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D4D Grad Wallace Is ‘Racing His Heart Out’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 26 2014

Darrell Wallace Jr. celebrates his Camping World Truck Series victory at Gateway. (File photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

As “Poster Boy” for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative, Darrell Wallace Jr. ideally is portrayed as all things to all people all of the time.

That’s a heavy lift for a 20-year-old in an America where the daily news/social media cycle can range, culturally, from President Barack Obama to Donald Sterling to Michael Sam.

Faced with the “Poster Boy” label as an Indy Racing League rookie in 1996, a 25-year-old Tony Stewart sagely observed: “I’d rather have my face on a poster than on a milk carton.” Rather than disappear, Stewart matured into a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

In the months since his historic NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway last season, “Bubba” Wallace similarly has grown accustomed to and comfortable in his role as the Face of D4D.

“Yes I am,” said Wallace, who is in his second NCWTS season with Kyle Busch Motorsports. “I came up through the ranks and used that opportunity, and it’s something that will always be with me. I’m a kid of color trying to break into the sport, so I can’t deny it.

“Otherwise, I don’t know where I’d be. I would like to go back and see where I’d be, but I don’t think I’d be here today. I’m grateful for the opportunity and try to make the most of it each and every time I’m on the track.”

Wallace scored his first win of the 2014 season, and second of his career, under the lights at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., in the inaugural Drivin’ for Linemen 200 on June 14. He will attempt to go back-to-back Thursday night in the UNOH 225 on Kentucky Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval.

Wallace, who started second at Gateway, overcame a poor early-race pit stop to come back from a lap down and lead 85 of 160 laps – including the last three – around the 1.25-mile oval outside of St. Louis. Wallace finished 0.329-seconds in front of German Quiroga, who posted a career-best result, to secure KBM’s fifth Truck Series win of the season.

Wallace first generated headline news last Oct. 26 with his historic drive in the Kroger 200 at Martinsville, the paperclip-shaped short-track where he became only the second African-American to win a NASCAR national series event. Wallace joined Wendell Scott, a native of Danville, Va., who scored his lone NASCAR national series win nearly 50 years earlier at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla. Scott’s victory on Dec. 1, 1963 came in NASCAR’s Grand National Series, now known as Sprint Cup.

Scott’s personal journey and contributions to the sport officially were recognized on May 21, when he was among five drivers named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015. Scott, selected on 58 percent of the ballots, was joined by Rex White, Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen and Joe Weatherly.

“The first man of color to break into the sport,” Wallace said of Scott, who was 42 when he won that Grand National race in what truly was a lily-white, Southern-based series. “You never know how the sport would be to this day if he didn’t break through. But he was going to go out there no matter what and beat those guys.”

Racing in Scott’s home state, Wallace started third and led a total of 96 laps – including the final 50 – en route to his inaugural victory at Martinsville. “We went out there and got the job done,” said Wallace, who won in his 19th Truck Series start. “I still think about how great that moment was and how it’s time to do it all over again. I’m always using that as motivation to get back to Victory Lane.”

Wallace said his victory at Gateway was every bit as huge as his first at Martinsville. “I think the second one I like to say ‘reinstated’ the first one,” Wallace said. “You never want to be in this sport a ‘one-hit wonder’ and that’s it. You want to win multiple times to show the people and the naysayers that say you don’t belong or the negative things – you want to kind of shut them up. I don’t know if it did, but it made me feel good that it did for a little bit at least.

“For all that happened with the Wendell Scott family, it’s been an honor to be in a relationship with them and have that friendship with Wendell Scott Jr. He’s texting me every minute and getting mad when I don’t reply and thinking that I just sit there and stare at my phone all day. It’s so cool to have that friendship and relationship with the family because I’m carrying Wendell Scott’s torch down the road. To be able to do that and be successful and carry on his legacy and try to start off my career, it’s been fun and it’s been good.”

Ninth in series points, Wallace will be making his 29th career Truck Series start tonight in the No. 54 Made in America Toyota Tundra fielded by Cup regular Busch in conjunction with Joe Gibbs Racing. The 225-mile/150-lap event will be televised beginning at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) on FOX Sports 1 and broadcast by MRN on Sirius XM Channel 90.

“Our season finally started at Kansas Speedway,” said Wallace, alluding to his 15th-place result in the SFP 250 on the 1.5-mile oval in Race No. 3. “I feel really good about this season and think we can finish in the top-five and be a contender for the championship.

