Bubba Wallace knows about being in the spotlight.
Since his start on the NASCAR circuit, the 28-year-old has been working on the “disconnect” between fans already having their mind made up about him and watching him on the track. He has fans show up to races across the country, Black fans, cheering for him. When he crosses the final lap and finds the media in front of him, he’s not only Bubba Wallace, race car driver for Michael Jordan’s motorsports company, he’s the first Black man to succeed and become a viable driver in a sport where there’s a scarce number of men and women who look like him.
Ahead of his race this past Sunday in Indinapolis (he finished fifth), a trio of Indy’s best in B Swift, Karen Vaughn and Tina Cosby sat down with Bubba for a wide ranging interview where the Alabama-born driver spoke about his first love of racing being in go-karts to handling the national spotlight over the past few years.
When asked how he feels about being the “Answer Man” for the sport when it comes to race, Wallace smiled and understood certain things he can’t win people over on, but he’d always be known as a driver who doesn’t use every second to declare he’s Black, merely a Black man who reminds you – he’s a race car driver.
“I was kind of thrown into the spotlight and in those situations you have to make the most of it,” Wallace began. When I started out racing, it was just to go race. It was just to compete. I wasn’t very good at all to start out. We were practicing every day, grinding, putting in the work and we got pretty good and began winning at every level. Continued winning and showing I deserved to be here.”
He added, “When you get into the national spotlight, the media has their way of kinda, flipping the script and making it more about race. Because the history of it [in NASCAR], there’s basically none. You go back to Martinsville in 2013 and to me I said, ‘This is the best chance we’ve got for me to go out and win my first truck race.’ That’s the mindset I had, not, ‘Hey, if I win this, I’m gonna the first Black driver since…’ We went and won the race and we accomplished what I set out to do before the race. So I was happy and proud. So when you get to Victory Lane and you get that question, you’re not ready for it. Because I always seen myself as a racer and the other stuff settles behind.”
2020 changed everything for Wallace, from COVID putting the entire sports world on pause to a racial awakening across the country. Wallace took his fair share of criticism from select fans, even as he had a noose controversy occurring at a race track. It only made him more popular and culminated with him becoming the second Black driver all-time to win a NASCAR Cup Race.
“There’s the fans who think I go around screaming, ‘Hey, I’m Bubba Wallace, the Black driver!’ Nah, I’m Bubba Wallace. I wish I could work on the disconnect but people have their minds already made up and that’s the sad truth about America. We tend to judge before we understand but, I’m comfortable in my own skin and my own voice and the ones that are not? That’s on them.”
Watch the full interview with the Indy crew and Bubba Wallace below.