Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. will drive the iconic No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports next season, making him the first full-time African-American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series since Wendell Scott in 1971.
RPM officials made the announcement Wednesday, according to NASCAR, saying Wallace would replace race car driver Aric Almirola, who’s leaving at the end of the 2017 season after a six-year stint driving the No. 43 Ford Fusion. Wallace filled in during a few races this year after Almirola suffered an injury, finishing inside the top 20 in three of his four starts.
The 24-year-old took to Twitter to share the good news with NASCAR fans, tweeting out a flashy hype video.
“We have hired a lot of different drivers in the past, but Wallace brings a lot of youth and talent to our team,” owner and retired driver Richard Petty said in a statement. ” … He’s proven at a young age to be able to be consistent on a weekly basis, give feedback to the team to help improve the car and race hard to get the best finish possible.”
“He knows how to win, too. His records leading up to the top levels of NASCAR speak for themselves,” Petty continued. ” We feel Bubba can immediately come in and compete. He’s really eager to show what he can do and that he belongs in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.”
In a sport dominated by white Americans, Wallace’s upgrade to a full-time NASCAR series driver is a welcome change. There have only been a handful of African-Americans to leave their mark on the sport, including Scott (1961-1973), Willy T. Ribbs (1986) and Bill Lester (2006). Racial politics have permeated the sports world in recent months, however, with players from the NFL, NHL and even the MLB protesting racial injustice and police brutality in America.
In September, Petty and other NASCAR team owners warned drivers against demonstrating in protest during the national anthem and threatened to fire those who did.
“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty said during the ISM Connect 300 in New Hampshire earlier this year. “If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”
Over the course of his five-year career, Wallace, a graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, has snagged six wins in the Truck Series and 34 top-10 finishes in the Xfinity Series, CBS Sports reported. He’s also the second Black driver to win in one of NASCAR’s three national series, after Scott in 1963.
“I think that’s pretty bad-ass, actually,” Wallace said of competing for a racing legend like Petty. “It’s so unique and I think there is a lot of history to unfold behind that between myself and him. The combination there is really just, I think, a dream come true and just a marketing dream for sure.”