Firsts Were A First on Crazy Talladega Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 5 2021

Bubba Wallace became a first-time Cup Series winner at Talladega on Monday. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Ever since Talladega Superspeedway opened in 1969 the only thing that has been predictable about the track is its unpredictability. Never has that been more evident than in NASCAR’s most recent race weekend at the 2.66-mile facility.

Bubba Wallace’s victory Monday in the rain-delayed YellaWood 500 completed the historical first-time winner sweep. There have been many first-time winners at the Alabama track, but this was the first time all three of NASCAR’s national touring series had produced first-time victors on the same weekend at the same track.

Joining Wallace in the remarkable weekend were Brandon Brown in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and Tate Fogleman in the Camping World Truck Series.   

However, the victories signaled much more than simply a statistic. They marked the moment childhood dreams became reality, small family teams succeeded in an era of multi-million dollar organizations, and often cruel adversity that had attempted to thwart a person’s career had been defeated. 

All three drivers share Southern roots, a region where stock car racing was born. Wallace was born in Mobile, Ala., Brown in Woodbridge, Va., and Fogleman in Durham, N.C. All three are in their 20s with Fogleman the youngest at age 21. Wallace’s victory came just four days before his 28th birthday, while Brown celebrated his 28th last month. 

The post-race interviews focused more on the drivers’ emotions and the struggles they had faced than moves on the race track. 

Wallace’s victory, the first by an African-American since 1963, came at the same track where 16 months ago NASCAR and the FBI launched an investigation into a rope fashioned in the shape of a noose in Wallace’s garage. It later was determined the rope used to raise-and-lower the garage bay’s door had been tied in that manner at the previous race when it wasn’t Wallace’s garage stall. However, the continued hateful and derogatory comments directed at Wallace have resulted in his departure from his main social media pages. Now, instead of fretting over social media he goes out and enjoys life.

“In high school I was always worried about what other people thought of me,” Wallace said after the race that was called 71 laps shy of its scheduled distance due to rain. “I finally let that go once I kind of graduated, matured a little bit.”

It’s been four years since Wallace’s last NASCAR victory, a truck series race at Michigan. The driver for the first-year 23XI Racing team co-owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin has endured sleepless nights. He’s also talked with professionals to help him stay focused and listened to his family. His fiancée Amanda pushes him.

“I go into some of these races and I just have a negative attitude,” Wallace said. “She rips me in the ass to get in shape and to show up with some positivity.”

Wallace noted his mother knows how hard her son is on himself.

“She is always sending me positive encouragement, scriptures, is just always holding that positive light,” Wallace said. “Even though she knows it could be no good outcome, she’s always there for that support system.”

Not only was it Wallace’s and 23XI Racing’s first Cup victory, but crew chief Bootie Barker’s as well. The 50-year-old Halifax, Va., native has been with the team the entire year as an engineer. However, he wasn’t elevated to crew chief until last month, the first time he has served in that position since 2017 at Germain Racing with Ty Dillon.  

 In the Xfinity Series, Brown’s family-owned operation missed the playoffs this year after making them last season, but that didn’t dampen the Coastal Carolina University graduate’s spirits or his dream of winning a NASCAR national touring series race – a dream he had possessed since he was 9 years old. Brown admitted his first victory in 115 Xfinity races produced surreal emotions and he hoped it would be the beginning of a “big upswing” for his team. Even though the Xfinity race was cut six laps short of its scheduled 113-lap distance due to darkness, the memory Brown said he will cherish forever was “hugging my dad in victory lane.”   

Fogleman, who once figured he would race super late models on short tracks for the rest of his life, learned of his victory via the radio while riding in the ambulance to the infield care center. The High Point University business major moved John Hunter Nemechek out of his way as they streaked to the checkered flag, then collided with Tyler Hill at the finish line and slammed into the inside wall. It marked the first time he’d ever finished a superspeedway race and his first top-10 on an asphalt track in the truck series. The final lap also was only the second one he’d ever led in a NASCAR national touring series event. 

Fogleman described the finish as a “story I can tell for the rest of my life”; a statement that easily applies to all three NASCAR drivers.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 5 2021
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