Driving While Black
How Bubba Wallace found his voice

Driving While Black
How Bubba Wallace found his voice

Driving While Black
How Bubba Wallace found his voice

professional driver Bubba Wallace

Bubba Wallace didn’t really think about race. But 2020 changed everything.

For professional driver Bubba Wallace, life in the eye of a media storm has been relentless. His DMs overflow with messages from loving fans and disgruntled keyboard warriors, his schedule is a never-ending stream of calls with publications and news networks. It seems like everyone has a hot take on the recent events of his life.

After several public displays for Black rights at racing events, Bubba was notified that there was a noose found at his garage in Talladega, Alabama. Authorities cleared the noose of being a hate crime, saying it was there since 2019 (which might be another conversation ... ), causing people to hit social media demanding Bubba to apologize for the “hoax.”

Except ... Bubba wasn’t the one who discovered the noose or sparked the incident. Hell, he was just relieved he wasn’t the victim of a hate crime — who wouldn’t be?

“I didn’t get offended; I just kind of laughed it off,” Bubba says.

Bubba knew that speaking up for the Black community as a professional driver would stir the pot … but all this?

“It’s chaos,” he says.

He never saw himself as an activist. But life has a way of making you take a stand.

Bubba Wallace didn’t really think about race. But 2020 changed everything.

For professional driver Bubba Wallace, life in the eye of a media storm has been relentless. His DMs overflow with messages from loving fans and disgruntled keyboard warriors, his schedule is a never-ending stream of calls with publications and news networks. It seems like everyone has a hot take on the recent events of his life.

After several public displays for Black rights at racing events, Bubba was notified that there was a noose found at his garage in Talladega, Alabama. Authorities cleared the noose of being a hate crime, saying it was there since 2019 (which might be another conversation ... ), causing people to hit social media demanding Bubba to apologize for the “hoax.”

Except ... Bubba wasn’t the one who discovered the noose or sparked the incident. Hell, he was just relieved he wasn’t the victim of a hate crime — who wouldn’t be?

“I didn’t get offended; I just kind of laughed it off,” Bubba says.

Bubba knew that speaking up for the Black community as a professional driver would stir the pot … but all this?

“It’s chaos,” he says.

He never saw himself as an activist. But life has a way of making you take a stand.

Bubba Wallace didn’t really think about race. But 2020 changed everything.

For professional driver Bubba Wallace, life in the eye of a media storm has been relentless. His DMs overflow with messages from loving fans and disgruntled keyboard warriors, his schedule is a never-ending stream of calls with publications and news networks. It seems like everyone has a hot take on the recent events of his life.

After several public displays for Black rights at racing events, Bubba was notified that there was a noose found at his garage in Talladega, Alabama. Authorities cleared the noose of being a hate crime, saying it was there since 2019 (which might be another conversation ... ), causing people to hit social media demanding Bubba to apologize for the “hoax.”

Except ... Bubba wasn’t the one who discovered the noose or sparked the incident. Hell, he was just relieved he wasn’t the victim of a hate crime — who wouldn’t be?

“I didn’t get offended; I just kind of laughed it off,” Bubba says.

Bubba knew that speaking up for the Black community as a professional driver would stir the pot … but all this?

“It’s chaos,” he says.

He never saw himself as an activist. But life has a way of making you take a stand.

The Awakening
The Awakening
The Awakening
Bubba Wallace at the racetrack

If there’s ever a Bubba Wallace biopic, there’s probably going to be some dramatic moment where Bubba walks onto the racetrack and looks out to a Confederate Flag flowing in the wind with lingering sadness.

But in reality that wasn’t the case. Bubba grew up in the deep South, in the racing capital of America. And if you’re in North Carolina spending the bulk of your life at racetracks and garages, you’ve seen more stars and bars than you can count. They’re just ... there.

If there’s ever a Bubba Wallace biopic, there’s probably going to be some dramatic moment where Bubba walks onto the racetrack and looks out to a Confederate Flag flowing in the wind with lingering sadness.

But in reality that wasn’t the case. Bubba grew up in the deep South, in the racing capital of America. And if you’re in North Carolina spending the bulk of your life at racetracks and garages, you’ve seen more stars and bars than you can count. They’re just ... there.

If there’s ever a Bubba Wallace biopic, there’s probably going to be some dramatic moment where Bubba walks onto the racetrack and looks out to a Confederate Flag flowing in the wind with lingering sadness.

But in reality that wasn’t the case. Bubba grew up in the deep South, in the racing capital of America. And if you’re in North Carolina spending the bulk of your life at racetracks and garages, you’ve seen more stars and bars than you can count. They’re just ... there.

I never was like: ‘Why aren’t there any other Black people around?’ I was just like: ‘Is this guy good? Is this girl good? Let’s have a race and see who’s better.

