We can’t imagine what was going through the mind of Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. when he woke up Monday morning, but we find some comfort in knowing his day got better.
And despite the majority of the sports world suspended in time for three-plus months, Bubba Wallace made June 22 a day to never forget.
That provides some comfort, too.
Unfortunately, there was no Hollywood ending at the 2020 Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Wallace, who led the group late in Monday’s race, dropped back considerably before he crossed the line earning a top 15 finish.
You never would have known it after the race, though. Wallace walked over to a group of supporters chanting his name with his fist raised high. He later explained that group was first-time African American NASCAR attendees from Atlanta. He stood in front of them proudly and expressed, “The sport is changing.”
And it is.
“This probably is the most bad-ass moment right here,” an emotional Wallace told FOX Sports after the race, which you can watch below. “It’s been tough. It’s been hell, really. Eh, I wouldn’t say hell. It’s just been hectic, carrying this weight, carrying this burden. I wouldn’t really say burden, either. I’m proud to stand where I’m at and carry a new face, look at this, first-timers right here from Atlanta? That is so cool. The sport is changing.”
Wallace, as you might have heard, had a noose found in his stall following Sunday’s rain-postponed race. Wallace is the only Black driver at NASCAR’s highest level, and has faced backlash ever since he asked NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag earlier this month. The league ultimately complied.
Wallace discussed Sunday’s incident with FOX Sports after the race.
“The deal that happened yesterday, sorry I’m not wearing my mask but I wanted to show whoever it was that you’re not going to take away my smile. And I’m going to keep on going,” he said. “I know I should have won that damn race. We ran out of gas. Just the stars didn’t align for us completely, but all in all, we won today.”
“The pre-race deal, the pre-race deal was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to witness in my life,” Wallace said, again having to control his emotions. “From all the supporters, from drivers and crew members, everybody here. The bad-ass fan base, thank you guys for coming out here. This is truly incredible and I’m proud to be a part of this sport…”
"The sport is changing … Whoever it was, you're not gonna take away my smile."- @BubbaWallace
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) June 23, 2020
Wallace may want to forget that Sunday’s incident ever happened. And who could blame him?
But with his defying response, and the support from NASCAR, we could one day look back on the Wallace as the drive that completely changed the sport, perhaps even in the same light as past civil rights icons Muhammed Ali, Bill Russell and recently-recognized Colin Kaepernick.
We find some comfort in that, too.