By Nate Ryan (USA Today, Oct. 26 2013)
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Becoming the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR national series race was a triumph of patience for Darrell Wallace Jr.
He hopes it’s also worth the wait for a sport that has spent much of the past decade trying to diversify a traditionally lily-white roster of drivers after claiming only one black winner in its first 65 years.
“I want to be a role model and inspiration to the younger kids and just change the sport as a whole and for the better, and winning helps everything,” Wallace, 20, said. “I think that’ll help kind of pave its own way there and hopefully get my name out there even more. That’s what I’ve been trying to do is to get my name out there to keep pushing (and) striving for kids younger than me to get in the sport.”
Wallace, a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program that was formed in 2004 to help multicultural and female drivers advance from the grass-roots series, led the final 50 laps of Saturday’s Kroger 200 Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in becoming the first black winner in one of NASCAR’s national series since Wendell Scott’s Dec. 1, 1963 win at Jacksonville, Fla.
Scott is a native of nearby Danville (about 30 miles east of the track), and a Virginia historical marker was erected on a nearby highway marker in April to honor the career of Scott, who didn’t celebrate in victory lane because he wasn’t recognized as the winner until the next day.
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An emotional Wallace, who admitted lifting off the throttle of his No. 54 Tundra with a big lead while entering the race’s final turn because he was in tears, said it was special “to do it in Wendell Scott’s backyard” after befriending the family of Scott, who died in 1990.
“If Wendell Scott was alive I would like to call him, but I can call Wendell Scott Jr.,” he said. “(Wendell Scott) was watching over me this race. It all goes to him.”
The Mobile, Ala., native is in his rookie season driving the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports on the truck circuit and is the fourth African-American to drive full time in one of NASCAR’s top three national series, joining Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester.
After the race, he also took to Twitter to celebrate: “We Came. We Saw. We Conquered,” he wrote.
Larson, a Japanese-American graduate of the Drive for Diversity program, won at Rockingham Speedway in April in just his fifth truck start. He led 187 of 205 laps.
Wallace’s victory, which came in his 19th truck start, also was impressive. He started third, led a race-high 96 laps and held his own against Sprint Cup veterans Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
He wasn’t challenged again after taking the lead from Ty Dillon on a lap 151 restart, withstanding three more restarts that put his lead in jeopardy.
It was redemption for his last result at Martinsville in April when he started second and led 34 laps but finished fifth after spinning his tires on a final restart. Wallace also singled out races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Michigan International Speedway as those he also could have won but “this is my rookie season, and you’ve got to wreck to learn, and I’ve learned my lesson.
“I had so much confidence coming into this race,” he said. “I told everybody that asked if I was going to win, ‘Hell yeah’ every time. So before, it was, ‘No, maybe we’re going to try,’ this one was, ‘For sure,’ and we capitalized. This means a lot.
“It’s indescribable. I’m bawling my eyes out.”
He teared up again when told during a postrace interview that Sprint Cup veteran Mark Martin had tweeted that Wallace “drove like a hero.”
Said team owner Kyle Busch, also a championship contender in the Sprint Cup Series: “This is certainly a monumental day and hopefully one that he’ll remember for a long time and can cherish. The first one is always the most important one because it seems like they can just come right after that pretty easily. We’ve seen great things out of Darrell this year, and he’s really come a long ways throughout the season.”
The victory also was important because Wallace’s future is uncertain. Busch has said his team still needs sponsorship to run a truck full time next year.
“I would have to say this certainly has to help,” Busch said. “We’ve been trying for a month or so to try to continue to put things together for Darrell. I want to see him back in our trucks. We just need to be able to put the pen to the paper and call it a 2014 season.”
Wallace also is under contract with Joe Gibbs Racing and has aspirations of advancing to the Nationwide and Sprint Cup circuits with the team owned by the former NFL coach, who called Wallace in victory lane.
“We are just thrilled for him and his entire family on the win in Martinsville,” Gibbs said in a statement. “We obviously think a lot about Darrell. He has tremendous talent, and we really believe he can have a huge impact on our sport.”
Asked about the impact his win could have on African-American involvement in racing, Wallace said, “hopefully it makes it easier. This sport isn’t easy at all for sure. It’s taken us 18 races (to win). With this (victory), hopefully it’ll just make them want to jump in it now.
“You’ve got to be willing to do it and stick out through the thick and the thin. In this sport, it’s more thick than anything. But you’ve just got to keep chugging along, man. This is one of many, I hope.”
Story link at USA Today.