NASCAR Production Photo Days
Chris Graythen

Bubba Wallace Helps Change The Face Of NASCAR, But Racist Images Of The Past Still Linger

As NASCAR’s 2019 season gets rolling, the traditional “Good Ol’ Boy” motorsport’s diversity efforts are hampered by its past.

It’s the day before the biggest race of NASCAR’s season. Darrell Wallace Jr. – better known as Bubba, a nickname given to him by his older sister, Brittany – is holding court inside of his hauler, the trailer that more resembles a NASA command center on the inside. He’s battling the onset of a cold and has just stepped out his car after doing a trial run around the Daytona International Speedway, which was the site of his greatest racing accomplishment just a year earlier. “I never thought I’d be here talking to you today, driving the No. 43,” Wallace says in his deep southern drawl. “We just race and have fun. It took a lot of work and a lot of determination.”

Wallace finished second at the 2018 Daytona 500, the best finish by an African-American driver ever in the 60 years of the “Great American Race.” That No. 43 is the iconic car driven by racing legend Richard Petty, a.k.a. “The King.” Wallace has been a member of Petty’s racing team since 2017 and has become one of the sport’s breakout stars. Even as he drives an iconic car, Wallace didn’t have any NASCAR role models as a kid growing up in Concord, N.C.

“I didn’t want to be like Mike,” he says, joking about Michael Jordan. “I didn’t watch NASCAR until I was 17. It was on the TV because my family were big fans of it. But in terms of role models, I didn’t have them.”

He has quickly become the most prominent black face in a sport that has a long, checkered history with race. NASCAR has both the whitest viewership – an estimated 94 percent, to the 92 percent of the National Hockey League – and the whitest group of participants of any American sport by percentage. Of the 48 drivers on NASCAR’s top series, the Monster Energy Cup Series, Wallace is the only black driver. By contrast, there are currently 25 black players in the NHL.

Wallace is also just the fourth black driver to compete in a top circuit NASCAR event. His 2nd place finish at Daytona is the closest a black driver has come to winning a race on NASCAR’s top circuit since Wendell Scott won at Jacksonville’s Speedway Park on Dec. 1, 1963. That win also stands as the only victory for a black driver on NASCAR’s top division.

“He feels like he’s carrying the flag of the [black] community,” Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s President since September 2018, said of Bubba. “He’s a great ambassador, both broadly and for African-Americans. He uses this as an opportunity to overcome. He would be a great champion.”
Diversity was one of the big buzzwords of Speed Week and, around the massive Speedway, it was clear that the sport has made a concerted effort to diversify on and off the track. Wallace first signed on with NASCAR in 2009 at just 16 with Rev Racing, which is the competitive wing of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. “We signed on with [Joe Gibbs Racing], and we contacted them wondering what’s the next step,” Wallace says. “In 2010, they brought all the drivers under one banner.

“We jumped on, won the first race right out of the box and won our second race later on that year,” he adds. “I won rookie of the year, we went back and won three times the next year.”

Wallace’s run through NASCAR’s lower circuits – the Xfinity Cup Series, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, and K&N Pro Series – saw him rack up 12 victories and nearly 100 top 10 finishes.

Diversity in the Trenches

Taking a walk around the track, you will see dozens of black pit crew members, many of whom look like they belong on an NFL offensive or defensive line, which is by design. The Drive for Diversity program that helped produce Wallace is also being used to change the face of the pits.
“We go all across the country recruiting athletes and teach them how to be pit crew members,” said Phil Horton, NASCAR’s Director of Athletic Performance. Horton, a former head athletic trainer at Florida A&M University as well as a former strength coach for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, runs the strength and conditioning program for pit crew members.

Horton heads up a program that has recruited a number of former NCAA Division I athletes to switch over and become crew members. The pit crew is the most integral part of a race team, similar to an O-line, and each position requires a different skill.

“The main reason that we have athletes do this is because they’re used to performing on the big stage,” Horton said on Saturday prior to that day’s Xfinity Daytona 300. Two of Horton’s top recruits are young women, former Norfolk State basketball player Brehanna Daniels and Briana O’Leary, a former softball player at Alcorn State University. Neither one knew a thing about auto racing coming in.

“I did not watch NASCAR,” Daniels said. “It wasn’t even on my TV for five seconds unless I was looking for a basketball game or football game. I didn’t watch it.” Last year, Daniels, 24, became the first black woman to work on a NASCAR pit crew, which is a far cry from two years earlier when she had never seen a race. She had reservations about getting into the sport because of the lack of representation. “I was kinda iffy about joining [NASCAR] because there really aren’t people that look like me,” Daniels said. “I was thinking that I could open doors for people.”

Derrell Edwards, a former shooting guard at High Point University in North Carolina, had a path to NASCAR that mirrored Daniels. The Baltimore native was first introduced to NASCAR through an internship with Richard Childress Racing by way of a preacher at High Point.

He currently works in the pit crew of Childress’ grandson Austin Dillon, the winner of last year’s Daytona 500. While Wallace made history coming in 2nd last year at the 500, Edwards made history as the first black pit crew member on the Daytona 500’s winning team.

He compared being on a pit crew to being on the free throw line. “When that crowd is yelling at you, you have a job to do,” Edwards said. “It’s the same thing [when] jumping out and doing a pit stop. You’re doing thousands of pit stops every year and basketball prepared me for that.”

Brandon Thompson, Managing Director of NASCAR’s Touring Series, has been with the company since 2003. Thompson, who graduated from Clark Atlanta University, had never watched a NASCAR race prior to joining the company as an intern.

