NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace thought the shirt might be a ‘career ender’; Now, it’s been requested by the Smithsonian Art Museum
George Floyd was killed by police on May 25, 2020 as they stood on his neck while he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.” The plea became a slogan in protests across country.
About two weeks later, NASCAR rolled into Atlanta Motor Speedway. Bubba Wallace appeared on the grid with a Black Lives Matter shirt that read, “I can’t breathe.”
Wallace reflects on the decision to wear the shirt via the NBC interview below, “I may piss off a lot of people. I may piss off The King, RPM as a family. This might be a career ender here.”
“But, at the same time and not in a disrespectful way, I didn’t care. This was much bigger than NASCAR.”
“I’m like, ‘Just so you guys know, this is what I’m wearing.’ Everybody was like, ‘Awesome.’ I was like, ‘Sweet. Got that elephant out of the room.’ “
Due to the pandemic, NASCAR’s Spring race in Atlanta was pushed back into one of the hottest months of the Summer. After the race, Bubba Wallace passed out, twice.
Wallace recalled, “I didn’t even prep physically for that race. I don’t even know if I had a meal before the race.”
The shirt that Bubba Wallace wore that day in Atlanta has now been requested by the Smithsonian Art Museum.
Wallace added, “It’s really cool to play a small part in history.”
In the weeks that followed
Bubba Wallace continued to use is voice to encourage change. Not just in society but also within the NASCAR world.
Wallace went on CNN where he spoke on social issues. During the course of the interview, the drivers stated that NASCAR needed to take the next step by banning the Confederate flag.
In years prior, NASCAR had already taken steps to discourage use of the flag at their tracks. But, they responded to Wallace’s encouragement with an outright ban of the flag at all tracks and properties that host NASCAR events.
Southern based fans were in an uproar. Days after NASCAR made that decision, Wallace entered the grid at Martinsville Speedway with a ‘Black Lives Matter’ livery on his race car.
Suddenly, Kyle Busch was no longer the most hated NASCAR driver in the field.
Sons of the Confederate began a campaign against NASCAR. They flew a plane above Talladega Superspeedway with the phrase ‘Defund NASCAR’ on a banner. The same plane later flew over Bristol Motor Speedway.
A noose was discovered at Sonoma Raceway.
The next day, a second noose was discovered in the garage stall for Bubba Wallace. The FBI was called to the scene. Their investigation determined no hate crime was committed as the garage pull had been tied in a noose, dating back to 2019.
NASCAR fans called “Hoax” and the President of the United States also spoke out on the issue. Bubba Wallace became a household name as he went under attack.
Bubba Wallace signs with 23XI Racing
At the same time, sponsors began to roll in. Door Dash and Cash App both entered NASCAR for the first time to support Bubba Wallace.
Toward the end of the year, Bubba Wallace had options. Richard Petty Motorsports offered Wallace an ownership role to encourage him to renew the contract.
However, Wallace elected to surprise the world instead. He signed with 23XI Racing, a new dream team put together by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.
“Denny calls me, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing.’ He said, ‘Here’s someone that wants to talk to you.’ “
Michael Jordan picks up the phone and says, “Hey man, if we do this deal, there’s no more running in the back.”
Wallace added, “I mean, it sounded like a joke but he’s serious.”
23XI Racing is a very well funded startup operation. They have backing from Toyota, Dr Pepper, McDonalds, Columbia Sportswear, Door Dash and Root Insurance.
An alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing has been formed. The No. 23 car will be the best equipment that Wallace has ever raced at the NASCAR Cup Series level.
As the deal came together, Hamlin also talked to Wallace and said, “If something ain’t right, you come to me. It’s not going to be the four JGR cars and then you. We’re all in the same household.”
Wallace added, “It’s been cool watching his vision. Denny’s got a wild imagination. It will be interesting, competing against him.”
“I obviously became the biggest household name, off the race track. But, the on-track is, no stats. Bridging that gap, getting it to where it’s level.”
Wallace concluded, “Here is the big break that we’ve been wanting for so long. I’m more motivated than I ever have been, just to shut people up.”