The headline at Sunday’s Daytona 500 was that Austin Dillon drove the No. 3 car back into victory lane, much like Dale Earnhardt did so many years ago.
But the story that may have larger ramifications is the performance of Darrell “Bubba” Wallace.
NASCAR’s first full-time black driver in 47 years started his day with a phone call from baseball legend Hank Aaron.
“Yeah, he just said, hey, good luck, and just have a good race today, and that was it,” Wallace said. “He knew that we were pressed for time, and it was five seconds, and that’s all he said. That was really cool. So when Murstein came up to me and said, hey, Hank Aaron is on the line, I’m like, ‘What? That’s awesome.’ So I was pretty excited about that.”
“Hank wanted to wish Bubba good luck. He said, ‘From one Mobile son to another, always believe in your dreams and anything is possible.'”
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) February 18, 2018
While that alone would have made for a memorable day for Wallace, he made it even more memorable by finishing second, the best finish by an African-American in the history of the Great American Race.
A historic day, and an emotional one as well.
“I’m so proud of you,” Wallace’s mother, Desiree, told him after the race. “We’ve waited so long. So long.”
“You’re acting like we just won the race,” the driver told his mother.
“We did,” Desiree Wallace replied. “We did. We did win that race.”
“Dang it, mom,” Bubba Wallace said.
Speaking to reporters after the race, Wallace had trouble containing his emotions.
“It’s a sensitive subject,” Wallace said. “But I’m just so emotional over where my family has been the last two years, and I don’t talk about it, but it’s just so hard, and so having them here to support me is …”
Wallace then paused and told himself not to get emotional again.
“Pull it together, bud. Pull it together,” Wallace said. “You just finished second. It’s awesome. I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to make them proud. Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day.
“But yeah, I just love my family and having everybody here from my mom, my sister, my uncle, everybody here just means a lot.”
Obviously, Wallace’s performance was great, but the way he dealt with all of the attention that came his way was just as impressive to some of the sport’s biggest names.
Congrats to @BubbaWallace on finishing an impressive 2nd place today. Bubba carried a ton of weight on his shoulders the last 10 days. Media responsibilities that smothered him personally. But he handled it like a veteran.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 18, 2018
— Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) February 19, 2018
— Kenny Wallace (@Kenny_Wallace) February 18, 2018
Bubba had quite the weekend, and he knew exactly how to cap it off.
It just felt right to stop by DEI on the way home… #3
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) February 19, 2018
You can be sure there will be a lot of eyes checking out how Wallace follows up Sunday’s performance when he goes behind the wheel next week in Atlanta.
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