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Bubba Wallace Talks Racism, NASCAR, And Being A Metalhead

Illustration for article titled Bubba Wallace Talks Racism, NASCAR, And Being A Metalhead
Photo: Getty Images (Getty Images)

“Did I ever look around and think, Dang, there’s not a lot of black and brown people around me at the track?” Bubba Wallace writes in a new post about racism in his life and in NASCAR, the noose hung in his garage. “Nah.”

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A few weeks back, Bubba Wallace spoke out against confederate flags showing up at NASCAR races, where he is the only Black driver. It wasn’t long before every racist in the country was tripping over themselves to talk shit about what he was saying, including our racist-in-chief.

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Here is the blog, Come Ride With Me, that I encourage you to read in full.

I’ll pull a few bits from it, because it’s worthwhile in understanding the environment of NASCAR beyond the public gestures and the horrible track record for diversity.

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It’s nice to have a moment to hear Wallace in his own words. Our last interview with a Black crew member was done with NASCAR PR refusing to leave our presence, trying to guide the conversation.

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In Wallace’s blog, he talks about that he didn’t ask for this shit:

I never thought I’d be the reason for a national media debate about the Confederate flag. I never thought I would put BLACK LIVES MATTER on my car. And I never thought I would be at the center of a national conversation about race and sports.

Then … everything in the world just shifted. And I became that guy, for better or for worse. And I’m learning to embrace it.

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He notes that he’s a metalhead:

I’m not much of a reader, that’s for sure. Words don’t stick with me. But music does. And after I saw that video of George Floyd, I thought of this song that I’ve been listening to over and over ever since.

I’m a big heavy metal-screamo guy. That stuff that you’ve probably heard once and been like, What are they even saying? That’s my genre. It might seem crazy, but the heavier it sounds, the more calming and soothing it is for me. That’s when it really resonates and makes me feel at peace. I love lonely rides on my motorcycle and just listening to music. I love them so much that I watch the weather obsessively so I never miss a chance to take my bike out on a sunny day. When I’m on a quiet road, I just let the music take me to a place where I don’t have to think.

But this song I’m talking about is different. I actually listen to it to help me think. It came out a few years ago and talks about social injustice and racial inequality in America. It says things I just can’t put into words myself.

It’s by the band Silent Planet. And it’s called “No Place to Breathe.”

The drums, the guitars — everything — just accent the powerful lyrics:

Place your hands to the pulse of this city, keep your ear to the ground, hear him gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?

Make every breath a protest in a world where your neighbors cannot breathe.

He also talks about how he didn’t come into NASCAR thinking about race, but he’s coming to understand it. Later in the blog he talks about having a cop approach him in a traffic stop with a gun drawn, for instance, and talks about his mother telling him about people throwing rocks at her bus as she went to track meets.

It’s been quite the journey, a lot of ups and downs. A lot more downs than ups, that’s for sure, but that’s the way the sport goes.

Did I ever look around and think, Dang, there’s not a lot of black and brown people around me at the track?

Nah.

To be honest, I never even looked at it like that. I just went out and did my job, got back on the road and went home, step and repeat. It was something I didn’t pay much attention to. It was just like, Hey, how many people are in the field tonight? Ten? Alright, let’s go beat ’em.

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This is sweet, and a nice reminder that race car drivers are all alike: Monomaniacally obsessed with winning over all other things.

And he talked about the noose:

I’ll say this. Having been in garage stalls on a regular day, hell, you don’t notice those types of things. There’s so much action going on when you’re in the garage, usually. And even for me, just standing there, when I climb out of the car and watch my guys work for a minute, I’m not looking at a damn rope that’s hanging from the garage door. And so, whoever tied it, tied it and left it there, and that was it. And moved on. We’re only at Talladega twice a year. And so, the reason that it sat there is because that was the first time the garage had been used since October.

It’s not something that necessarily stands out unless you’re absolutely looking for it. Because yeah, you assume, Oh there’s a rope hanging there. It’s a garage pull, O.K. But with everyone hanging around, someone finally had an opportunity to notice something weird about that particular pull. Like, Whoa, wait a minute, this one is tied like a noose. Alright, now that changes things.

Of course, I’m frustrated. The minute I spoke out about removing the Confederate flag from NASCAR, I knew I was putting a target on my back. That certain people would be looking for any little thing to discredit me, no matter the facts.

But still, I don’t hold any regrets about being vocal on it.

Again, the whole blog is worth reading. It’s a good account of someone feeling like there was nothing they could do but do the right thing, even though it sucks, which is nicer than hearing the whining of the racists standing against him.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

jimal
Just wear your damn mask...

I have mixed feelings about Bubba Wallace. Before he became the face of the diversity challenges in NASCAR, he said and did a variety of dopey things. Rage-quitting the sim-racing series, saying that there was a “they” out there that was hoping that NASCAR’s re-start would fail, and the like. Take the opening statement of this article:

“Did I ever look around and think, Dang, there’s not a lot of black and brown people around me at the track?” Bubba Wallace writes in a new post about racism in his life and in NASCAR, the noose hung in his garage. “Nah.”

He is a product of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program, which was established to give non-traditional (non-white, non-male) drivers an opportunity they might not otherwise get. How was he in that program but never gave any thought as to why?