by Edward Rice, III
Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Watts Times
At the age of 20, Darrell Wallace Jr. has only been licensed to drive in his home state of North Carolina for four years. However, he’s been racing cars since he was nine years old. Like most adolescents, Wallace put pedal to the metal long before he ever set foot in a DMV, since technically racing doesn’t require a driver’s license. Now, with more than ten years of racing experience under his belt, Wallace could easily be mistaken for pro and ironically this young driver has barely scratched the surface of his greatness.
This past weekend, Wallace hinted at his greatness and simultaneously launched himself into the history books with a win at NASCAR’s Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. His victory made him the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race since Wendell Scott accomplished the feat 50 years prior in 1963. And according to the 2011 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, he had some heavenly assistance from Wendell. “He (Wendell Scott) was watching over me this race. It all goes to him,” exclaimed Wallace on Saturday. “It will take me to tomorrow to think about everything that is set in place, but to be the first since him—it’s outstanding.”
Last Saturday’s win is a long way from the days Wallace raced go-carts with his dad when he was 9 years old, but it was that experience that sparked his initial interest in racing. “My dad bought a Harley-Davidson and he wanted to make it look good and get it all fixed up,” he explained through a heavy southern drawl. “A friend of ours, the guy that did it for us, he raced go-carts and we became really good friends and he invited us out to one of his races one year. We went out and watched and got hooked and the next thing you know, the next weekend, we were racing go-carts.”
After four years of racing go-carts, Wallace was ready to move on to bigger things and by the age of 13, he had transitioned into racing full model vehicles. Currently, he is in his rookie season driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports on the truck circuit. He is the fourth full-time black driver in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t call myself a professional, I’m just a kid that likes to go out there and race,” Wallace says humbly. But with over 100 wins and with Saturday’s win, people are taking notice. “You know we’ve seen great things out of Darrell this year and he’s really come a long ways throughout the season,” claims Kyle Busch, owner Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Saturday’s win was not only a huge win for Wallace but it’s also a win for NASCAR. “NASCAR’s initiative these days is to change the sport, for the better and try to bring in a new face—no matter if it’s the younger generation, people of color: African-Americans, Hispanics, women, anything—it doesn’t matter,” explains Wallace. “They’re trying to change it all and make it more diverse. You can watch a football game and see all walks of life there; racing is a southern sport and you know it’s a predominately white sport and we’re trying to change that. So by me going out there and winning races and running up front, that attracts new faces to the sport and that’s a key goal of mine.”
By his own estimates Wallace is about three to four years away from the Sprint Cup series races such as Indianapolis, Daytona and Talladega. On the other hand, if he keeps his current pace, he is far closer to winning many new fans and broadening racing’s audience in the not so distant future.