THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us for today's NASCAR teleconference.
Richard Petty Motorsports announced earlier today Darrell 'Bubba' Wallace Jr. as the next driver of the #43, made famous by team co-owner, "The King," Richard Petty. Wallace, 24, will compete full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and contend for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award beginning at the 2018 Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 18th.
We are now joined by Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty. Thank you both for joining us today.
Bubba, let's start with you. What does today's announcement mean for you?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: It means a lot. No pressure on me at all, with the King sitting here right beside me watching every move that I make (laughter).
But this is pretty special. I'm excited for the opportunity. I can't thank Richard enough and everybody at RPM for giving me this shot. Even going back to August when I was able to fill in for them for those four races and made the most of it there, I think I impressed Richard a little bit. He called me back. Well, he doesn't have a phone. He mailed me back (laughter).
It's been a pretty fun journey these last couple months, just getting to know them a little bit more and more, better and better each and every day. Now we're here for the announcement and trying to make the most of it.
THE MODERATOR: For you, Richard, tell us why you handpicked Bubba to drive the #43.
RICHARD PETTY: Well, you know, we went round and round when Aric got hurt about who we was going to put in the car. Bubba had been running some races and stuff. He was bad about wrecking, I thought, so we had to have a little talk with him, say, You know, just go out and finish the races and stuff.
But he really impressed me. First race he ran, he got caught four times for speeding down pit road. We finally got him to speed on the racetrack. So he kept getting better for every race, wound up 11th I think the very last race. Just repaved the Kentucky track, it was completely different to everybody. He learns real quick.
After seeing him operate with our crew chief and all the guys at the shop, with the sponsors and stuff like that, we want to have a whole new look at Richard Petty Motorsports for 2018 anyway. So we said, Let's just look at Bubba and see if we can put him in the car. Just thought a new page in the Petty deal.
So it was pretty easy when it came down to saying, Okay, this is what we want to do. Me and Bubba got together, we said, Okay, this is what we're going to do. Had to get the lawyers involved. Took us a while to get that squared away. But we always knew what we was going to do.
Finally got around to today and said, Okay, everything is all set. It's done now.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you both.
We will now go to the media for questions.
Q. Richard, no manufacturer was listed in the release. Are you going to be a Ford team next year?
RICHARD PETTY: We'll let you know later on. That will be another announcement.
Q. Bubba, have you talked to anybody from Wendell Scott's family? If so, can you describe how that conversation went.
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: I haven't yet. I haven't gotten in touch. My phone has been blowing up. I'm sure Junior will be reaching out to me here in a short little bit, Wendell Scott Jr. I'm excited to share the news with them if they haven't heard, but I'm sure they have. Looking forward to that.
Q. How do you feel about kind of the social significance of being the first full-time African American driver since '71?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, it's big. There's been a lot of people come up through the ranks and try to carry on the legacy that Wendell Scott laid down for us. For me to step in that realm and take on that role, there's a lot of pressure.
But we're going to go out there and just continue to do what we do on and off the racetrack, that's to represent the brand of myself and Richard Petty and his image the best way I can, continue to grow together. That's how we're going to accomplish that.
Q. What do you think is needed to take this team to the next level?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: There's a lot of things going on behind closed doors, trying to bring a new image to RPM. Like Richard said just a couple seconds ago, we'll hopefully have some news to share soon.
But I feel like what we showcased in those four races I had, you know, working with Drew and everybody on that 43 car, we really hit on something there. We're going to continue to do that. It's all about communication. The more that we communicate, the more that we grow and get that connection going to carry that to the racetracks and be successful, since we'll be doing that full-time.
Q. You've had some success in NASCAR obviously. How do you feel about where you are now as a driver compared to what you might have expected at this point?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, I mean, this is a sport that a lot is based on patience. Everybody has different ways of getting to the level that I can now say that I'm at. It's pretty special to be here. Seeing my buddies that are in the Cup level now, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, LaJoie, Austin and Ty, we all raced together. We were all 10, 11, 12 years old running against each other here at Charlotte Motor Speedway, beating and banging with each other. Now we're at the top level. Each and every one of us have a different story of how we've gotten there.
I'm just glad to share that spotlight with them.
Q. Richard, does the team have any plans to have an alliance with another team? Bubba, this announcement comes on the same week of the anniversary of your first win at Martinsville, also your win with the tribute to Wendell Scott a few years ago. What does it mean for you to be at this point three and four years later from where you were than at that point?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, I remember those two weekends very well. Ironic timing that it's around this same day just years later. I remember the last one, I was driving the 34. Turn that number around, now I'm driving the 43. It's crazy how things work out.
Just couldn't be more excited for the opportunity that I'll have next year.
RICHARD PETTY: We're still working on really where we're going to wind up next year. We've got a couple, three options. We just going to sit down with Bubba and the crew chief, our sponsors and stuff, say, Okay, where do we think our best move is? What do we need to do? When it does come to be, we'll let everybody know about it.
