The hard part wasn't dodging his way around a crash and then driving to the front of the field at Talladega Superspeedway. That was just instinct for Bubba Wallace. The challenge was the 45 minutes after Wallace took the lead, when the sky opened and he anxiously sat in the rain—hoping, wishing, praying—that NASCAR would call off Monday's rescheduled race and declare him the winner. With a crowd gathered behind his pit stand chanting its support—one man told his 6-year-old son, clad in a Wallace shirt and jumping up and down along the fence, that he was “witnessing history”—NASCAR pulled the plug and Wallace became just the second Black driver to win a race at the Cup Series level, the AP reports.
“Got some credibility to my name now,” said Wallace, a first-time Cup winner in his 143 starts. “I'm just like, ‘Finally, I’m a winner and I'm a winner in the Cup level,' and it's just like ‘Hell yeah!’ It was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders." This was so much more than just a first win. Wallace is the first Black driver to win at the top level of the elite stock car series since Wendell Scott in 1963, a race where he wasn’t declared the victor until long after Buck Baker had already been rewarded the trophy. NASCAR at last presented Scott’s family with his trophy from that race two months ago.
The Wallace victory earned praise from Scott's family, rapper Big Sean, the University of Tennessee football team and Bill Lester, a Black driver who raced intermittently in NASCAR from 1999 through a Trucks Series start this season, among others. The race was spotlighted on NBC's Nightly News at the top of Monday's broadcast, illustrating how culturally important Wallace's win was for NASCAR, a predominately white sport with deep Southern roots and a longtime embrace of Confederate symbols. (Much more on the race here, as well as Wallace and his fellow drivers' reaction to the "haters.")