Bubba Wallace recounted taking a trip down memory lane in Mobile recently with his mother and his fiancé.
Actually, he admits, he didn’t remember it at all since he moved from there when he was 2.
“We were riding around town and my mom was like, ‘Hey, do you remember this McDonald’s? This is where we always used to go and play.’ I’m like, No, Mom, I don’t remember this at all.”
The tour continued, he said, with his mother pointing out another location in Mobile. Again, she asked if he remembered it.
“Nope,” he said. “I don’t remember this.”
These days, Wallace, who turns 28 today, remembers little about his time being born and living in Alabama. But Wallace will certainly never forget the state of his birth because it’s where he was reborn as the winner of a NASCAR Cup Series race.
On Monday, Wallace won the rain-shortened YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. That finish was his first win at the pinnacle of stockcar racing.
It also made him just the second African American to achieve that distinction. Wendell Scott took the checkered flag at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, on Dec. 1, 1963.
That success has altered Wallace’s life as little before. For one thing, it’s meant countless media appearances, like the one he shared Thursday via Zoom with media across Alabama, that have left him hoarse.
But three days since becoming a NASCAR Cup Series champion, Wallace said he wants to think he’s the same guy he was before. He said he was humbled as his team lost a kickball game this week.
“I was brought back down very quick,” he said. “But I think I’m the same person. I know this was huge for me and I’m happy with life right now. I said … in a couple of interviews if I was taken out today, I’m good because I won a Cup race. I can go be happy because I’ve got that on my resume.”
“I’m glad I beat Kurt to the punch,” he said. “Ever since we announced Kurt was coming over, I knew it’s like, ‘I gotta get the first one. You can get the second one.’”
Truth be told, Wallace wants the second one, too.
Wallace acknowledged having had down times in his career, times when the notion of quitting crept into his mind. He’s motivated, he said, by “having a job, knowing that you’re not getting fired.”
“Obviously, you’ve got to show up and go compete because that’s what you’re getting paid to do,” he said. “It’s not about the money or anything for me. It’s all about being successful. That’s as simple as that. Being successful means winning races, running up front, becoming a household name.”
Wallace became a household name in 2020 for what he did off the track. The only Black driver on NASCAR’s top tier, he spoke out, saying in an interview with CNN that the Confederate flag should not be flown at races because it represents hate, not heritage.
He also drew attention for wearing a shirt with “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” on the front.
“Everything that went on last year, I became the biggest name in the sport,” Wallace said.
The driver positioned his hands to show how much more attention his off-track activity attracted than his on-track performance.
“Now, with Monday, I may have brought it up to here,” he said. “I’ll take that. It’s a big jump, but I’ve still got some room to go. Just trying to continue to be successful on the race track … will carry over to off-the-track stuff.”
While Wallace celebrated his win Monday and his birthday Friday, Oct. 8, he’s had to move on to prepare for the next race.
“It’s a process. It’s a never-ending process,” he said. “We’ll just go on, enjoy right now, enjoy talking to you guys, live out this win a little bit more. I’ve got till Sunday, to where potentially I could become a loser again. Right now, I’m a winner.”
Wallace said he subconsciously knows that he gets to push a reset button every weekend as he turns his attention to the next race. This week, the next race is the Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course in Concord, North Carolina
“You never know when it could be your opportunity,” Wallace said. “You always have to be there, ready to go, no matter how tough the week was before. You put that behind you and you show back up and you get ready to work again.
“If we go back and win on Sunday, I’ll be glad to do it all over again,” he said of the added media requests for his time. “I’ll just be really tired if we do that, but that’s part of the process.”