I never was like: ‘Why aren’t there any other Black people around?’ I was just like: ‘Is this guy good? Is this girl good? Let’s have a race and see who’s better.

I never was like: ‘Why aren’t there any other Black people around?’ I was just like: ‘Is this guy good? Is this girl good? Let’s have a race and see who’s better.

“They’ve always been around,” says Bubba. “But I hadn’t paid much attention to them or understood the history.”

Bubba didn’t think much about being a Black driver — he obsessed about being a driver in general. The audacity and fearlessness it required. The rush. Mustering up sponsors so he could continue to keep driving. All Bubba wanted to do was race.

“I never was like, ‘Why aren’t there any other Black people around?’ He says. “I was just like: ‘Is this guy good? Is this girl good? Let’s have a race and see who’s better.’”

There were moments where he was reminded that he was different, where bigotry reared its ugly head. The time a rival driver’s father called him an n-word. The time he did a social media takeover for a Black music award show and got loads of racist responses. But he mostly chose to just move past those incidents.

“They’ve always been around,” says Bubba. “But I hadn’t paid much attention to them or understood the history.”

Bubba didn’t think much about being a Black driver — he obsessed about being a driver in general. The audacity and fearlessness it required. The rush. Mustering up sponsors so he could continue to keep driving. All Bubba wanted to do was race.

“I never was like, ‘Why aren’t there any other Black people around?’ He says. “I was just like: ‘Is this guy good? Is this girl good? Let’s have a race and see who’s better.’”

There were moments where he was reminded that he was different, where bigotry reared its ugly head. The time a rival driver’s father called him an n-word. The time he did a social media takeover for a Black music award show and got loads of racist responses. But he mostly chose to just move past those incidents.

“They’ve always been around,” says Bubba. “But I hadn’t paid much attention to them or understood the history.”

Bubba didn’t think much about being a Black driver — he obsessed about being a driver in general. The audacity and fearlessness it required. The rush. Mustering up sponsors so he could continue to keep driving. All Bubba wanted to do was race.

“I never was like, ‘Why aren’t there any other Black people around?’ He says. “I was just like: ‘Is this guy good? Is this girl good? Let’s have a race and see who’s better.’”

There were moments where he was reminded that he was different, where bigotry reared its ugly head. The time a rival driver’s father called him an n-word. The time he did a social media takeover for a Black music award show and got loads of racist responses. But he mostly chose to just move past those incidents.

Bubba Wallace portrait

“When people are afraid, they try to use every hurtful thing to break you and take you off your pedestal,” Bubba says.

But the events of the past few months, the police killing of George Floyd and gunning down of Ahmaud Arbery, the protests sweeping across newsfeeds, nations and continents, made it impossible for Bubba to remain quiet. He began to research what was going on, the history he never studied, and all the things in his sport that could create a hostile environment for people of color.

“When people are afraid, they try to use every hurtful thing to break you and take you off your pedestal,” Bubba says.

But the events of the past few months, the police killing of George Floyd and gunning down of Ahmaud Arbery, the protests sweeping across newsfeeds, nations and continents, made it impossible for Bubba to remain quiet. He began to research what was going on, the history he never studied, and all the things in his sport that could create a hostile environment for people of color.

“When people are afraid, they try to use every hurtful thing to break you and take you off your pedestal,” Bubba says.

But the events of the past few months, the police killing of George Floyd and gunning down of Ahmaud Arbery, the protests sweeping across newsfeeds, nations and continents, made it impossible for Bubba to remain quiet. He began to research what was going on, the history he never studied, and all the things in his sport that could create a hostile environment for people of color.

When people are afraid, they try to use every hurtful thing to break you and take you off your pedestal

When people are afraid, they try to use every hurtful thing to break you and take you off your pedestal

When people are afraid, they try to use every hurtful thing to break you and take you off your pedestal

He was ready for change — and getting rid of the Confederate Flags flying in the stands, draped off trucks and embroidered on hats at pro racing events, was a part of that.

“At the end of the day, it’s hate. It means hate to people that we’re trying to attract, a demographic that we’re trying to bring in.”

He continues: “The question I get all the time: why aren’t there more African-Americans? Maybe because they hate the Confederate Flag that we continue to fly here.”

So, to bring the conversation around racial justice to one of its most unlikely platforms, Bubba spoke out against the Confederate flag at racetracks and his crew blacked out his racecar and etched #BlackLivesMatter on the side.

And just like that, a media storm was born.

“It seems like everything I do or say pisses somebody off,” he says. “So, you know, I’ve accepted that.”

He was ready for change — and getting rid of the Confederate Flags flying in the stands, draped off trucks and embroidered on hats at pro racing events, was a part of that.

