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At the AfroTech conference ’22, Bubba Wallace, 29, sat with moderator Imani Grant as NASCAR’s first Black full-time driver in its three national series: Cup, Xfinity, and Truck. Wallace shared his story on how he unexpectedly became the social justice issues representative for more diversity in the sport he’s always loved.
Wallace told Grant that while growing up, he never focused on his ethnic makeup and saw himself as any other kid on the playground. Even with NASCAR being a sport that’s heavily dominated by White men, he says that he never focused on racism. However, that changed on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by then-officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police department, ushering in a racial reckoning in America that was felt by every industry.
He recalled a story when his mother first brought to his attention that he was becoming an activist.
“‘My mom was like, ‘Did you ever think you’d become an activist?’ I’m like, hell no, I’m not. It just so happened that I said the right words, and so now you’re looked at differently and have to watch how you represent and carry yourself,” Wallace explained on stage at AfroTech.
Bubba Wallace shares how he became the Black NASCAR Driver at AfroTech
As a result of George Floyd’s murder, Bubba Wallace went from NASCAR driver to the Black NASCAR driver who was responsible for speaking up for diversity and inclusion and ridding the industry of the Confederate (battle) Flag.
“I never really saw or understood the history behind it [the Confederate flag] or what it meant to the Black community. And it wasn’t until 2020 when the world was turned upside down,” he said. “I got so many tweets that indirectly involved me about NASCAR and the Confederate flag.”
Until recently, it was hard to miss the rebel and controversial Confederate flag at a NASCAR race; it was one of many reasons African Americans didn’t feel welcomed.
“It took me five to ten minutes to do some research and to understand what it was.”
Wallace shared that in 2015, Dale Earnhardt Jr. told NASCAR that they needed to get rid of the Confederate flag, but his demand was pushed under the rug. “Nothing really came of it,” Wallace shared with Grant at AfroTech.
But as aforementioned, things changed during America’s 2020 racial reckoning. “To see where we’re at now, to see how much NASCAR has changed in the last two years, has been incredible,” the 23xi race car driver added.
Aside from racing toward the checkered flag to keep the wave of sponsors rolling in, he recently launched “Bubba’s Block Party,” which aims to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the sport.
Prior to being recognized as the Black race car driver, Wallace explained how it was difficult to obtain sponsors.
“They said, ‘go and win a race, and the sponsors will come.’ I won six, and nothing happened,” he shared at AfroTech.
Now, his team is turning sponsors away.
“We’re booked for the next three years,” he proudly said and attributed the success of sponsorships wanting to be part of the positive changes occurring in a nation badly in need of racial healing from its past atrocities against Black people.
Wallace says collecting data and hiring good engineers is what helps him win the bigger races.
“There is so much data and analytics that go into my craft, and it’s super important to have an understanding of it…Strategy is the most important thing when it comes to winning a race,” and tech has a lot to do with it.
For more information about AfroTech and its Austin convention, click here.