Bubba Wallace Ready For Spotlight As NASCAR Season Begins
Bubba Wallace this season becomes the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' first full-time black driver since '73, and he knows that the "interviews, photo shoots, [and] TV spots" crammed into his pre-Daytona schedule "make him the busiest of his fellow NASCAR millennials," according to Ryan McGee of ESPN THE MAGAZINE.But Wallace and team owner Richard Petty also "know their partnership will ultimately be judged by results" and "so does NASCAR." Wallace said, “I’m the only one that’s here. NASCAR is, I wouldn’t say desperate, but they’re looking for a new face. They’re getting a new face behind the wheel, but it’s the same face in the stands. We have a great fan base, and they want to continue to grow that. They’re not trying to change that fan base. They want to just bring a bigger impact to the outsiders that are looking in.” McGee cited data from NASCAR that shows over the past three seasons, the "minority slice of its fan base has grown" from 20% to 24%. NASCAR Exec VP Steve Phelps said execs "don’t know for sure" how much of that growth can be attributed solely to Wallace. Phelps said of Wallace, "We know how much he cares about that. We know he works very hard at that. So to give him some credit for that seems like a safe assumption.” But Phelps added, “It’s not enough just to be there. Look at Danica Patrick. There comes a point where you have to win" (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 2/19 issue).
ATHLETE IN ACTION: In Charlotte, Brendan Marks profiles Wallace, who is "not at all shy about his status as the only black driver in a predominantly white sport." But while Wallace’s ethnicity "might be what so many in the media are focusing on," he would "rather be known" for racing. While Wallace "understands why the mainstream media are tuning in to him, and he understands how historic his arrival is, he also isn’t letting that distract him." Wallace: "I’m looking forward to it, to be able to represent the black culture ... but I’m doing my best at managing it, keeping it behind me, and that’s the best thing I can do" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/16). In Daytona Beach, Godwin Kelly noted Wallace is "part of the youth wave sweeping over" the Cup Series. Wallace said that he is "ready for the bad and good days, the ups and downs common in Cup Racing." He said, “We’ve seen people get out of the sport and a lot of new faces coming in. It’s fun to be carrying that banner” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/13).
REALITY STAR: VARIETY's Todd Spangler noted Facebook Watch "inked a deal with NASCAR" for an "eight-episode docu-series" about Wallace. The first episode of “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace” was posted yesterday and two episodes will air daily through Saturday. The final two episodes "will be available after the Daytona 500 next week." Facebook is "paying NASCAR for rights to distribute the series." The series was "produced by NASCAR Productions in association with NASCAR Digital Media" (VARIETY.com, 2/13). Wallace said filming was "stressful." Wallace: "Having the cameras on you 24/7 and always capturing everything you do, it's stressful to be able to manage that as well has been kind of tough and knowing when to say enough is enough and also that we need to capture something because it's going to be good content" ("NASCAR Race Hub," FS1, 2/14). Wallace said, "It will be a fun series to watch, that’s for sure.” But he adds, “I’m not here to be a TV star. I’m here to race cars” (USA TODAY, 2/15). Hornets G Malik Monk will appear in the third episode of the Facebook Watch series. It features Monk at Wallace's shop talking racing followed by Wallace on the basketball court working on his game with Monk (THE DAILY).