- As a rookie driver with Richard Petty's old number, and the Monster Energy Cup series' only African American driver, Bubba Wallace garners plenty of attention.
When most fans think of NASCAR and Richard Petty, they recall “The King” speeding along in his iconic No. 43 car. Today there’s a new face behind the legendary number who is bringing his own spin to racing: Bubba Wallace.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. is in his rookie season in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series and his first full year of racing for Richard Petty Motorsports, but he’s no stranger to his fans.
Wallace, 24, provides something few drivers at his level share: access. Through social media, Wallace gives fans an up close look into his life on and off the track.
“I just try to be myself,” Wallace says. “There’s no need for me to try to be somebody else. I love interacting with the fans and giving them an inside look.”
Wallace shows that while he’s serious about racing, he’s also serious about enjoying life. Through a Facebook docuseries, he provided open access while preparing for his Cup Series debut at the Daytona 500. In it, Wallace showed off his drumming skills, his love for eating Goldfish crackers by the gallon and goofing off with his family or racing buddy Ryan Blaney.
From the beginning it was obvious Wallace was a larger-than-life personality.
Nicknamed “Bubba” at birth by his sister Brittany, his mother said he began beating on pots and pans at the age of two. Wallace began playing the drums as an 11-year-old and posts videos often while he’s practicing.
Racing also started early. As a nine-year-old in Concord, N.C., Wallace began racing go-karts after attending a friend’s race with his father. He quickly switched to driving Bandolero cars, which resemble miniature stock cars.
In 2010, at 16, Wallace entered NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and raced in the K&N Pro Series East with stock cars, finishing third in points. Wallace continued with it in 2011 (second in points) and 2012 (seventh in points).
He moved to truck racing in 2013, driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Wallace transitioned full-time to the XFINITY series with Roush-Fenway Racing in 2015 and 2016 and did a partial schedule limited by funding in 2017.
Also in 2017, Wallace drove for Petty in basically a four-race tryout while veteran Aric Almirola was out with a fractured back. Almirola left the team in the fall. When RPM announced Wallace as its full-time driver in October, he became the first African American full-time driver in the Cup series since Wendell Scott in 1971.
But Wallace doesn’t think it’s the only thing that should set him apart.
“I’m just trying to show people that if you have the will and the desire to do it then you have a shot in NASCAR,” Wallace says. “Just because of what you see in the stands or what you see on TV doesn’t mean you’re not allowed. I’m out here breaking barriers but not trying to do anything extra. I just try to do the best that I can every weekend.”
Last Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Wallace led the first six laps but finished 16th. Frustrated over the results, he tweeted a video afterward while sitting in his bus.
“Absolutely devastated. I don’t know what happened,” Wallace said in the video. “I don’t know where we went wrong. My mind’s like a thousand miles an hour right now…we went from leading the race to probably the absolute worst car out there.”
He signed off by telling his fans that he appreciated them.
That sincerity doesn’t go unnoticed.
After legends like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. retired over the past three years, the seasoned veterans who attracted fans and higher attendance records have left a hole in NASCAR.
Wallace wants to add something to the sport’s newer generation.
“I don’t know how many tweets I get saying ‘I stopped watching NASCAR a few years ago but I started again recently. You’re a breath of fresh air,’ ” he says. “We got some ground to make up competition-wise. It’s tough but that’s what makes it more competitive. Adding a different level of excitement to the sport is what we need.”
He’s perfectly suited to deliver.