Michael Jordan becomes first Black NASCAR principal owner in almost 50 years

Michael Jordan has become the first Black principal owner of a NASCAR team in nearly half a century after forming a team with Denny Hamlin and hiring driver Bubba Wallace.

The NBA legend announced the partnership on Monday night, when he suggested that the move was another milestone on the path to racial equality in the sport. NASCAR has only had one Black principal owner previously: Wendell Scott. He drove his own race car between 1961 and 1973, taking part in 495 races and winning the Jacksonville 200 in 1964—to date still the only win by a Black driver at NASCAR’s elite Cup level.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers centre Brad Daugherty is the only Black owner in Cup history. He is a partner at JTG Daugherty Racing, while Jordan will be the principal owner.

Incidentally, Daugherty and Jordan played together for two seasons at North Carolina, before MJ was selected with the third overall pick of the 1984 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls, while Daugherty was the first overall pick two years later.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement released on Monday night.

“The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me. Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners.

“The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Jordan and Hamlin bought the Cup Series charter from Germain Family Racing, with the team name, manufacturer and car number to be announced at a later date. Having driven for Toyota for over a decade, Hamlin has a long-standing relationship with the Japanese racing giant, although there are as yet no indications Toyota will serve as the new team’s manufacturer. What is known, however, is that Hamlin will serve as the minority partner and will continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Eleven years ago, I met Michael Jordan at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game, and we became fast friends,” Hamlin wrote.

“Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years, and now we are ready to take it to the next level. […]

“Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right. It just makes sense now to lay the foundation for my racing career after I’m done driving and also help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level.”

Wallace, meanwhile, described the chance to join the nascent team as an unmissable chance after announcing he would be leaving his current team, Richard Petty Motorsports.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace wrote. “I am grateful and humbled that they believe in me, and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

Michael Jordan now has an ownership stake in NASCAR’s Cup Series, with Bubba Wallace behind the wheel. (Chuck Burton/AP)

The only Black driver in the Cup series, Wallace is yet to taste success after 105 Cup starts in four seasons, but has won six races in the Truck series. Earlier this year, he was an outspoken campaigner for social change and successfully convinced NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag from its racetracks.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series, and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin wrote. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins, and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that.

“Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

-Newsweek