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Bubba Wallace: NASCAR Takes It To The Streets

Photo Credit:
Photo provided courtesy of NASCAR

As the call begins, Bubba’s already smiling and in good spirits. It’s a unique opportunity to take a peak behind the racer to find what drives him to give back to the communities he acknowledges have a love of the fast life but speed bumps and sometimes dead ends.

He’s more than a world class racer, Bubba is a trailblazer. We learned a bit about his journey to the Cup Series, his passion for partying with the people and making sure that he does his part to amplify the NASCAR mantra of, “we are one family”.

To some, his mixed ancestry may feel like low hanging fruit to talk about. African American athletes in white dominated sports often receive harsh criticism for talking about the politics of race and competitiveness. But there is one thing about Bubba everyone should know…he is proud of his family heritage; he is clear on how his identity is seen by the world and he is adamant about communicating to those who don’t see their own identities in the sport that each of them is welcomed and drives NASCAR forward faster.

“I intend to continue using my platform to welcome new faces from all backgrounds into NASCAR and our communities, a privilege I do not take lightly. All are welcome into this sport regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, age, or disability. It begins with a simple conversation. I invite you to move forward with compassion, love, and understanding,” he wrote on his instagram page reflecting and commemorating the most recent Juneteenth.

Wallace is very much a family man and also loves the outdoors. On any given day you can catch him fishing for marlins, taking a swing on a golf course or finding some peace of mind outside in nature, but beyond that Bubba knows how to pull up and throw a party!
Bubba's Block P)arty

The DuSable Black HIstory Museum and Education center (740 E 56th Place) is being transformed for Bubba’s Block Party. The first come first served family friendly four-hour event kicks off at 5PM and is expected to draw large crowds. Chicago Grammy award winning artist Lupe Fiasco will be performing. There will even be live pit stops, NASCAR iRacing, and activities for kids as young as 4. A food truck village will be serving fare from local Black owned businesses.
Picking the DuSable Museum was on purpose. Bubba flexed his Chicago history and admiration for Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, “he was the first settler and it is super cool to pay homage to him and bring this party here,” he shared.

“Since 2020 the Block Party really has been about exposing racing to new audiences and showing what life is like for us drivers and crew have to go through. We connect and show drills and pit stops to educate kids on the various opportunities besides driving,” said Bubba.

There are a number of career paths and opportunities in NASCAR and the curation of an event that is accessible geographically brings the sport of racing closer to home for those who may not have many opportunities to connect. Besides driver and pit crew jobs there are truck driving jobs for transport, engineering careers, race officiation, marketing, medical/nursing, photography and videography, marketing, social media and more. The organization's internship program is also a great chance for young adults to see if NASCAR is a fit for their talent and skill. While Bubba clearly has chosen his path he too took advantage of the organization's diversity initiatives to get himself to the heights of his successful career.

“I was able to be a part of NASCARs diversity program in 2010 and was exposed to the ins and outs of this sport and we even had a show on BET called Changing Lanes that was wildly successful. The program has since evolved and seeing how it is allowing for diverse drivers to be who they want to be and find themselves is super cool,” said Bubba.

Taking it to the Streets

As for the street race Wallace has been working on a simulator to prepare, “you gotta have a fresh mindset and be ready for the unexpected,” said Bubba who races for Michael Jordan, owner of 23XI racing team.

When asked about the difference between a traditional race track and a street race Bubba said jokingly, “if you live in downtown Chicago you drive on these streets to come see us on our race track. Essentially a street race you close down roads and build barricades to keep fans and drivers safe. On an oval race track you have a lot of left hand turns for 400 miles and with a street race you’re going over bridges, hitting curbs and everything is closed in.”
With the different visuals and space Bubba seems to be in the same space of learning about Chicago while some of Chicago is learning about him. For fans who are new their only relationship to racing may be the local horse tracks…” that is one horse power,” Bubba laughed “and we have like 650, we definitely have to get folks out to see a regular race after this one so they can see the differences,” Bubba finished.

The birth of the party came from Bubba’s reflection while working with NASCAR’s diversity leadership team. As an organization their diversity initiatives are quite purposeful. Bubba recalls the meeting that birthed the Block Party for the people. “I was on a call with the diversity leadership team and we were brainstorming ideas on how to trend forward. How do we not stay stagnant and do the same stuff. We had all these ideas and I thought about the people that don’t feel welcomed or safe at the races so why don’t we do something before the race with a block party type vibe,” shared Wallace.
The first race track Bubba thought of was Richmond because of the demographics of the community. His insight was spot on and about a year later Bubbas Block Party launched at the Richmond race track.

“So many people came up to me saying how they never thought they would step foot on a race track,” he said. That was the first step towards change welcoming them to have a good time. Surely Bubba can’t do this alone and preparing for a race is mentally and physically demanding. It is important to say that his crew and 23XI team is like family and the support he has received to ensure communities feel like they are just as important and NASCAR is for all takes a lot of love, compassion and willingness to learn about not just how communities are different but how we can connect on what makes us the same. We had a little fun with Bubba testing what kind of Chicagoan he is. When asked about our pizza, and was he a thin crust or deep dish kind of guy he chuckled, “aaaaah thin crust,” but quickly changed his tune, “c’mon now….definitely deep dish. The finale was if was rocking with the Sox or the Cubs and with a deep breath he committed……’yes….the Cubs.” Similar to the grounds he is hosting is firs Block Party in the Chi his pioneering spirit is that of a champion. We wish Bubba the best as he hits speeds of 200 mph and send all of NASCAR our best for bringing a historic race to the shores of Lake Michigan the city of “win”d.

Photo Credit:
Photo courtesy of NASCAR

About Author:

Dr. Mila Marshall is an environmental professional and journalist with a passion for advancing sustainability in all sectors. Her passion is directed towards urban food systems in segregated cities.



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