Q. Bubba, Richard says he had to sit you down and talk about your driving style before you drove the 43. How receptive were you to whether it's constructive criticism or feedback on your driving style?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, I don't think it was a true sit-down session. I think it was just in the garage after a couple runs in the 43 for my first time. We were just talking about some things we need to watch out for, just to make sure we don't do too much. Just go out there and take what the car will give you. If that was 26th that day, that's what it was meant to be.
Like he said, we kept progressing and improving each and every week. I definitely took what he said into matters and used that. It wasn't my ride at the time. I didn't need to go out there and bring the car back in multiple pieces. I just had to get the best finish that they deserved, and I deserved myself, so I could showcase to everybody that I belong.
Q. Richard, have you guys figured out what you're going to do as far as a new shop? You're selling the other one. What are you going to do with both of your charters for next year?
RICHARD PETTY: All that stuff is still up in the air. We doing one thing at a time. We decided just to go ahead and get Bubba all signed up, get that behind us, so that we can then sit down and say, Okay, what is our next best move? Bubba will be involved in that part of it, too, because he's going to be a big, big part of RPM for the coming years.
Kind of a deal that, you know, wait from one day to another to see what's sort of coming up. Again, there's a bunch of irons in the fire. There's going to be a bunch of different things that we're going to do. When you see us at Daytona, we show up down there, it's going to be a completely different RPM than what it's been in the past. We're looking forward to that.
Q. Richard, Bubba mentioned how important the social significance of him becoming the first African American driver since 1971 was. Did you talk with him about that at all in the weeks and months leading up to this? How important is that for you to be a part of?
RICHARD PETTY: That was the least of my considerations. We looked at the talent. We looked at how we thought he handled the fans, how he handled the press, how he handled sponsor deals, all this kind of stuff. I didn't care what color he was, where he come from, any of that.
If you look back at the Petty history and stuff, we've had a driver from Brazil that drove for us for a while, one from Mexico that drove a Truck race for us. It's not anything different than what we've done before.
Q. Bubba, I covered you filling in for Aric Almirola. I was very impressed with how you handled all eyes on you, the pressure, the one-off ride. It was very impressive how you handled the pressure of it all. As you step into a full-time ride, there will be a lot of eyes on you, expectations. Do you feel like you learned something about yourself, being able to handle what you have handled as you filled in?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, actually I do. But I'm ready to take on this 2018 season. Talking to you for those four races that I had, you seen my mentality going into it. You knew how calm I was about it. I'm going to try to take the same thing each and every race next year.
I know we start off with our Super Bowl of the season, the Daytona 500. There's a lot of hype within itself around that weekend. It's all in how you manage it. I felt like I managed it pretty well for those four races, being my debut, kept getting better and better, didn't know what was next.
Now that I know it's for sure, for certain, I can just go there and try to survive, come out of that race with some momentum and carry that on throughout the season.
Q. Early on I remember you had meetings with your crew chief and dad. You were gaining confidence as a young driver. When all that was put on you, it seemed like you maybe gained some confidence out of that in yourself.
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, absolutely. It was definitely an eye opener and confidence booster. You name it, it all came with it. It was just a great opportunity that I'm so very thankful for. They could have easily went with somebody else to sub out for Aric while he was recovering. But they believed in me and wanted to give me a shot. I think it was because I kept blowing up their phone lines to put me in that thing. But it came true. We were able to make the most of it.
Q. Bubba, when you started several years ago in the K&N Series, did you have a plan in your head laid out as to how you wanted to advance through the series, how you envisioned it playing out? How has what's happened related to that? Anything close to what you had envisioned?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: You know, growing up, it was always two years go-karts, two years Bandoleros, two years Legend car, two to three years late model, it was three years K&N, two years in Truck. It's always been like a two- to three-year deal. That just felt normal.
Obviously each and every one of those steps gets a little bit harder and harder to progress up. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears thrown into each and every level of that.
Coming into this, I didn't have a set timeline on, Yeah, I need to be in Cup by this certain year. I was just riding out something that I loved to do each and every weekend, something I grew up on doing, and I happen to be really good at it, I believe. It's something that, you know, if it was two years down the road and I still had something to do, a car to drive for the next remaining two years, okay, that's fine. I never had any set certain timeline.
Q. Did you ever imagine driving the 43?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: I don't think so. When it all came about, it's one hell of a story to tell looking back on it of how we got here, the decisions we made, the decisions I made to leave one team, go to another, end up being in this ride for a number of races, and now it's my ride for the 2018 season. It's just crazy how things work.
My mom always said, God has a plan. It's unfolding.
Q. Bubba, I just wanted to ask, NASCAR just had their Drive for Diversity combine last week in Florida. Obviously you graduated from that program, the NASCAR Next Program. Watching the video you did on the golf course a couple weeks ago, other things you've done, how you handled yourself with publicity, how much do you think those programs helped prepare you to be ready at this level to be a success on and off the racetrack?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: I mean, it definitely shaped who I am today, for sure. It's been, like I just said, one hell of a journey, one hell of a story that we all can sit back on, read through, sit back and say, Those were good times.
Going through the diversity levels, seeing how the lower series of NASCAR works, just trying to manage all that, still having fun with it. It's a big stage, but you have to manage everything that comes at you so you can perform to your best abilities. That's what I try to do each and every race back in those days.
