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Teen making history as 4th black driver in NASCAR
Wallace said the heckles and hurtful words from his formative years in the sport have been left on the side of the road and he can continue to focus on racing _ just this time on his biggest stage so far.
“I’d show up the next week and wear `em out again,” he said, smiling. “I really didn’t understand it. My dad got more fired up than anything.”
His father sparked a love of the sport when he was 9, putting him in go-karts, and always scouting out the next series. Darrell Wallace even bought a Legends car from Mark Martin. He attends every race and will be in the stands Friday night. His mother, Desiree, ran track at Tennessee and stays home to watch on TV (“She likes hearing what they say about me.”).
Mom did offer a piece of advice that has stuck with Wallace. Avoid confrontations with other drivers who used slurs. Just go win.
Wallace’s love and talent for the sport will mean nothing if he can’t find the right sponsor willing to fund his career. Sponsorship cash is the lifeblood of the sport.
His father has owned an industrial cleaning business since 1999 and pumped at least $1 million into his son’s fledgling career. He spent as much $250,000 in 2008. The elder Wallace paid bills late and borrowed money to keep his son’s career alive.
“He tried to do everything he could to keep me racing,” Wallace said.
It’s a path he expects to land him in the Sprint Cup series.
“I’m not ready for it next year. I’m not ready for it in two years,” he said. “It’s all about the timing. It’s all about how well I do this year.”
NASCAR has initiated several pushes toward boosting the number of minorities in the sport. There’s a Drive for Diversity program that may pay some dividends with Wallace and Kyle Larson after struggling to find racers for the top series. The program is 10 years old and was designed to attract minorities and women to the sport in all fields, from the track to the front office. Wallace participated in a short-lived reality show in 2010 called “Changing Lanes,” that featured 10 young female and minority racers competing for a spot on a developmental team.
Not even showbiz helped Wallace land the big-bucks sponsor needed to race in the second-tier series. Wallace ideally would have run in the Nationwide Series this season, but was unable to land enough sponsorship. He had three top-10 finishes and a pole in four Nationwide races in 2012.
Gibbs said Wallace is still slated for some Nationwide races.
“We’ve had a lot of other African-American drivers get in the sport, but they got in late,” Gibbs said. “It’s hard to get in late. You’ve got to start when you’re young and race your way up. I think Darrell’s got it.”
Wallace was busy balancing Daytona duties with media requests this week and was set to hold a press conference with Gibbs on Wednesday at the track.
“Darrell’s equipped to handle the attention,” said Marcus Jadotte, NASCAR’s vice president for public affairs and multicultural development. “Most importantly, he’s equipped to handle the competition on the race track.”
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