When I first heard about Darrell Wallace Jr. being the first Black man in fifty years to win a NASCAR series race, my first reaction was a very common. “They have Black race car drivers?!” I was under the impression NASCAR was still unofficially governed with Jim Crow laws, or maybe that’s a little extreme, but you get the point. All of that changed when I got a text from a friend who just so happens to be a black woman working for NASCAR. All she said to me was I should talk to the recent champion and he would change my mind on a lot of misconceptions about the sport.
She was right. After speaking with 20-year-old race car driver Darrell Wallace Jr. my eyes opened a little bit about the sport of racing and the generational divide. Darrell Wallace is a very personable and easy going young man from North Carolina. Within a few minutes of the conversation you realize Darrell takes his occupation seriously, but doesn’t take himself too seriously. Although he appreciates the history he recently made, going down in the history books for the color of his skin never crossed his mind, whereas in 1963 when Wendell Scott won a NASCAR race, it was probably the only thing on his mind.
Upon further discussion with Wallace, it’s easy to understand why he doesn’t buckle under the weight of history or racism within the sport because he was born in 1993 when his parents still felt the tinge of predjudice for being an interracial couple. However, as Darrell Wallace Jr. grew older, skin color had nothing to do with the quality of a person and that’s how Wallace conducts himself. But that’s only the surface. Find out who the real Darrell Wallace Jr. is when he’s off the track.
TUD: I guess we’ll start with the obvious question. How does it feel to be the first black man to win a NASCAR race in fifty years?
DW: It feels great! You don’t really think about the records or the history that’s been made until people talk to you afterwards and you start seeing it in articles and stuff like that. I had no idea about any of that. I just went out there and thought we won the race and next thing you know, we’re making history since Wendell Scott was the last to do it in 1963. That’s huge! So we’ll take that and use that as motivation to move on to the next one.
What does the win mean to you personally and professionally?
It means a lot. It showcases what we’ve been doing all year long, which is speed. And we’ve been close many a time to capturing out first victory, but luck just hasn’t gone our way. Finally, this time we never fell out of the top six out of all the 200 laps and we just gave everybody a good show. I was pumped up for my guys because we scored a victory and it’s close to the end of the season. We’ve got four more races to go. And I was really confident that we could get this one.
As for what it means professionally, hopefully it means the sport is changing. The demographic should be changing and the sport as a whole should be changing. We’re trying to bring in a new face and make it more diversified and just change it. Hopefully, that helps out a lot and that’s what I’m trying to do. I just go out there, do the best I can and have fun.
Speaking of diversification, I grew up thinking it was a sport just for white people. How did you get into racing and NASCAR?
The sport of racing is portrayed like that. It started in the south and it has been a predominantly white sport. You don’t see many guys of color at all. You could probably count on your hand how many there are in the sport. That, however, is just something I never thought about. I just wanted to go have fun. I played basketball three years before and racing came about and I had a little bit more fun doing that than basketball. So I said, “Well, let’s try this.” Some people didn’t like it and they made it clear, but I was really too young to understand everything that was being thrown at me. I started racing when I was nine. I was racing go karts and worked my way up through the asphalt ranks. Now, I just use all of that negativity as motivation to beat ’em again.