Michael Jordan at centre of special piece of motorsport history

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·Sports Reporter
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Bubba Wallace became the first black driver to win a NASCAR Cup series race since 1963 this week. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace became the first black driver to win a NASCAR Cup series race since 1963 this week. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

American racing driver Bubba Wallace became just the second black driver to win a NASCAR Cup race overnight after a rain-affected race at the Talladega Superspeedway.

Wallace's victory, the first for a black driver since 1963, was hailed by many within the NASCAR community, with team part-owner, former NBA star Michael Jordan, getting in on the action.

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The 27-year-old managed to dodge a wreck and zoom into the lead during the rain affected race, making the race-winning overtake on eventual runner-up Brad Keselowski just five laps before the race was halted.

NASCAR officials spent 45 minutes attempting to dry the circuit to complete the race, but with light fading, Wallace's place in history was assured.

The win was all the more sweet after Wallace's controversial trip to the same venue 12 months earlier.

The race was spotlighted on NBC's “Nightly News” at the top of Monday's broadcast, illustrating how culturally important Wallace's win was for NASCAR, a predominately white sport with deep Southern roots and a longtime embrace of Confederate symbols.

As much as Wallace wanted the moment to be solely about his first career win, he couldn't ignore the significance.

In June 2020 at Talladega, NASCAR discovered a noose in the garage stall assigned to Wallace. The finding came just a week after NASCAR had banned the Confederate flag at its events at Wallace’s urging.

The FBI investigated and found that the noose was tied at the end of the garage door pull and had been there for months, meaning Wallace was not a victim of a hate crime. 

Still, the series rallied around him and stood in solidarity with Wallace at the front of the grid before the race.

Wallace has called the noose incident a low point and he’s been subjected to online harassment that last year even included a tweet from then-President Donald Trump that falsely accused Wallace of making up the noose. 

Although Wallace never saw the noose and was only told about it by NASCAR President Steve Phelps after the FBI had been summoned to investigate, he’s been accused by many in the public of orchestrating a hoax.

“It's definitely been tough going to some of the tracks this year, we get some of the most boos now,” Wallace said. 

“Everybody says as long as they're making noise that's fine, but you know, I get booed for different reasons and that's the tough thing to swallow. 

"I appreciate all those who were there doing the rain dance with us, pulling for us, supporting me my whole career, but especially those who have supported me with everything that's gone on the last 15-16 months.”

Bubba Wallace praised by Michael Jordan after making NASCAR history

The Wallace victory earned praise from rapper Big Sean, the University of Tennessee football team and Bill Lester, a Black driver who raced intermittently in NASCAR from 1999 through a Trucks Series start this season, among others.

“Finally, it’s official, you’ve done it!” Lester posted. 

“So proud of you and what you’ve accomplished. Your win moves the @NASCAR needle forward on so many fronts. Glad I was a witness.”

Wallace had been waiting atop his pit stand and celebrated wildly with his crew when the decision came. Wallace is in his first season driving for 23X1 Racing, a team owned by both Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

“I'm so happy for Bubba and our entire 23XI Racing team. This is a huge milestone and a historic win for us,” Jordan said in a tweeted statement. 

“From the day we signed him, I knew Bubba had the talent to win and Denny and I could not be more proud of him. Let's go!”

Wallace broke down in tears after he returned to his parked No. 23 Toyota, the car number picked for Jordan, who wore 23 in the NBA.

Bubba Wallace celebrates with his team after winning his first race at NASCAR Cup level, at the Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Bubba Wallace celebrates with his team after winning his first race at NASCAR Cup level, at the Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“This is for all the kids out there that want to have an opportunity and whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” Wallace said as he choked back tears. “You’re going to go through a lot of (BS). But you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you.

“Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. Been plenty of times when I wanted to give up.”

Team part-owner and Wallace's teammate, Denny Hamlin, said he was proud of what Wallace had achieved amid intense and often unfair criticism.

“They just are haters. That’s all you can really say about it,” said Hamlin.  

"I try to say to him, ‘Don’t get your motivation trying to prove haters wrong. Instead get your motivation from trying to do the people that support you proud.’"

With AP

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