“You can tell when it’s getting later in the season when you’re only jumping up one or two spots after a win. It’s just tough, but that’s the biggest thing. Yeah, we won and got the first one out of the way and our second and third one of the year is going to come, but we’re not going to force the issue. I’m not going to force the issue _ if we’re a second-place truck then we’re going to finish second. We’re not going to go make it a first-place truck when we’re a fifth-place truck. We just have to take it as the dice is rolled and go have fun with it.”

Wallace’s team is led by crew chief Jerry Baxter and truck chief Chris Showalter. Wallace’s victory at Gateway marked a milestone for Showalter, who earned his 30th career NCWTS win and extended his streak of never missing a race since the series made its debut on Feb. 7, 1995 at Phoenix International Raceway.

Wallace’s win at Gateway also helped his manufacturer, Toyota, establish a new record for wins in the series. Dating back to last year when fellow-KBM driver Erik Jones won at Phoenix, a Tundra has visited Victory Lane nine consecutive times. Additionally, the win snapped a three-way series tie for most consecutive wins. The previous record was eight, originally set by Chevrolet in 1995 and matched by Dodge in 2001.

Toyota-backed teams have sprinted to an early lead in the race for the 2014 Manufacturer’s Championship, which it won with KBM last season. Toyota also claimed the Driver’s Championship in 2013 with series veteran Matt Crafton.

“Darrell has been very fast and I say that each and every race he’s learned,” said Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Menards Toyota fielded by ThorSport Racing. ”The beginning of the year (2013) he had speed and made mistakes; at the end of the year he definitely was finishing races. I’m sure this year they’re going to be one of the teams to run for the championship as well.”

Wallace finished eighth in the final 2013 Truck Series point standings and second in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year point race. One of nine African-Americans to have competed in the Truck Series since its debut in ‘95, Wallace also is the fourth driver of color to complete a full season in one of NASCAR’s three national touring series.

To get there, Wallace spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons competing for Revolution Racing as part of the D4D. NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity Driver Development Program supports drivers in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East. The program is designed to give minority and female drivers an opportunity to compete with a NASCAR team. Since its inception in 2004, the program has supported over 30 different drivers in NASCAR’s grassroots series.

As a D4D graduate, Wallace is a role model for any minority working his/her way through the ranks. But Bubba’s initial inspiration and work ethic were provided by parents Darrell Sr. and Desiree, who moved their young family from Mobile, Ala., to Concord, N.C., when Darrell Jr. was 2-years-old.

Darrell Sr. operates Wallace Industrial Technologies, a 14-year-old cleaning business in the busy Concord/Charlotte corridor that is NASCAR’s hub.

“My dad supported us through my racing career and my sister’s (Brittany) basketball career,” Darrell Jr. said. “We’re fortunate to have had that and see where he’s grown from moving up here on his own with nothing, to working multiple jobs, sleeping on an air mattress on a shop floor, breaking into a Coke machine as a refrigerator. And then creating his own business. My mom is the bookkeeper and does all the paper work. I’m so proud he’s supported our family for all these years.”

Darrell Sr. also is an avid motorcyclist whose enthusiasm for his bike stoked Darrell Jr.’s interest in go-karting at age 9. As a “kid of color” competing in karting, Bandoleros, Legends and Late Models, Wallace said he experienced some of the prejudices Scott certainly faced in a more racially divided South of 50 years ago.

“Of course,” Wallace said. “But for me it was when I was younger and really didn’t understand what it meant. My parents understood what it meant, and they said to go out there the next weekend and beat ‘em again. Just let the little stuff go and continue to do what I do.”

Wallace said it’s too early to judge the effect he and fellow-D4D alum Kyle Larson, an Asian-American now driving as a Cup rookie for team-owner Chip Ganassi, are having on minority NASCAR wannabes.

“Interest is growing a little bit, but it’s not going to change overnight. I know that,” Wallace said. “You hope it will change. I’ve got to keep doing what I do on the racetrack. If we can continue to get more eyes on the sport and a bigger audience, you don’t know how the demographics will change.

“At the end of the day, the talent that is picked has to come up through the ranks. You’ve got to have it. People behind the scenes have to give you the opportunity but you have to dig deep _ that’s how I look at it. You’ve got to continue to race your heart out.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 26 2014
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