Bubba Wallace: Being outside, you know, it’s the exact opposite of… of what I do in my, I guess, normal career life, going fast, turning left, turning right, whatever it may be. And being outside is slowing down, looking all around, enjoying the sights, enjoying the sounds.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time To Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives. William Darrell Wallace Jr., known to race-car fans as Bubba Wallace, is one of the few Black drivers to ever race in NASCAR. Known for his fearlessness on and off the track, Bubba rocked the racing world when he spoke out in support of social change and Black Lives Matter. On this walk, he talks about the importance of a race he didn’t win and the moment he pushed NASCAR and its fans to face history and its tough realities.
[SOUND OF DOOR OPENING AND CLOSING]
[SOUND OF FOOTSTEPS]
Bubba Wallace: So we’re standing on my back porch, looking at about a quarter of an acre uncovered land, and I got about another acre back in the woods, back there behind the fence line of just straight trees and birds chirping.
[SOUND OF WALKING FROM PORCH STEPS TO BRUSH]
We’re actually going through some… some brush here to get over to the trail that we’re going to be getting on. I probably walked through a couple spiderwebs, my favorite. So, I have a big, strong fear of spiders. So the… the fear is real. I can go 200 miles an hour, but you throw a little tiny spider in front of me, I’m not a… I’m not a fan.
Well, I grew up about 15 minutes from here, and the house that we had moved into right at that time… Third grade, I moved from a neighborhood, all the friends in the world, and then moved to a new school, had to make all new friends. And my dad had actually bought a Harley-Davidson, and he wanted to trick it out, you know, add some accessories to it and everything. And he found a local bike shop, and the guy who fixed it up for him, he actually raced go-karts out of the back of his shop. And he invited us out to come and watch one of his go-kart races. And we were sitting in the stands, and karts were going by, and I noticed that there were kids younger than me, a little bit older than me, full-grown adults out there. They were all racing. It looked like they were having a lot of fun.
So we were there for a few hours, and my dad was like, “You know, what do you think? You want to try it out?” And I was like, “I mean, sure. Why not?” I don’t think I really back down to any challenge that’s been in front of me. And so we… we went out and bought a go-kart the next weekend. I think that’s where I get my impulsiveness from because he was like, “Yeah, let’s do it,” not knowing what the heck we’re doing. We went out and bought a go-kart, and we went racing the next weekend.
I didn’t really know what to expect. So, for some reason, I guess the timing worked out perfect to where we went to a national event. So we went from watching a race with about, I’d say, 60 total karts there to a national event with 300-plus karts.
My parents were the backbone of the whole operation. They were, you know, owning their own family-owned business. You know, they were writing the checkbooks, making sure everything was buttoned up to keep us going to the racetrack and keeping my sister on the basketball court. We were always just so competitive, and we always wanted to win. And, and you ask a lot of people that we grew up around that we still race with to this day, the Wallaces were a handful of… of people to be around. We were either winning and fighting or losing and fighting. For some reason, whatever that was, we just wanted to win and win in the right way, you know?
Every weekend, you know, we were in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, you name it, kind of all over the Southeast to race. And by the time I was 16, I had gone through many levels of racing from go-karts and then making it into the K&N Series, which is kind of like the grassroots level feeder system into the top three series of NASCAR. It was something we just kept doing because it was fun. We were winning, and we were successful.
And so, when I got, you know, into the Truck Series in 2013, we… we knew like, “Okay. Now it’s… it’s kind of getting more serious when you’re at that level because the Truck Series is like high school ball. The best high school football teams, you have everybody going up against each other.
So, yeah, we got into the Truck Series there. And it was the second race there that year, and the first race, we had finished fifth. And so I knew going to that track, it was like, “Okay, we finished fifth the first time there. I’ve gotten a lot more experience under my belt.” Like, it’s like you’re psyching yourself up to do something good here. And I think it was the morning of or the night before, I was… I’d just got out of the shower, and I’m like, “All right. You can do this. You know, we’re going to go out and win. This is going to be a big weekend. Like, we’re going to go take this thing.”
Announcer 1: These need to be the best seven laps of Darrell Wallace Jr.’s life.
Announcer 2: That was a good first part of it right there.