We're here now to say that. Very thankful for all the opportunities that have been put in front of me and that I've been able to capitalize on.
Q. Richard, over the years you've talked fondly of Wendell Scott. Can you give us your thoughts about racing with him all those years ago.
RICHARD PETTY: Wendell came in, and he didn't say, I'm black, I need special treatment. He wanted to be one of the guys. Some of the guys, took him little bit of a while to convince everybody in NASCAR, all the drivers, that he was just there to do his job. He done a heck of a job. He just done his own thing, didn't bother anybody.
Then first thing you know, the fans started picking up on that because he didn't exploit his diversity. So from that standpoint, it made him a lot better situation for him and NASCAR in the way he handled his-self.
Q. Richard, are you surprised it took this long to get another African American driver in the Cup Series?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, I never really think about that, never thought that much about it. We've had a couple, three that maybe come in and tried. But I think they did it more for publicity. That's one thing I liked about Bubba, he didn't come in for the publicity, he come in to drive a racecar, and that's what we want him to do.
Q. Earlier you said he's going to start driving the car next year, and we're looking forward to years beyond that. Is there a length on his contract, a number of years?
RICHARD PETTY: Put it this way. If he can get the job done, he's got a lifetime job. If he don't, then he won't last long.
Q. Richard, obviously a big deal to sign Bubba. It comes at a time when there's a lot of change at Richard Petty Motorsports. Do you go into this season building a foundation around Bubba that won't just be here at the beginning but a long-term foundation?
RICHARD PETTY: Yeah, that's one of the reasons we looked at this deal. If you look back through NASCAR history, you'll find out that 10 or 12 years a crowd comes through. You know, Pearson, Yarborough, Petty came through. Then the next crowd comes up with Darrell, Earnhardt. Then Jeff Gordon's comes through, Jimmie Johnson's crowd comes through.
It's ready for a change. We wanted to be part of that change this time. We felt like then you have the new drivers, a bunch of new drivers, coming into Cup stuff that Bubba has already raced with for the last 10 or 12 years. There's probably six or eight of them to come up together. Now they've made it to the Cup Series.
We wanted to be involved in that part of it, felt like that Bubba was going to be our best bet to be right up to the cutting edge of what's going on.
Q. Bubba, all the work you did in the Drive for Diversity, the fact they had just the combine, for those who are trying to follow in your footsteps, what advice do you give to some of those younger drivers?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, like I said, don't let that moment scare you. You've worked hard to get to that level, so you don't need to change anything. You just got to go out there and prove yourself, use what you learned over the years you've been racing to be successful. You obviously know how to win, got to that point, so just keep on doing it. You'll never know what your future has for you.
Q. You being at the Cup level now, full-time, what Kyle Larson has done, do you feel you are really proof that the Drive for Diversity has done exactly what NASCAR set out for when they created the program?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, I mean, we all have special, unique talent. It comes in many different shapes and sizes and forms. Myself, Suarez come up through there, it's pretty special to see how that has made us who we are today. I'm excited for that, excited to be racing with those guys. We've been doing it for a long time now, but now we can all say we're at the Cup level.
Q. Bubba, how much confidence does it give you knowing how much this team really wanted you to be in that seat next year?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Yeah, that's pretty special. When you have one of the most iconic numbers, one of the most iconic guys in the garage walking around, he decides I'm the one that's going to be driving his car the next year, it's pretty special. Definitely gives you goosebumps, raises a couple hairs on the back of your neck. It's special.
Thankful to be sitting in the same room with Richard, The King, as many people know him. But it's been fun these last couple weeks just to be around him and get to know him more away from the racetrack, to see how it truly is a family-operated race team. I think that's one thing that has been so different throughout this journey, is just seeing how they operate, from the race team to the front office people to the behind-the-scenes people, they're all one big family. It's been a really, really fun journey.
Q. Richard, is there any plan to put Bubba in the 43 before the end of the season or try to get him some additional seat time somewhere else?
RICHARD PETTY: No, you know, we're all set with our field for the rest of the year here. We have Aric driving the car. We see no reason to make any changes at all. All that stuff's still going pretty good. I think Aric is back on his groove now. He got sidelined there for a while. I think it's took him a while to get back driving the car like what he's capable of doing. I think the next four races are going to show that.
Q. Bubba, what is your off-season going to look like as far as preparing for a full-time Cup season?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Really just doing a lot of studying, watching film, just getting ourselves ready, being in communications with the crew, trying to figure out what your next move is. At the same time I'll still have some fun, play some golf, take vacation days. Am I allowed those?
RICHARD PETTY: Vacation (laughter)?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: I guess I'm not allowed vacation (laughter).
We're just going to get prepared for the 2018 season and have some fun.
Q. Will you try to get like a Truck Series ride at Homestead?
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: I'm still working on that, figure out the details on that, just to keep the seat warm for me, go out there and hopefully get us another win.
THE MODERATOR: Bubba and Richard, thanks again for joining us today. We wish you the best of luck next season.
DARRELL 'BUBBA' WALLACE JR.: Thank you.
RICHARD PETTY: Thank you, ma'am.
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