DAYTONA BEACH (AP) — With his Canon 60D in hand, Darrell Wallace Jr. is a fixture at the track, eagerly snapping photos with an insider’s view of auto racing. His Instagram account is littered with day-in-the-life snapshots of cars and crews, all carrying the tag, “My crazy life captured in pictures.”
Wallace, though, isn’t a typical 19-year-old NASCAR prospect trying to climb the ladder and he’s less interested in a budding photography career. He is a pioneer of sorts as only the fourth black driver with a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.
When he took the wheel for the Truck Series race Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he became a slice of NASCAR history in a race that ignited his goal of serving as a role model for a generation of potential future black drivers.
“It’s kind of up to me,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of a huge weight.”
Busting down racial barriers in a sport long reserved for whites is pretty heavy stuff for a teenager.
Yet Wallace, the son of a white father and black mother, openly talks of becoming the Tiger Woods of NASCAR, the great black star who can transcend the sport and prove people of all colors can race.
“You don’t have a role model. That’s why you don’t see anybody in it,” Wallace said. “They can’t look up and be, like, ‘I want to be like him because he’s the same color as me.’ There’s no one there to do that. I’m the top one right now and I’m only 19.”
Wallace joins Wendell Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester as the only full-time black drivers in the 65-year history of NASCAR. Scott is the only black driver to win a race, way back in 1964.
Wallace was signed with Joe Gibbs Racing and drove the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports on Friday. Gibbs knows as well as anyone what it’s like to work with black athletes under the microscope. He coached the Washington Redskins when Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 1988. Gibbs said Wallace has the talent and the mental toughness to break through in NASCAR.
“I think he’s the right kid,” Gibbs said.
Wallace, raised in Concord, N.C., has the full support of the black drivers before him. Lester sent him encouraging tweets. Wallace met some of Scott’s children at a race in Virginia.
“They’re just happy to see someone following in their dad’s footsteps,” he said. “I’m hoping that I can carry that torch a little farther.”
He’s in a better position to succeed than many other minorities over the years. He has sponsorship, a top-flight team in JGR and is a graduate of NASCAR’s diversity program. Even in NASCAR, the climate has changed, with drivers of all sexes and colors openly accepted, in the garage and, hopefully in the stands.
Wallace, who goes by Bubba, spent the last three seasons driving in a low-level NASCAR developmental series and said racism in all forms was nonexistent. At lower levels of racing, though, he would hear racial insults or encounter ignorant views.
“We used to take it from fans,” his father, Darrell, said. “We’ve had it from other drivers. We’ve had it from officials. We’ve had it from promoters. We’ve had it from track owners. We’ve pretty much had it from everybody.”
Wallace said the heckles and hurtful words from his formative years in the sport have been left on the side of the road and he can continue to focus on racing.
“I really didn’t understand it. My dad got more fired up than anything,” he said.
His father sparked a love of the sport when he was 9, putting him in go-karts and always scouting out the next series.
Darrell Wallace even bought a Legends car from Mark Martin. He attends every race.
His mother, Desiree, ran track at Tennessee and stays home to watch on TV (“‘She likes hearing what they say about me.”).
Mom did offer a piece of advice that has stuck: Avoid confrontations with other drivers who used slurs. Just go win.
Wallace’s love and talent for the sport will mean nothing if he can’t find the right sponsor willing to fund his career.
Sponsorship cash is the lifeblood of the sport.
His father has owned an industrial cleaning business since 1999 and has pumped at least $1 million into his son’s fledgling career.
He spent as much as $250,000 in 2008.
The elder Wallace paid bills late and borrowed money to keep his son’s career alive.
“He tried to do everything he could to keep me racing,” the younger Wallace said. It’s a path he expects to land him in the Sprint Cup series.
“I’m not ready for it next year. I’m not ready for it in two years,” Wallace said. “It’s all about the timing."
*Pictured above is Darrel Wallace Jr.