Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., the only African American top-tier driver in all of NASCAR, recently hit a wall, literally, crashing during the qualifier for the Cup Series All-Star Race in Bristol, Tennessee. But by the end of June — after spearheading a successful campaign to ban the Confederate flag from all NASCAR events, followed by the discovery of a noose hanging in the garage assigned to him at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway — when he spoke to Rolling Stone, the 26-year-old driver was just … done.
“Yeah, let me paint the picture for you,” Wallace says, with notes of both relief and apology in his voice. “Last couple weeks, obviously, have been a lot. Part of it, all warranted. And tons of interviews, and interviews, and interviews. And you, my friend, are the last one before I get to shut my phone off. So if my answers are short, I apologize. But I hope you can understand.”
I did, because in the wake of the violent and horrific deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others who looked like us, just about every black person in America was right there with him. But Wallace had pressed on, becoming known as much more than the young man behind the wheel of the car bearing the number 43, of the legendary Richard Petty, for whose Motorsports team Wallace now raced. He had worn an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia and slapped the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag onto his car with an accompanying graphic, at the cost of sponsorships for that June 10th event. And he had garnered the support of his fellow drivers and Petty himself, walking alongside him in Talladega after the noose was discovered in his garage.
“If you watched the moment there, at Talladega, where Richard Petty, like, touched the back of my head, when we give our last hug.… We were talking about — there’s an imaginary switch, when you put the helmet on, it clicks off your brain. No more interviews. No more BS stuff. You get to escape the madness for a couple hours. The racing part is not work. That’s the fun part. That’s the part we all look forward to. If you make it one lap or you make it the whole race, you still had fun for that short amount of time or that long amount of time. Whatever it may be.”
Despite his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, Wallace insisted to me that he didn’t see this as him entering the left-right political fray. “I still don’t see it as being political,” he says. “I just see it as basically right versus wrong.” Here, watch Wallace and I discuss the noose, Arbery, heavy metal, and the NASCAR fans who now feel welcome at the races.