Darrell Wallace Jr. Knows His Time Begins Now
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Darrell Wallace Jr.’s story is not one of those in which he wanted to be a race car driver from the day his parents plopped him down, booty-clad feet first, into one of those baby strollers which has a little steering wheel with a red horn button.
It’s not one of those stories about Wallace Jr. becoming a race car driver because his family had thick racing blood lines and he too was expected to race cars.
It’s the story of a guy getting into go-kart at an age which, these days, can be considered to be on the old side, absolutely loving it and deciding not long afterward that his goal in life would be to be enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
It’s way too early to tell at this point, of course, but it might be foolish to bet against Wallace in his admittedly very lofty goal. The 19-year-old has looked better than just good in NASCAR K&N East and Nationwide series starts the last three seasons.
So good that he has landed a full-season ride in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season with Kyle Busch Motorsports and figures into the future plans of championship-producing Joe Gibbs Racing.
“You can’t force it, “ team owner Joe Gibbs said of Wallace recently. “Either you’re good, or you’re not. And Darrell’s one that’s good.”
Wallace, though still a teen-ager, has driven like a man in major NASCAR races – as few in number as those have
been. In four Nationwide races a year ago, he had three top-10 finishes. He won a pole at tough old Dover in the last of those four races. His worst finishe was 12th.
In his truck debut this year at Daytona, he finished 12th.
Wallace won six times in 36 K&N Pro Series East starts the last three seasons.
Many who have watched him over the last couple years have been as impressed by the way he has driven as much as by his results. He makes impressively few mistakes.
The plan for 2013 was to put Wallace in a JGR NNS car.
But when full sponsorship could not be found, Wallace and Gibbs went to Plan B – putting Wallace in the No. 54 KBM Toyota Tundra.
“Sponsorship is what it’s all about,” Wallace Jr. said during a telephone interview last week. “If you can’t find one, you take the other options and run with it.”
Whatever the options are/were this year, the goal is still the same: gain experience and put the talent on display. His ride in the 54 Toyota should further that goal big time.
“I got my foot in the door,” Wallace Jr. said. “We got a full-time ride right now. It’s something that this year, I’ve got to use all of the information that I have, all of the ability that I have in the truck and put together solid finishes, finish every race and make sure we’re up front each and every weekend.”
In addition to having the usual pressures, Wallace Jr. is burdened by some which very few other young drivers have. Wallace Jr. is an African-American. As such, he has to deal with external expectations and hopes: He stands as a symbol for many in black America and as justification for the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program which helped him and his family pay the bills during the tough times.
And Wallace Jr., the son of a white father and black mother, also has to deal with the knowledge that there are a lot of people pulling against him in his bid to become a NASCAR star. That became obvious to the Wallace family from the early days of driving karts back home in Mobile, Ala.
“Yeah, I heard that stuff,” Wallace Jr. said of the nasty names he was called. “But it never really bothered me that much. You take that stuff for motivation.”
The loud, overt racism directed at Wallace Jr. was much tougher on the parents, he said.
“They kind of heard it more than I did,” Wallace Jr. said. “For me, I kind of took it and then went out there and won again the next weekend. That either shut them up or you never heard anything else from them. That’s just part of racing and it’s changing for the better.”
This weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Wallace will make his second start in the 54 truck. Because of the NCWTS schedule, it comes more than a month after he made his first start, in which he finished 12th at Daytona. And it comes at the bizarre short-track where he has never raced a truck before.
Oh well, he says. Just another challenge.
“I’ve been doing a lot of racing on Xbox, but I’m not sure if that really counts,” Wallace Jr. said. “It’s tough when you have such a big break. We’re getting our Late Model prepared for our first race at Rockingham and we’ll run Denny Hamlin’s race at Richmond and then Rockingham again in November. A lot of preparation time going into that and then a lot of time spent at the shop with the new team, new year and just trying to get to know everybody a little bit better and move forward.”
On Saturday at Martinsville, after moving to the lead late, Wallace Jr. hung on to finished fifth.
“I’ll take it,” he said. “It’s a top five for us at Martinsville. I can’t thank Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and the guys enough for making great calls all race long. We got the lead late in the race and then came down to the pits and stuck on brand new tires, but we got tight on that last restart and just couldn’t really do anything with them. I found out these boys don’t play around when they’re trying to go. I know I was getting about three or four shots from (Kevin) Harvick and I know he was trying to get by me. It was good fun racing. It was a lot of fun racing with those guys and congrats to (Johnny) Sauter. We’ll be at Rockingham next weekend with another force to reckon with.”3 Comments