Wal­lace set to break new ground with Petty

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Bob Velin

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. – Get­ting be­hind the wheel of the most iconic car in NASCAR his­tory might be enough to un­nerve even the most con­fi­dent of race car driv­ers.

But Dar­rell “Bubba” Wal­lace, the first African-Amer­i­can full-time driver in the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup se­ries since Wen­dell Scott in 1971 and the first black driver in the Day­tona 500 since

1969, has no fear of driv­ing the No. 43 Chevro­let for Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports. That would be the same car that the le­gend drove to seven vic­to­ries in the Day­tona 500.

Per­haps it’s be­cause The King him­self im­parted his wis­dom to the brash

24-year-old driver from Mo­bile, Ala. “Richard Petty told me be­fore climb­ing in, ‘No need to be a hero. No need to over­step any­thing that you’re do­ing,’ ” Wal­lace said. “I’m here for a rea­son and here be­cause I proved my point, so just go out there and do what you do.’ ”

De­spite the ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic­ity he has re­ceived, in­clud­ing be­ing the star of a do­cuseries that NASCAR is chron- icling called Be­hind the Wall: Bubba

Wal­lace, which will air this week and next on Face­book Watch, he’ll feel no added pres­sure when the green flag comes down to start the “The Great Amer­i­can Race” on Sun­day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

The doc­u­men­tary, he says, has been stress­ful, “for sure, with cam­eras fol­low­ing you all the time, cap­tur­ing ev­ery­thing, the only time they haven’t fol­lowed me is when I go to the bath­room and go to sleep. Ev­ery­thing in be­tween, they’re there. But it will be a fun se­ries to watch, that’s for sure.”

Yet in the next breath, Wal­lace says, “But I’m not here to be a TV star. I’m here to race cars.”

In fact, with the stress of look­ing for a full-time gig be­hind him, Wal­lace couldn’t be more ex­cited and at ease.

“It’s def­i­nitely a stress reliever to know I have a per­ma­nent home for this year, so I couldn’t be more thank­ful to Richard Petty, The King, for al­low­ing me to step be­hind the wheel of No. 43 and pi­lot it all year and to show­case it,” Wal­lace said Wed­nes­day dur­ing me­dia day at the track. “To be here now and say I’ll be run­ning full time as a rookie in my first Cup sea­son, It’s pretty damn cool.”

Wal­lace doesn’t even mind be­ing re­minded that he is a black man in a white sport. Does he ever feel the st­ing of that, he was asked?

“No, I never have. I’m just a race car driver,” he said, then added with a laugh, “I’ll whoop their (butt) any day.”

But he’s not lost on the mean­ing of driv­ing in NASCAR’s most fa­mous race dur­ing Black His­tory Month.

“Ab­so­lutely, I’m look­ing for­ward to rep­re­sent­ing the black cul­ture,” he said, “so, yeah, it’s re­ally good.”

JASEN VINLOVE/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Bubba Wal­lace is set to be the first black driver in the Day­tona 500 since 1969.

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