MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Less than 24 hours after taking a historic first checkered flag in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Darrell Wallace Jr. was just starting to realize the magnitude of what he'd accomplished.
If he needed reminders, he only had to look to the left or right of him, as he was flanked Sunday morning at Martinsville Speedway by two sons of stock-car racing pioneer Wendell Scott, the only African-American driver to win a race in NASCAR's premier series. Franklin Scott, joining his brother Wendell Jr. in wearing powder-blue shirts and caps with their father's No. 34, was the first to suggest that Wallace had a bigger cheering section than he had thought.
"Well, when the checkered flag dropped," Franklin Scott said, "I heard a big boom from heaven, and my daddy said, 'Hell, yeah.' "
Wallace pulled away from the carnage behind him to score a convincing breakthrough victory in Saturday's Kroger 200, becoming the first black driver to prevail in a NASCAR national series race since 1963, the year Scott posted his only big-league win. It was the culmination of a season so far of near-misses, growth and finally, victory.
The triumph became the subject of national news, even outside the realm of sports, and accordingly Wallace had begun making the Sunday TV and radio talk-show rounds. Despite the accompanying media blitz and historic nature of his win, the 20-year-old tried to keep perspective.
"It hasn't hit me yet," Wallace said Sunday morning. "I think the only time it hit me was when I took the checkered, and then after that it still hasn't hit me. I guess tomorrow or whatever, it usually takes a couple days for a big win to settle in. It has been over a year since my last one. But it's been great seeing all the outlets that I'm on and doing all this stuff. It's for the better, and it's trying to change the sport, and I'm all in for that.
"Just carrying the torch that Wendell Scott laid down for us and taking it farther, and that's the biggest thing I'm trying to do. I don't really pay attention to all the media stuff and let that get to me and forget where I came from. That's not my type. I read through it, appreciate everybody for all the comments, but I've still got three races to go."
Even as Wallace looks forward to the end of his rookie season, he's allowed himself time to enjoy the moment and to reflect on his earliest days as a member of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, designed to help minorities and women break into the sport.
Wendell Scott Jr. talked about his days as a mentor and technical advisor for the program in 2008, when he was first sent to scout the young driver at Franklin County Speedway in Callaway, Va. He said he tried to "remain incognito" without contacting Wallace but dropped that idea after he heard the young driver's name on the lips of fans in the grandstands at just age 15.
Fast forward to last Saturday with Wallace leading late and in command. Wendell Scott Jr. said he felt the same rush of emotion that initially won him over five years earlier.
"So when he was running the race that he eventually won, my brother and I were texting back and forth, so we were saying, 'oh, Lord, watch so and so, watch so and so,' " Scott said. "He did a Kyle Busch restart. It was one of the most magnificent starts to win a race I've ever seen, and anybody that saw that race knows that this young man has only just begun.
"So from Callaway, Virginia, way back over in the woods somewhere, none of us could probably get back there without GPS -- but that's a great track, by the way -- but to now, to right now, and what daddy would really want to happen, it's a miracle. But miracles only happen when you participate in miracles, and this is a miracle sitting here. So what more can I say?"
While Wallace has been well-known to NASCAR insiders for some time now, non-sports media outlets are just now learning his name. But as Wallace makes the media rounds, he's quick to credit the Drive for Diversity program for not only the opportunity, but also for improving more than just his racing skills.
"Without that, I don't think I'd be sitting here," Wallace said. "I'd probably be in like photography now, so probably be doing something there or trying to pick back up a basketball or something. But definitely the racing side of it helped out, but the media side, the outside stuff away from racing definitely helped out 10 times more."
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