“At the end of the day, it’s hate. It means hate to people that we’re trying to attract, a demographic that we’re trying to bring in.”

He continues: “The question I get all the time: why aren’t there more African-Americans? Maybe because they hate the Confederate Flag that we continue to fly here.”

So, to bring the conversation around racial justice to one of its most unlikely platforms, Bubba spoke out against the Confederate flag at racetracks and his crew blacked out his racecar and etched #BlackLivesMatter on the side.

And just like that, a media storm was born.

“It seems like everything I do or say pisses somebody off,” he says. “So, you know, I’ve accepted that.”

He was ready for change — and getting rid of the Confederate Flags flying in the stands, draped off trucks and embroidered on hats at pro racing events, was a part of that.

“At the end of the day, it’s hate. It means hate to people that we’re trying to attract, a demographic that we’re trying to bring in.”

He continues: “The question I get all the time: why aren’t there more African-Americans? Maybe because they hate the Confederate Flag that we continue to fly here.”

So, to bring the conversation around racial justice to one of its most unlikely platforms, Bubba spoke out against the Confederate flag at racetracks and his crew blacked out his racecar and etched #BlackLivesMatter on the side.

And just like that, a media storm was born.

“It seems like everything I do or say pisses somebody off,” he says. “So, you know, I’ve accepted that.”

Changing the Game
Changing the Game
Changing the Game
Bubba Wallace racecar 43

Changing the culture around professional racing means undoing a long legacy of stereotypes.

“I hate the narrative that we have on our sport. Like we’re ‘a bunch of rednecks that don’t care,’” he says. “We do care and we have to do a better job of showing that.”

Though he’s met heavy resistance in the face of media commentators, trolls and shut-up-and-dribble types, he’s also garnering tons of support. Fans, fellow drivers and hall-of-famers have shown love — and there was even a group of 20 Black fans in the stands cheering him on in Talladega.

It gives him hope.

Changing the culture around professional racing means undoing a long legacy of stereotypes.

“I hate the narrative that we have on our sport. Like we’re ‘a bunch of rednecks that don’t care,’” he says. “We do care and we have to do a better job of showing that.”

Though he’s met heavy resistance in the face of media commentators, trolls and shut-up-and-dribble types, he’s also garnering tons of support. Fans, fellow drivers and hall-of-famers have shown love — and there was even a group of 20 Black fans in the stands cheering him on in Talladega.

It gives him hope.

Changing the culture around professional racing means undoing a long legacy of stereotypes.

“I hate the narrative that we have on our sport. Like we’re ‘a bunch of rednecks that don’t care,’” he says. “We do care and we have to do a better job of showing that.”

Though he’s met heavy resistance in the face of media commentators, trolls and shut-up-and-dribble types, he’s also garnering tons of support. Fans, fellow drivers and hall-of-famers have shown love — and there was even a group of 20 Black fans in the stands cheering him on in Talladega.

It gives him hope.

I hate the narrative that we have on our sport. Like we’re ‘a bunch of rednecks that don’t care.’ We do care and we have to do a better job of showing that.

I hate the narrative that we have on our sport. Like we’re ‘a bunch of rednecks that don’t care.’ We do care and we have to do a better job of showing that.

I hate the narrative that we have on our sport. Like we’re ‘a bunch of rednecks that don’t care.’ We do care and we have to do a better job of showing that.

Bubba lets out a sigh of relief. “Bro, this has been the most normal week.”

The DMs are calming down. The media obligations are relenting. Bubba’s team can set all eyes on making his playoff debut. But even as the storm settles, you can bet he’ll continue fighting to make professional racing a safe space for people from all walks of life.

“We’ve got to change that narrative,” he says. “We’ve got to stand up as a sport.”

Bubba lets out a sigh of relief. “Bro, this has been the most normal week.”

The DMs are calming down. The media obligations are relenting. Bubba’s team can set all eyes on making his playoff debut. But even as the storm settles, you can bet he’ll continue fighting to make professional racing a safe space for people from all walks of life.

“We’ve got to change that narrative,” he says. “We’ve got to stand up as a sport.”

Bubba lets out a sigh of relief. “Bro, this has been the most normal week.”

The DMs are calming down. The media obligations are relenting. Bubba’s team can set all eyes on making his playoff debut. But even as the storm settles, you can bet he’ll continue fighting to make professional racing a safe space for people from all walks of life.

“We’ve got to change that narrative,” he says. “We’ve got to stand up as a sport.”

Bubba Wallace wearing helmet

All photography credit Barry Cantrell / Richard Petty Motorsports

All photography credit Barry Cantrell / Richard Petty Motorsports

All photography credit Barry Cantrell / Richard Petty Motorsports