
In 2010, Wallace competed on BET's "Changing Lanes," where he was one of 30 young drivers living together and vying for a spot with Rev Racing, the competitive wing of NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. "I found a new hate for reality TV," he says now, laughing. Jokes aside, it was a breakthrough for the 16-year-old. He finished second, then started racing for Rev in a developmental NASCAR circuit. "I am not sure I'd be here without it," he says.
Wallace has since emerged as one of the sport's most recognizable drivers, a high-profile graduate of a program that is trying to overturn NASCAR's image as a majority white male sport that allowed the Confederate flag at races until June -- when Wallace called for its removal. "With the flag being removed, with the actions Bubba has taken, you can see progress being made. My recruiting just got easier," says Phil Horton, Rev Racing's director of athletic performance and a Black man who has worked in NASCAR for 22 years.
This summer, Horton worked with the latest class of Rev Racing drivers, who gathered in North Carolina to improve their physical fitness, learn about their cars and compete. Ages 15 to 23, these young drivers hope to someday join Wallace on the racetrack and bring more women and people of color into NASCAR.
"Kids see a race and they don't see people who look like them," Wallace says. "We have to do a better job."
Wallace decided to take a stand against the Confederate flag after seeing videos of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Less than two weeks after he spoke out, a noose was found in his garage at Talladega. (The FBI investigated and determined that it was not a hate crime.) Wallace remains at the forefront of the racial justice movement and, most recently, was outraged by the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in late August: "There are people trying to justify being shot seven times in the back. There's no way to justify it."
As the national conversation around racial justice continues, we checked in with Wallace and the next generation of drivers trying to change NASCAR forever.