Darrell Waltrip, a retired three-time NASCAR Cup series champion, said performance is crucial for everyone in NASCAR, but that it is especially important for Wallace, who wants to use his stardom to make an impact outside of the sport.
“I don’t care who you are or what you’re talking about,” Waltrip said, “If you want people to keep listening to you, you have to to run up front with the big boys and can’t just be in the middle of the pack. You’ve got to perform to have any credibility in any sport.”
That burden, Wallace said, has only grown heavier as his life has grown more complicated.
Last year, he admitted publicly that he has battled depression for many years. Desiree Wallace said her son was especially bothered in 2016 when she and Darrell Sr. separated and later divorced. The parting was acrimonious, she said, and Bubba Wallace’s relationship with his father has been rocky since then.
Part of the reason for his tears after he finished second in the Daytona 500 in 2018, Desiree Wallace said, was that Bubba’s father wasn’t celebrating with them at the track. That finish is still his best result in the top series.
While Wallace has been mindful, he said, of upsetting current and potential sponsors, his perspective changed last month, when one of his cousins shared the video of Arbery’s killing on Instagram.
Wallace said he stayed up that night to watch the video again and again. The idea seared into his brain, he said, that a black man, one who was just about his age, could be gunned down on a jog by white people who appeared to hunt him. He said he can still hear the gunshots in his head.
The death broke his heart, he said, and opened his mind to the urgency of fighting for racial justice.