[END NASCAR CLIP]
And so we, we were leading there for the majority of the time. And I just kind of remember my heart kind of beating out of my chest. It was just like, “Don’t mess up here.”
Announcer 1: Down the back stretch. Darrell Wallace Jr. almost a backstretch lead over second place, Brendan Gone. Out of turn number four, Darrell Wallace Jr.’s going to get his first win in the Camping World Truck Series.
Announcer 2: Oh, my god.
[END NASCAR CLIP]
I had a big enough gap to where I could just start bawling my eyes out coming to the checkered flag because I knew we won. I could kind of let loose for a second and let my emotions out.
So that was a special day. And so, knowing that I had said, “We’re going to win,” before the race, and we did that, it was a hell-yeah moment.
And the crazy thing about that is, is the Truck Series is like 22 races, and it took us 19 races to get our first win at Martinsville. And the way that it kind of all… all sorted out, which I didn’t know, you know, I was like the first since Wendell Scott, first African American to win a NASCAR race, first African American in NASCAR. And it was 50 years since he had won his… his first race.
And so that was kind of surreal how it all… We were waiting and waiting and waiting for 19 races to finally accomplish that. And so, you know, that was a huge win, just I… I won a NASCAR race. It just kind of confirmed that, hey, this is for real and that if we can do it and do it the best way and the… and the right way, then, you know, we can become a household name on the racetrack.
If we put all of our best efforts in front of us and execute the proper way, then, yeah, we can be a tough competitor week in and week out. And that’s all you want to do. You know, every opportunity that’s in front of you, you want to capitalize on it. You want to give it your best and… And so learn from the weaknesses, and use your strengths there. That’s kind of how I go about each and every race, looking at what to expect, what to expect out of the car, how to get the most out of the car and to be successful and to show your competitors that, hey, this kid’s for real.
[SOUND OF WALKING THROUGH BRUSH]
Caught a spiderweb there.
So, you know, going from 2013 to… to 2017, it was really tough and not a lot of fun simply because, after the Truck Series, we went on to a new team, new organization, new manufacturer. And basically, we’re starting over. And it was that absolute struggle, borderline nightmare for a while. And we had some some moments of success, but I was getting excited about finishing sixth and seventh in races, going from winning five races to being excited about finishing sixth and seventh. Like, it was a total game-changer, total, like, slap in the face, just had to do a lot of readjusting, mental readjusting. I mean, yeah, I felt like I was top of the world, the next up and coming, and then you go and, and barely run inside the top five.
And so, 2018, that’s when we, you know, we started off the season at Daytona. And at Daytona, anything can happen there. You could win. You could end up flipping up on your lid, whatever it may be, a bad wreck, whatever it may be.
We’re going 200 miles an hour for three and a half hours. You’re constantly thinking. Your mind… It’s a… It’s a massive chess game the whole time. This car’s going to go here. I’m going to go here, but I can’t go too high because that gets you out of the groove. And if you get out of the groove, you’re going to wreck and hit the wall. But you can’t slow down too much or those guys are going to pass you. So it’s always just trying to hit your marks and be precise every time.
But… but my crew chief, Drew, he said, “Blue switch down, go have some fun.” Blue switch is kind of extra horsepower. And so I remember firing off on that restart and only had two laps. And so I remember doing a whole first lap, making sure I was in the right position, blocking, whatever I needed to do.
And we took the white flag, and it was like, “All right, next flag wins it. You know, whatever, that’s it.” And we came back, you know, going down the back stretch, pushing the 3-car of Austin Dillon. He and the 10-car get together. They end up wrecking.
Announcer 1: Dillon. Where will he go?
Announcer 2: Dillon’s going to get there.
Announcer 1: Oh, into Almirola. Around he goes.
Announcer 2: Good grief.
Crew: Hang on to it, bud. Hang on to it.
[END NASCAR CLIP]
The 10-car ends up wrecking, which shoved the 3-car so far out. So he was gone. He was like, “Well, he just won.”
So it quickly became a shift to, “Okay, I want to finish second.”
Announcer 2: Bubba Wallace to the outside, finishes his first Daytona 500 in second place, side drafting off Denny Hamlin.
[END NASCAR CLIP]
I was like, “Awesome.” Like, “Way to start the season off.” And sitting in the media center at the Daytona 500, tons of cameras, tons of reporters just all looking at you, waiting for you to say something. And I remember having my family there, and my family was going through a really difficult time, through a bad divorce with my parents. And so, not, not a lot of people had known that at the time.
