"The goals have to be just kind of running up front, hopefully making a name for myself, running top 10.” Mission accomplished. Welcome to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Darrell Wallace Jr. Breaking in without breaking equipment (ok, well maybe a few scrapes and dings, but nothing real major), the graduate of NASCAR’s “Drive For Diversity” program finished ninth and on the lead lap Sunday at Iowa Speedway in his series debut.
NASCAR has taken on numerous initiatives to grow the sport, many of them have fallen flat, whether it’s trying to gain a foot hold in markets that will never embrace auto racing, or hyping up a driver who is long on uniqueness, but short on accomplishment. Of all the initiatives NASCAR has taken on, the notion of a more diverse sport is certainly its noblest, but no one has yet succeeded in gaining sponsorship and staying power fueled by results that indicate real promise.
The good news for Wallace, the third African-American to compete in the NNS, following Bill Lester and Marc Davis, is that he has an opportunity unlike any other who has gone before him. Racing in the 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing, the driver nicknamed “Bubba” has a top flight ride, competing for one of the top teams in the business. It’s a far cry from the struggles of Wendell Scott, the only African-American to ever win a Cup race back in 1964, who languished in an often hostile environment with patchwork equipment nearly hi entire career. Wallace pilots a ride driven previously by such luminaries as Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart and Joey Logano. With Joe and J.D. Gibbs backing him, it will be refreshing to have someone powerful on your side, rather than working against you.
The good news for NASCAR is that by every appearance, Darrell Wallace Jr. has his head screwed on straight, in addition to possessing an impressive resume. Whether it was go-karts, Bandoleros, Legends, Late Models, or the K&N Series, Wallace has been a winner. He also has that sense of history, important to long-time fans. Wallace doesn’t come into NASCAR unaware of the trail blazed before, saying “I'm just trying to carry his torch farther than he (Scott) did and do it in the right way." While he’s experienced jealousy and racial slurs along the way, he also knows it’s a far cry from the world Scott lived in 50 years ago.
For Wallace to have any real impact, he knows he must achieve. Saturday, Wallace tweeted, “Time to step and deliver.” He also acknowledges someone greater than himself “Wouldn't be here if it wasn't 4 God.” Those that know him and his family all seem to love him and are wishing the wunderkind well. Humility, focus and determination go a long way in this business
What good timing too. Sunday’s start is one of four NNS “stand alone” races in which Wallace is scheduled to drive in 2012, and the debut came on one of the series more popular tracks, one where it takes more than a hot set of wheels to survive. No one can shrug off the finish to dumb luck.
Yes,one start does not a career make,but cold you imagine what his would mean for NASCAR if Darrell Wallace Jr. achieves what some forecast for him? It would be huge. Not only does it open doors to new fans, it also does a great deal to wipe away a long held (and might I add inaccurate) notion that NASCAR Nation populated with nothing more than a bunch of backward, inbred Neanderthals. There will be exceptions, but I think if he remains true to himself, he will be accepted. The southern roots, the mature manner and the youthfulness all making a winning ombination, to not only bring minority fans but also win the hearts of fans desiring something truly different than what the sport offers now.
Change is inevitable. Some of it is good, some of it not. The arrival of Darrell Wallace Jr. has the potential to bring something to NASCAR it hasn't seen in a very long time, and in much more welcoming circumstances. NASCAR can use all the positive it can get. Bubba might justthe winning ticket.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include:
NASCAR's Car Challenge Deeper Than The COT
Why Jeff Gordon Will Make The Chase
Edwards & Stewart Not Blameless
Jim McCoy is a TV and radio sports anchor living in Oregon with his wife and three kids. Jim also moonlights as a radio play-by-play man and writes about his true sports passion: NASCAR. To paraphrase, racing is a sport, the others are just games.