Coming off the heels of a historic finish at the Daytona 500, social media was set ablaze because of the wonderful personality of Darrell “Bubba” Wallace. Even though he finished 32nd Sunday at the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Wallace was comfortable being a rock star among huge household names.
As the winds of change blow through the sport, Wallace is poised to take his place among the new generation of drivers. It’s not new for a crop of young drivers and rookies to take NASCAR by storm and upsetting the status quo in the process.
Once upon a time (and not too long ago) Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr were the young stars that everybody focused on while unseating Bill Elliott, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Kyle Petty and others in the process.
However, this generation’s young guns are savvy on social media, aren’t as married to NASCAR’s Southern roots, and are branding themselves while growing the sport’s appeal. Part of their growing appeal is NASCAR’s concerted effort to increase diversity.
— Richard Petty Motorsports (@RPMotorsports) February 25, 2018
NASCAR introduced the Drive for Diversity as a way to align drivers with a team of executives, athletic directors, crew chiefs and mentors tasked with helping them achieve career successes, and thus improving their goal of reaching one of the three NASCAR national series.
In addition, the Drive for Diversity houses the NASCAR Diversity Internship Program, NASCAR Opinion Leadership Initiative, and also provides scholarships to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic Serving Institutions to nurture diverse talent and raise the visibility of the sport.
The Diversity Internship Program is a 10 week, paid summer internship that targets multicultural undergraduate and graduate students with high academic standing at elite institutions.
NDIP interns work on hands-on projects, network with industry leaders and volunteer throughout the program and its ultimate goal is to enrich the employee base in motorsports.
Which brings us back to Bubba. Famed driver and pitchman Richard Petty offered Wallace a full-time ride this season as Aric Almirola departed for Stewart-Haas Racing. What’s more interesting, Petty is pushing Wallace at a time when Black drivers like Jann Mardenborough and Lewis Hamilton are leading a racing revolution in their respective sports.
“A little bit of a splash in the motorsports world goes a long way since there aren’t a lot of familiar faces in it,” Wallace said in an interview after finishing second at the Daytona 500.
Beyond Sundays, NASCAR is making a concerted effort to grow the sport on and off the track. Wallace is helping lead the Drive for Diversity.