How the NASCAR Cup Series is inspiring young racers.
When you hear NASCAR, what comes to mind? Probably Southern tradition, the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt, or Ricky Bobby. For years, minority racers have struggled to gain recognition and success in the sport. In recent years, opportunities to participate in the stock car series have popped up, but is it enough? Pioneers like Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, and Bubba Wallace race at the most elite level, while many other minority drivers—including a number of women— drive in the Xfinity and Truck Series.
And, in a milestone achievement, on October 4th, in rainy Talladega, Alabama, Bubba Wallace became just the second Black NASCAR driver ever to win a race at the Cup Series level.
Last season, during the Black Lives Matter movement, a noose was found in the garage of Bubba Wallace’s team in Talladega. Before the conclusion of an FBI investigation, the NASCAR community rallied around Wallace, calling for social justice and a change in NASCAR culture. Thankfully, the FBI concluded the noose was in fact a garage pull tab that had been in the garage for over a year, thus making a hate crime impossible. Nonetheless, NASCAR and its drivers have since made diversity in the sport a priority.
Over a year later, with his first victory under his belt, Wallace serves as an inspiration to young drivers of all backgrounds. First and foremost, Wallace’s victory shows younger generations that NASCAR is rejecting their associations with the Confederate flag imagery or a racist South. NASCAR, at heart, is truly about opportunity, skill, and a little bit of luck. Wallace checks all those boxes. He has been in racing for all his life, and is known as a skilled and more aggressive driver, especially on the bigger super-speedway tracks. His racing team, recently formed by Michael Jordan and fellow driver Denny Hamlin gave Wallace the opportunity to race in good equipment and prove his talent. Finally, Wallace was blessed by the NASCAR gods: driving through a crash, taking advantage of a caution flag, and with some help from the rain.
In a post-race interview, a tearful Wallace said, “This is for all the kids out there that want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do. You’re going to go through a lot of bullshit. But you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you.”
This is exactly the message that NASCAR, 23XI Racing, Bubba Wallace, and the entire field of drivers want to spread. Young kids, especially young Black kids witnessing Wallace’s victory will say, “I want to do that.” It will encourage them to take a trip to the local go-kart track and try their luck at racing. Kids who maybe were deterred by the lack of representation in NASCAR can hold up Bubba’s resolve and later success in the face of adversity as a shining example. This country is far from perfect and the racism deep-rooted in southern culture can’t be waved away easily; without a doubt, southern culture – NASCAR culture included – needs work. But, Wallace’s victory should not only inspire young Black racers but also young white drivers to stand up to prejudice or bigotry they witness exhibited towards anyone in the racing community, and to celebrate the successes of minority communities.
Sports are more fun when everyone is involved. Bubba Wallace’s victory will spark young minority drivers to perfect their craft and try to make it to the top. Wallace’s idol growing up was the first Black NASCAR driver to win a Grand National race, Wendell Scott, in 1963. 58 years later, Bubba Wallace serves as an inspiration for a new, diverse generation of drivers, continuing to pave the way for the future of the sport.