I had my mom, my sister, my uncle, my… my dad’s brother, and then my girlfriend were there, all in the media center. Kyle was there, my manager. You know, I had my family there, but I was just missing my dad. And so not having my dad there was super tough to kind of grasp on to because, you know, family was there for all the wins and all the success. And so, for not being there for the second place at the Daytona 500, bigger… biggest race of the year, biggest race of the career, like, you know, that was… that was tough.
But seeing my mom come up and be so excited and so proud, just having that sheer moment of joy on her face when she walked in, you know, I was excited. And then it quickly just changed over to just crying.
And I was like, “You’re crying like we just won the race.” And she was like, “We did. We won that race.”
[LEXI SWATT CLIP]
Mom: I’ve waited so long, baby.
Bubba: You’re acting like we just won the race.
Mom: We did. We did.
[END LEXI SWATT CLIP]
And you look back on it from all the hype and everything, I think that’s the first race where they can remember who finished second before they can remember who won the race.
You don’t know what people are going through, you know? I don’t know your day. You don’t know my day. “Oh, he’s a race car driver. Man, you must have a nice life.” 2016 and ‘17 wasn’t fun when your parents were going through divorce, but no one knows that. So you don’t know what people are going through.
You know, looking back on that year and that kind of part of my life, it just shows that no matter how dark the days are or how bright the days are, you got to keep going and keep trucking. You got to fight through each and everything to… to last. It’s… You know, life is such a cutthroat deal. Like, the world is such a cutthroat place. And so life is just the same way, and you got to… you got to fight for what you want each and every day.
For me, you know, a biracial kid, you know, everything where we’re at right now as a nation and where we’re at as a sport, and, you know, this point in my life, kind of talking about it from day one, ever since I was a kid, you know, I, I… I’d never seen color. As a biracial kid, I had friends of all different ethnicities, backgrounds, whatever it was, and… And we all had fun. That’s how it was.
My mom, you know, had sat me down and talked to me about racial incidents that she had gone through to help me learn and grow and understand, you know, what to expect. And, you know, as tough as it was… Actually, you know, I don’t know if it was necessarily tough, but just trying to understand was the tough part of being like, “Why’d they do that?” Just because, you know, for me, the way you look or the way you act doesn’t mean I treat you any differently. And so it’s just like, “Well, I did that back in the day.” And it’s just a time and a place that the world was in. And, unfortunately, it still is, kind of, to this day.
Some would argue that it’s not as much, but some would argue that it’s just the same. And so those instances have kind of made me be more aware, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do, say the right things, go along with the right messaging, and stand up for what I believe in.
I remember the night of the Ahmaud Arbery video. I was sitting on my computer playing Call of Duty with some buddies. And it was about midnight, about time to go to bed, and my cousin had posted something to his Story on Instagram. And I click on it, and I watch this video. And I was, like, dumbfounded. I’m like, “No way this is real.” And so I turn my headset off and turn the volume up on my phone. And to hear the gunshots, the shotgun go off and shoot Ahmaud Arbery and see him just fall to the ground and die was… was so disturbing to watch. Like, they went out to go kill that man.
Reporter: Breaking overnight, a father and son have been charged with murder for the shooting death of an unarmed man, Ahmaud Arbery, while he was apparently on a jog in Georgia. This is new video you’re looking at right now…
[END CNN CLIP]
It just felt like you were in a movie, but you were a part of that movie, and that movie just happened to be real life. And I sat there disgusted. I was probably up for another two hours after that. I didn’t sleep that night. I woke up the next morning. I walked out to my girlfriend, and I was like, “Today’s not a good day to do anything after what I had just saw,” and she kind of cut me off and was like, “The Ahmaud Arbery thing?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And we just sat there in silence for a couple minutes.
And it’s just like, it’s so sad to think that, you know, your loved one could go out… Like, it’s terrifying when you have a kid. When I have a kid, I’m going to have to, “Hey, you’re going to look different. You’re going to be treated different. Be careful when you go out.” And that’s… that’s so hard. You know, I can only imagine the, the family of all the countless victims that have gone through that and the, and the future families that have to have those conversations. That’s, that’s tough.
