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Bubba Wallace pushed NASCAR to make a change it didn’t have the courage to make five years ago and broadened the series’ reach in the process.
NASCAR wasn’t bold enough to ban fans from flying the Confederate flag at its tracks in the wake of a white supremacist’s mass murder in South Carolina in 2015. But as the United States had another racial justice reckoning in the summer of 2020, Wallace helped make sure that NASCAR issued that ban.
The series’ only black driver racing full-time said in a CNN interview on June 8 that NASCAR should bar fans from flying the flag. Wallace made those comments while privately involved in discussions regarding the topic and two days later, NASCAR officially issued the ban.
The ban came days after Wallace wore a shirt paying tribute to George Floyd ahead of a race at Atlanta and on the same day that Wallace drove a car supporting the Black Lives Matter movement at Martinsville. For a series that has long struggled to find participants who aren’t white males, the shifts were sudden. And welcome.
Wallace’s courage to speak out thrust him and NASCAR into the national spotlight surrounding sports and social change. And Wallace’s willing embrace of a social and racial justice platform helped net the sport its most significant team owner ever.
Earlier this fall, Michael Jordan announced that he was teaming with Denny Hamlin to co-own a new team with Wallace as its driver. Jordan, an icon who said he’d been a NASCAR fan his entire life, said in the statement announcing the team that the “timing seemed perfect” to join the series because “NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”
And without Wallace, that evolution doesn’t happen nearly as quickly.
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