The Sentinel-Record

Milestone for Bubba Wallace as he earns first NASCAR victory


TALLADEGA, Ala. — The hard part wasn’t dodging his way around a crash and then driving to the front of the field at Talladega Superspeed­way. That was just instinct for Bubba Wallace.

The challenge was the 45 minutes after Wallace took the lead, when the sky opened and he anxiously sat in the rain — hoping, wishing, praying — that NASCAR would call off Monday’s reschedule­d race and declare him the winner.

With a crowd gathered behind his pit stand chanting its support — one man told his 6-year-old son, clad in a Wallace shirt and jumping up and down along the fence, that he was “witnessing history” — NASCAR pulled the plug and Wallace became just the second Black driver to win a race at the Cup Series level.

“Got some credibilit­y to my name now,” said Wallace, a first-time Cup winner in his 143 starts. “I’m just like, ‘Finally, I’m a winner and I’m a winner in the Cup level,’ and it’s just like ‘Hell yeah!’ It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”

This was so much more than just a first win.

Wallace is the first Black driver to win at the top level of the elite stock car series since Wendell Scott in 1963, a race where he wasn’t declared the victor for several months. NASCAR at last presented Scott’s family with his trophy from that race two months ago.

“You can’t swim standing on the Bank!!,” tweeted Warrick Scott Sr., who is Scott’s grandson. “RIP Wendell Scott. Congratula­tions bubbawalla­ce!!” A second post showed his grandfathe­r leaning against a car and read: “PaPa was there the whole time chilling in the rain.”

The Wallace victory earned praise from rapper Big Sean, the University of Tennessee football team and Bill Lester, a Black driver who raced intermitte­ntly in NASCAR from 1999 through a Trucks Series start this season, among others.

“Finally, it’s official, you’ve done it!” Lester posted. “So proud of you and what you’ve accomplish­ed. Your win moves the NASCAR needle forward on so many fronts. Glad I was a witness.”

The race was spotlighte­d on NBC’s “Nightly News” at the top of Monday’s broadcast, illustrati­ng how culturally important Wallace’s win was for NASCAR, a predominat­ely white sport with deep Southern roots and a longtime embrace of Confederat­e symbols.

As much as Wallace wanted the moment to be solely about his first career win, he couldn’t ignore the significan­ce.

“It’s definitely been tough going to some of the tracks this year, we get some of the most boos now,” Wallace said. “Everybody says as long as they’re making noise that’s fine, but you know, I get booed for different reasons and that’s the tough thing to swallow. I appreciate all those who were there doing the rain dance with us, pulling for us, supporting me my whole career, but especially those who have supported me with everything that’s gone on the last 15-16 months.”

In June 2020 at Talladega, NASCAR discovered a noose in the garage stall assigned to Wallace. The finding came just a week after NASCAR had banned the Confederat­e flag at its events at Wallace’s urging.

The FBI investigat­ed and found that the noose was tied at the end of the garage door pull and had been there for months, meaning Wallace was not a victim of a hate crime. Still, the series rallied around him and stood in solidarity with Wallace at the front of the grid before the race.

The flag ban continues to be an issue at Talladega, where a convoy of vehicles has paraded up and down Speedway Boulevard outside the main entrance of the speedway during all four race weekends since NASCAR announced the flag ban.

Wallace has called the noose incident a low point and he’s been subjected to online harassment that last year even included a tweet from then-President Donald Trump that falsely accused Wallace of making up the noose. Although Wallace never saw the noose and was only told about it by NASCAR President Steve Phelps after the FBI had been summoned to investigat­e, he’s been accused by many in the public of orchestrat­ing a hoax.

When Monday’s race was halted with Wallace as the leader, social media was ablaze with comments attacking the 27-year-old Alabama native whose birthday is later this week.

“They just are haters. That’s all you can really say about it,” said Denny Hamlin, Wallace’s team co-owner and a fellow driver. “I try to say to him, ‘Don’t get your motivation trying to prove haters wrong. Instead get your motivation from trying to do the people that support you proud.’”

 ?? The Associated Press ?? ■ Bubba Wallace reacts after he is pronounced the winner while waiting out a rain delay before which he was the leader during a NASCAR Cup series race Monday in Talladega, Ala.
The Associated Press ■ Bubba Wallace reacts after he is pronounced the winner while waiting out a rain delay before which he was the leader during a NASCAR Cup series race Monday in Talladega, Ala.

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