I think, you know, the Ahmaud Arbery video definitely spiked something too, you know, inside me to want to change and do something. I didn’t know what it was. So I sat silent for a couple of weeks, and the George Floyd video came out. And that’s when, you know, it was like… I’m getting a lot of social media mentions, “Hey, what would Bubba Wallace say? Being the only African-American driver, he’s… He’s got to say something.” I was getting so many mentions in my social media channels of people talking about the Confederate flag, how they’ll never come to a race because of the Confederate flag. And I was on CNN with Don Lemon, and it was… it was just, “Hey, I think we should just get rid of the Confederate flag.”
Don Lemon: What’s the next action Bubba? I don’t know.
Bubba Wallace: My next step would be to get rid of all Confederate flags. There should be no individual that is uncomfortable showing up to our events to have a good time with their family. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them. It’s… it’s time for change. We have to change that, and I encourage NASCAR, and we will have those conversations to remove those flags.
Don Lemon: Okay, so let me ask you, I’m from Louisiana…
[END CNN CLIP]
To the African-American demographic, the majority of the African-American demographic, it symbolizes hate. It symbolizes slavery, back in those times. And to other demographics, it’s heritage. It represents the South. Well, you got to look at the bigger picture, and what it truly represents. Like, you were flying that because you were slave owners and represented slavery. It just so happened to be in the South.
And two, three days later, Steve Phelps, the President of NASCAR goes, “Hey, we’re going to get rid of the flag.” I’m like, “About time.”
We all owe each other respect, no matter if I don’t know you, whatnot. We owe each other respect. You know, if I…I get to know somebody, if I don’t like you, then it’s just like, “All right, well, y’all have a good day.” But to be blatantly rude or disrespectful, hateful just because someone doesn’t look like you, they don’t talk like you, they don’t act like you, they don’t share the same opinions and values as you, what? It makes you want to hurt somebody? Y’all ain’t living right.
I think if we just practice patience, understanding, and just slow down, enjoy life. There’s no need to be so angry and just carry hate in your heart.
[SOUND OF BIRDS CHIRPING]
The birds are really starting to chirp now. So I think we kind of woke them up as we’re walking through their, their homes back here.
And it’s not every day that I get to come out and, you know, walk the… the trails back here and kind of just reflect on life and where we’ve been and where we’ve gone and where we’re going to go. You know, I think that’s… It’s pretty special when you can kind of take some time for self, for some self-motivation, self, you know, appreciation, whatever it may be, kind of flatter yourself for a little bit and just kind of think of what all you’ve done or all you can do.
And for me, I mean, I’m proud of everything that I’ve done. We all make mistakes, but that’s just the way life is. It produces some of the best people, if they put their best intentions and best efforts forward.
Music for me is, man, gets me excited. It takes me to a place where I can relax. I can enjoy life. I can use music to get me through, like, the really darkest days that I go through.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
You know, as I get older, I need to go back and really listen to some of these songs to kind of understand the meaning because I’m just kind of looking at it from a surface level, and just the vibe of it is super fun, super chill. This song is called “Losers” by The Weeknd featuring Labrinth. I’ve always been a huge fan of this artist and the direction he goes with his music.
[MUSIC - “LOSERS” BY THE WEEKND FT. LABRINTH]
This song is important just because it’s… it’s fun. It’s a band that I’ve listened to for a while. The song is “Throne” by Bring Me The Horizon.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
It provides a lot of different vibes and varieties of going through different tempos, the heavy stuff, the more catchy stuff. So it’s… It’s definitely a really fun song to listen to.
[MUSIC - “THRONE” BY BRING ME THE HORIZON]
So, when I hear this come on the radio, it takes me to a time when my girlfriend and I are playing cards, playing board games because we put this on shuffle, and this song is always on. It’s a fun song. It’s an older song. It takes me kind of back to…
[MUSIC FADES IN]
… a time when I first heard this song, which was, like, years ago, like high school era. But this fancy tune is called “The World at Large” by Modest Mouse.
[MUSIC - “THE WORLD AT LARGE” BY MODEST MOUSE]
Well, this has been really cool, a different experience for me. So I appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk with you guys and share some experiences on my so-called crazy life. Thank you for taking the time to walk with me.