In March of 2018, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace gave a talk to students at Magna Vista High School ahead of his first Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway.
Often times it can seem like NASCAR drivers are a bit robotic in the way they speak only in prepared public relations-approved statements, especially young drivers who are afraid to speak out of turn or say something wrong while still getting their feet wet in a new world.
But that day it was obvious Wallace was different. He was fun and down to earth. He played drums with the Warriors’ pep band, he offered to play against students in Call of Duty, talked about his love of heavy metal music and his hatred of the movie “Talladega Nights.”
He then stayed long after his talk, taking pictures with students and talking to them like they were classmates of his own. One young student went up to Wallace after and asked for his autograph and said “Hey man, I’m looking forward to watching you race on Sunday.” When asked later if he was a race fan, that student said, “No, but Bubba seems cool so I’ll give it a try.”
What was most apparent from Wallace that day was that was his goal. Now that he had reached NASCAR’s highest level, he wanted to bring others with him. Fans who looked like him, thought like him, were his age. It’s a sport he loves and has loved his entire life, even though he hasn’t always felt welcome in it.
On Monday morning, President Donald Trump took to his Twitter to let his 83 million followers know exactly how he feels about NASCAR and Wallace.
“Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX?” Trump tweeted. “That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER!”
To start, Michael Mulvihill, the Executive Vice President and Head of Strategy for Fox Sports, tweeted Monday that NASCAR viewership on Fox networks is up 8 percent since the sport returned from coronavirus hiatus in May. Sunday’s race on NBC drew 4.08 million viewers, the most watched show on network TV that night for adults aged 18-49, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Adam Stern with Sports Business Daily also tweeted last week there hasn’t been any correlation between a ratings drop for NASCAR and the sports governing body's announcement on June 10 of a ban on Confederate flags at all race events. So the second part of Trump’s tweet is simply untrue.
Which goes along with the first part of the tweet, which is also simply untrue. When a noose - which is what the FBI and NASCAR continue to call it - was found in the garage of Bubba Wallace’s car two weeks ago at Talladega Superspeedway, Wallace never saw the noose in person. It was discovered by someone within NASCAR and then Wallace was shown a picture of it later. Wallace had nothing to do with the FBI investigation that followed, an investigation that proved even if it wasn’t a hate crime it was also not a hoax, and NASCAR was justified in wanting to investigate it. Why should Wallace have to apologize for his employers’ (very correct) actions?
While some may wish that NASCAR would no longer stand behind Wallace, for a sport that has historically been on the wrong side of history when it comes to race relations, this time they’re doing what is right. In a since deleted tweet, rookie driver Tyler Reddick responded to Trump’s tweet Monday saying “We don’t need an apology. We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support.”
NASCAR’s winningest active driver, Jimmie Johnson, tweeted a photo of Wallace’s No. 43 logo and #IStandWithBubba. NASCAR also issued a statement Monday afternoon that read “We are proud to have Bubba Wallace in the NASCAR family and we commend his courage and leadership. NASCAR continues to stand tall with Bubba, our competitors and everyone who makes our sport welcoming and inclusive for all racing fans.”
To Wallace’s credit, after being thrust headfirst into the spotlight as NASCAR’s only Black driver, he’s handled the last month with nothing but poise and grace despite a lot of ugly that has been thrown his way. Wallace tweeted a statement Monday afternoon that read “To the next generation and little ones following my footsteps #LoveWins.
“Your words and actions will always be held to a higher standard than others. You have to be prepared for that. You don’t learn these things in school. You learn them from trials and tribulations, the ups and downs this crazy world provides. You will always have people testing you. Seeing if they can knock you off your pedestal. I encourage you to keep your head held high and walk proudly on the path you have chosen. Never let anybody tell you can’t do something! God put us all here for a reason. Find that reason and be proud of it and work your tails off every day towards it! All the haters are doing is elevating your voice and platform to much greater heights!
“Last thing, always deal with the hate being thrown at you with love! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are taught to hate.
“Even when it’s hate from the POTUS (President of the United States).”
No matter what negativity is thrown his way, Wallace is doing exactly what he obviously set out to do that day at Magna Vista and for his entire young career. He’s changing racing for good, and bringing others along with him.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.