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NASCAR’s Bubba Wallace Talks Leadership, Social Injustice and Urban Outfitters Deal

Rosemary Feitelberg
·8 mins read

NASCAR racer Darrell “Bubba” Wallace has fans on and off the racetrack, due largely to his outspokenness about social injustice and his message of compassion and understanding.

Urban Outfitters is among the increasing list of companies that have joined forces with Wallace, the only African American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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In his third season competing for Richard Petty Motorsports in June, he called for NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its races. Two days later, NASCAR agreed to ban that flag at its races, events and properties. In July, an item that was initially believed to be a noose was found in his Talladega Superspeedway garage stall. A FBI investigation later determined that a hate crime was not committed against Wallace and that the item was a garage door pull that had been there as early as last fall.

In recent months, Wallace has been speaking out about social injustice. Through his Live to Be Different Foundation, he supports disadvantaged individuals and those in need of a second chance with educational, social or socioeconomic situations. Now Urban Outfitters is stepping up to support Wallace’s foundation. Ahead of the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, Urban Outfitters is introducing two exclusive Wallace-inspired race T-shirts with a $100,000 donation to his foundation through sales of the shirts. The two limited-run designs will be sold via Urban Outfitters’ site and at select stores.

As for what people might learn from what he experienced, the six-time NASCAR National series winner said, “You can always learn what to do, what not to do, and how to do better every day. After all the interviews I’ve done, you always sit back and question, ‘Did I say the right thing? Did I mean it in the right way?‘ Try to have a better understanding for what you’re trying to say and make sure it comes across in the direction you’re trying to make and the point that you’re trying to make.”

He continued, “Just [having] people take the time to step back, practice patience, understanding more, educate themselves and to go out to deliver on the tough topics and subjects that we have to deal with in today’s world.”

Addressing why it has taken so long to have this nationwide movement for racial equality and social justice, Wallace said, “I think it’s as simple as, ‘Enough is enough.’ We’re tired of seeing our brothers and sisters being gunned down in the streets, and everything that goes on with that. It’s tough to watch. We see another video of Jacob Blake being shot seven times in the back [by police officers in Kenosha, Wis., last month]. Praise God that he’s still here to tell his story. Hopefully, he recovers in the best way that he can. Obviously, seeing that and hearing that is definitely tough.”

That said, we have to set ourselves up, Wallace said. “I’m already thinking about my kids — the next generation coming up the route, what they have to go through and what we need to do to make this a better place for them.”

Through his work with Urban Outfitters and brands such as Columbia Sportswear, which signed a multiyear sponsorship deal with Wallace and Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, there is the potential to educate people. “We are all coming together and we see this as an opportunity to create change in the areas that need it most. A lot of people already knew that NASCAR needed to change. You’re starting to see that. I’ve kind of been on the forefront of the leadership side of things and brands want to be associated with that. This doesn’t really have much to do with things that go on on the racetrack. It’s more about off the racetrack and how we carry ourselves as human beings as a society to make the world a better place — to practice, love, compassion and understanding, and to create equal opportunities for everybody.”

He continued, “We have to all guide our local communities in the places where they don’t feel that they’re welcomed or they don’t feel very important. We have to show them that they’re just as important as anybody. It doesn’t matter what gender, what race, what socioeconomic status that you come from. Everybody is made different but we are all the same, as crazy as that is.”

Asked if the responsibility of unifying people falls to athletes, since many feel there is a lack of leadership on different levels, Wallace said, “It’s definitely a tough subject to touch on just because the way our sport is structured, it takes a lot of money to be successful in our sport. Having said that and stepping up and putting yourself out there to topics that some companies don’t want to touch, which I don’t necessarily think is right, that makes it harder and tough for people to speak out on. For me, it was simply stepping away from the partnership side of things and the sponsorship side of things and just stepping up for what I, Bubba Wallace, thought was right. Now we’re seeing partners want to be part of that change as well. It takes a lot. It takes a lot of courage and wisdom for everybody to come together. It takes a lot of hard work.”

As for how a number of people who are trying to solve the problem of racism can do that if they have never experienced it, Wallace said, “That’s tough. For them to speak up, ask questions, and educate themselves to have a better understanding. That’s where it goes back to the education part — and have them have a better understanding. While you might not go through it, at least try to understand and put yourselves in your brothers’ and sisters’ shoes.”

The world of sports is watched by millions but the veneer of fame can require a closer look. Wallace said, “A lot of people think of an athlete as somebody who is above all the rest. While there are some people out there that carry on that title, I try not to. I try my hardest to be relatable, to be down-to-earth and to show people, ‘Hey, I go through the same things that you all do, no matter where I come from, what I have, what I don’t have.’ That doesn’t change the fact that we’re still human. I have always tried to carry that attitude about me.”

Non-NASCAR fans might be surprised to learn what Wallace’s job entails. “It’s not all about turning left. There’s a lot of strategy to it. It’s a very intricate sport. Once you kind of get your feet wet sitting in the stands, maybe get a hot pit pass. Come down to the pit and see the pit stops up close and personal,” Wallace said.

Many of the pit crew members are retired pro athletes who are switching over their careers and their livelihoods to come compete and show off their skills, Wallace said. “They’re switching tires, adding fuel and making adjustments all within 11 or 12 seconds. That’s insane,” he said. “As much as there’s a driving aspect to it, there’s a team aspect to it. It takes a team to win races. To see all that stuff in action is really remarkable.”

To that end, Wallace’s team consists of 40 to 45 employees. While that’s on the smaller side, there are smaller teams, he said. “But we go up against big teams that have 400 to 500 employees.”

Thanks to happenstance, Wallace inadvertently discovered at the age of nine what would later become a career course by watching a family friend race go-carts. Sitting there in the stands, his father asked, “Hey, do you want to try this? Is this something that you would want to do?” “I was like, ‘Why not?’ So we went out and bought a go-cart the next weekend. And 17 years later — here we are.”

Competing on the racetrack in the No. 43 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace reaches speeds of about 200 m.p.h. Driving on the highway, however, he leans toward 7 m.p.h. over the speed limit. “My dad always taught me to go seven over. Seven over, and you’ll have no problems. That’s pretty true. I haven’t had any problems.”

In addition to the alliance with Urban Outfitters, “which means a lot to the foundation,” Wallace signed a deal with Columbia Sportswear. “Columbia has kind of taken over the game, having them be on the car and doing some personal stuff. It’s been really cool.”

Noting how he and his girlfriend have always enjoyed going hiking, skiing and other outdoor activities, the 26-year-old said his girlfriend had a Columbia jacket since before college and she recommended the brand. “Three or four years ago I bought a nice Columbia ski jacket and I’ve loved it ever since. To see it now as a brand that is associated with me — that had nothing to do with that jacket…it’s funny how it comes around tenfold,” he said. “It’s cool to be repping them. I just sent them a huge order of gear to have throughout the year so I’m excited about that.”

Having always been “a Nike shoe guy,” Wallace said Columbia is now in the rotation, too. “Currently, I have house shoes on, which are super comfortable. I usually don’t take these things off very much, especially when I’m at home. So it’s either house shoes, Columbia gear or Nikes.”