Daytona, Florida–On the same weekend that the movie Black Panther shattered stereotypes and box office records, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. drove into the history books as the first African-American driver to race in the NASCAR Cup Series since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott (subject of the film Greased Lightning starring Richard Pryor) in 1971.
In his first race, Wallace finished second in the 60th Daytona 500 behind winner Austin Dillon; it was the highest finish by an African-American in the history of the sport.
Driving the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace survived the multicar crashes that took out Danica Patrick, Chase Elliot and Jimmie Johnson.
After the race, perhaps feeling the weight of history on his shoulders, Bubba broke down in tears as he hugged his mother, Desiree Wallace. Balling, he he said to her, “You act like we won the race.”
“We did,” she responded.
After the race, Wallace was trending on Twitter ahead of Dillon. Daren Rovell of ESPN tweeted, “Austin Dillon comes in first at Daytona, but bigger moment for NASCAR might be emergence of Bubba Wallace Jr. Comes in second. First real fruits of NASCAR’s much needed diversity program.”
Wallace came through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program and has spent most of his career in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, NASCAR equivalents to Major League Baseball’s minor leagues.
Last year, Wallace filled in for Aric Almirola, who was injured at the time. In a cruel twist of fate, Almirola was in the lead when he crashed out on the final lap.
Although Petty, aka “The King,” won the Daytona 500 a record seven times, his racing team has been mired in mediocrity. Wallace has brought much-needed excitement.
“We have hired a lot of different drivers in the past, but Wallace brings a lot of youth and talent to our team,” Petty said in October when he announced that Wallace would be driving No. 43. “He’s proven at a young age to be able to be consistent on a weekly basis, give feedback to the team to help improve the car and race hard to get the best finish possible. He knows how to win, too …We feel that Bubba can immediately come in and compete. He’s really eager to show what he can do and that he belongs in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”