Before he finished second in the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace thought his time behind the wheel was coming to an end. At the ripe age of 24, Wallace thought he was finished with racing as a result of financial problems within Roush Fenway Racing.
“That was tough,” Wallace says. “It was tough to be able to go through and not know what was going to happen for next year. It was just always up in the air in terms of ‘What do I have to do to get a ride?’ and ‘What ride is going to become available?’ So it was a lot of questioning myself, was I even going to race anymore. It went on for a couple weeks if not months. Just trying to figure out what the hell is next, I had no idea.”
Wallace faced a crossroads in his fledgling career, which began when he was a teenager. Wallace was discovered by Wendell Scott Jr., whose father, Wendell Scott, who prior to Wallace was the only full-time African-American driver. NASCAR asked if the younger Scott would make the trip to Callaway, Va. to scout Wallace, who was racing that week.
Scott decided to go to the track unannounced so Wallace wouldn’t feel any additional pressure. But prior to the race, Scott decided to introduce himself to Wallace, offering advice for the young racer about how to handle himself on the track that day. As Scott tells it, his words of wisdom resonated immediately.
“He said ‘oh I got this,'” Scott recalls. “Sure enough, he started second and he didn’t have the car enough to win the race, but he ran second all night. They tried to put a bumper to him each turn and he handled it like a seasoned veteran. I was amazed, I had met some kids who were good drivers but this man knew what he was doing.”
After the race, Wallace made a beeline for Scott to potentially discuss how the teenager could be a part of the Drive For Diversity Program. While Wallace — who would have been 15 when the program started that year — was too young to enter, Scott made some phone calls. Not wanting to see a gifted racer turned away, Wallace and his family found themselves invited to the combine in South Boston, Va.