The television network broke away from the action, employing the split screen layout with a commercial on the left, the racing on the right. What NBC had at that very instant was nothing short of a magical coincidence.
On the left, a Toyota commercial, an inspirational spot featuring Bubba Wallace.
“This next step for me is for every kid out there with a dream,” Wallace said. “You will face challenges. But trust me, no matter what, keep pushing.”
On the right, challenges were evident. Wallace was on the outside row coming around turn 2, eight cars ahead of him and in a less-conducive position to pass. By the time the symphonic climax to the commercial eased to a close, he had pushed to fourth place. Twenty seconds later, he nosed into first place.
By day’s end, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., four days shy of his 28th birthday, had won the YellaWood 500. There are those who will insist that an asterisk hangs on Wallace’s victory because it was shortened by rain. There are even absurd people who would suggest the fix was in. Pray you’re never that small. Pray that you’re never surrounded by people that small.
Bubba Wallace won’t change minds or hearts. There are some pathetic people out there who don’t like other human beings based on the color of their skin. As he said, “I get booed for different reasons, and that’s the tough thing to swallow.”
You know already by now: Wallace became only the second Black driver to win at NASCAR’s highest level, after Wendell Scott in 1963, the first Black man to win a Talladega race. (He’s only the second Wallace to win a NASCAR race at Talladega; Mike Wallace won the 2011 truck race, though older brother Rusty — 0-for-45 in Cup races at the track — did win an IROC race in 1999.)
That the victory came at Talladega, a track whose construction was championed more than five decades ago by another Wallace, a schoolhouse-blocking governor named George, was “pretty fitting.” We were reminded that Bubba discovered a noose hanging in his garage stall in 2020. Though it was later determined it had long been hanging there and was not directed toward Wallace, the support galvanized behind Bubba by his fellow drivers and the other crews during pre-race that week was a beautiful and touching tableau.
Wallace ran a magnificent race Monday, patient when needed, aggressive when called for, experimenting to find the most appropriate groove and being judicious when selecting drafting partners. He’d have contended had it gone all 500 miles.
His victory was for those two symbols of American corporate success, McDonalds and Michael Jordan, his sponsor and his car owner.
His victory was for kids with dreams.
His victory, mostly, was for his worst critic. Himself.
Refreshingly candid and emotional in his postrace media sessions, Wallace said, “When you go winless for four years, for me, I’m so hard on myself. I’m always just pessimistic about why we ran like this, why we ran like that. It sends you down a dark path.
“Some people find it annoying and not very helpful,” he continued. “That’s just kind of how I work. I’m very sarcastic, hard on myself. But I want to win. I want to be competitive. I want to be one of the greats in the sport. I know there’s a lot of work to be done. It starts with getting your first out of the way, and we were able to do that.”
I’ll be glad when Bubba Wallace wins a race without all the commas.
You know, all the punctuation marks that set off the requisite nonrestrictive clauses. The ones that say, “Bubba Wallace, in whose garage stall a noose was discovered, …” and “Bubba Wallace, the only Black driver in the NASCAR Cup series,…”
I’ll be glad when Bubba Wallace can win a race and it’s just a story, not history.
We’re still a long way from that. But we were pushed a step closer by a courageous young man carrying on his shoulders the dreams of many.
Veteran sportswriter Mark McCarter is a special contributor to The Anniston Star. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.