Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. is making his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut Sunday at Pocono Raceway, and he will become only the fourth African-American driver in history to race in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Wallace is filling in for Aric Almirola in the No. 43 car after Almirola suffered a back injury during a crash at Kansas Speedway on May 13.
Wallace is the first black NASCAR driver since Bill Lester in 2006. The only two black drivers prior to Lester were Willy T. Ribbs in 1986 and Wendell Scott in 1961.
Wallace, 23, is from Mobile, Alabama, and he has spent the last five years in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Despite not winning a race in the NXS, Wallace had 33 top-10 finishes in five years.
NASCAR has struggled reaching African-American viewers in the past, and that is almost certainly tied to a lack of diversity among drivers. If Wallace can have success, he could possibly attract more black viewers.
According to the Atlantic, 94 percent of NASCAR viewers are white, while only two percent are black. Wallace told the Charlotte Observer in 2015 that he feels like the sport is going in the right direction, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
“There’s nobody (of color) in the stands,” Wallace said. “There’s a few on the pit crews and in the office there are some. It’s not enough to finally say the sport is changing. It’s going in the right direction. You just have to keep getting after it.”
In that same interview, Wallace said he has been the target of racial slurs from fans, other drivers, and even some race officials.
A win this year on the biggest stage would be monumental not only for Wallace’s career, but also for African-American viewership and fandom for NASCAR. That’s quite a bit of pressure for the 23-year-old Wallace as he enters his first race on Sunday.
(h/t Washington Post)