“I grew up in Nashville and my grandmother lived less than two miles away from the Nashville Fairgrounds,” he said. “My uncle would tell these stories of how they would sneak under the fence and I never heard any of these stories until I started my job. When I started my internship in 2003, I was standing on the grid when one of the Xfinity races started and I got chills. I was hooked.”

He says that the biggest difference between now and 16 years ago is in the raw numbers of black and brown faces, but adds that diversity has been there for a while. “There were more diverse people working in [NASCAR] than people may have thought, but now it’s getting to the point where it’s not uncommon to see people in the pits, in the office, or in the ancillary parts of the business,” Thompson said. “This is not a stated HR goal, but a lot of people would agree that the first wave started on pit road, but now we’re starting to see people in and around the office.”

“We have to show African-Americans they are welcome here.”

On the morning of the race on Feb. 17, Phelps was all smiles. He was ready for the signature event of NASCAR’s season, and his first Daytona 500 as president. Phelps beamed as he talked about the organization’s efforts to diversify. He noted that over the last three years NASCAR’s "kick ass" fanbase has become increasingly more diverse, including an influx of women and Latino fans.

He credited some of that to Daniel Suárez, the only Mexican driver in NASCAR, who also is one of a handful of drivers from Latin America. Prior to joining NASCAR in 2005, Phelps worked as one of the NFL’s top marketers.

The 500’s comparisons to the Super Bowl are a familiar song to him even as he could not be further away from football. “I worked at the NFL for almost 14 years,” Phelps said, noting that unlike the NFL, the teams that race in NASCAR, as well as the race tracks, are all independent contractors. “They’re structured differently. If they have an issue with one of their owners, Roger [Goodell] can pick up the phone and say, ‘Get in line,’ and we don’t have that luxury.”

However, even as there is a distinctly different feel to Daytona on the track and in the pits and garages, in the Speedway’s massive infield, a familiar sight from NASCAR’s past was on full display: RVs, motor homes, buses, and vans proudly flying the Confederate Flag.

“The Confederate Flag thing bothers me personally,” Phelps said. “I think the difficult part for us is trying to figure out how do you tell someone that symbol is offensive to people and to take it down. It’s not an easy situation for us. It’s not where we want to be.”

NASCAR’s connection to the deep South, has made it one of the last refuges for the racist imagery. While not as prevalent as days gone by, it was not hard to spot the Stars and Bars – along with numerous flags emblazoned with the name “Trump” – flying side-by-side as soon as you pulled into the track.

Once inside, there were men and women sporting Confederate Flag, Blue Lives Matter, and MAGA paraphernalia, often combined. While other leagues and organizations – the NCAA being the most prominent – have effectively banned the Confederate flag from its grounds, it endures in NASCAR.

For black people in the sport, the flag and its racist history are nearly inescapable. It’s also makes it difficult for any potential new black fans to take NASCAR’s various diversity initiatives seriously when they are greeted by racism at the entrances.

“I grew up a racing fan because my family owned a service station. NASCAR is natural to me and my family,” Horton, a North Carolina native said. “But it is not natural to minorities. I grew up watching Wendell Scott, so I had somebody like me in the sport.

“After he retired (in 1971), then that changed,” he added. “I think NASCAR gets a bad rep because of our history. I don’t think that holds true today.”

NASCAR Chairman Bill France, a Trump supporter, asked for — but did not require — the flag’s removal from speedways in 2015. The flag, as well as the open support of Trump, continues to be a looming shadow that tamps down NASCAR’s diversity initiatives. For Phelps, it was an uncomfortable subject to talk about as he tried to walk the line of welcoming new, diverse fans while not upsetting their traditional Southern fanbase.

“Telling someone they can’t come to this facility and not display a Confederate flag has been difficult because it’s something that we’ve tried,” he said. “When we tried to do that, there were even more that came. We are seeing fewer, but we have to show African-Americans they are welcome here. The commonality around this is about racing.”

Wallace has dealt with his fair share of racist trolls. While he has yet to experience racism on the track, he has dealt with racism as a kid and on social media. “We’d go to a track and show up and win you’d get some hate thrown toward you,” he says of his childhood experience. “But I didn’t care.”

For Bubba, he finds solace in his car even while others need ear plugs to drown out the noise. “It’s the most comfortable spot in the world,” he says of the No. 43 car. “It’s my seat and my seat only. It’s formed to every overhang on my body; every piece of fat on my body.

“No one else can fit in my seat,” he adds. “I’ll go in there and fall asleep in a matter of seconds. It’s hot and if you’re claustrophobic, it’s not for you.”

Wallace was unable to repeat last year’s finish as his car wrecked during the race’s 20th lap. Bubba was bumped from behind by Tyler Reddick and hit former 500 winner Kurt Busch, who was in the process of spinning out. He was in the top 10 at the time of the wreck and, in true Bubba fashion, he was furious and made it known.

“[Reddick] wins a f**king Xfinity Championship and thinks he’s f**king ready for the big boy sh*t,” he said over the radio to his crew.

Denny Hamlin eventually ended up winning the 2019 Daytona 500, his second Daytona victory the last five years. For all of the battles on the track between drivers in the heat of a race, it’s the slow, quiet fight in the trenches and boardrooms of NASCAR that is maybe its biggest.

As it attempts to re-establish itself as one of the country’s premiere sports, NASCAR will have to continue to work harder at diversifying not just from the inside out. It will also have to make changes from the outside in.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Mark Barboy

Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

Continue Reading

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

Continue Reading

Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

Continue Reading

Top Stories