Photo: AP Images
CHARLOTTE — NASCAR’s best hope for a successful African-American driver isn’t shying from the magnitude of what he could accomplish.Darrell Wallace Jr., named a full-time driver in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Camping World Truck Series entry on Saturday, said he embraces the opportunity to throw the doors wide open for other minorities who want to race.
He is just the fourth African-American driver in NASCAR history to land a full-time ride in one of the sport’s three national touring series.
“That’s cool,” he said. ” … I’m going to do the best I can to take that number from (four) to 30 in 10 years or so.”
Wallace, a confident 19-year-old from Alabama, knows the best way to create opportunities for other minority drivers is to win. NASCAR hasn’t had a black driver who could be a role model for aspiring athletes like Tiger Woods in golf.
“(Young African-Americans) want to see who they can be like,” Wallace said. “They look at NASCAR (and) is there anybody there? No.
” … Now it’s my job to perform well on track and off track for kids of colour … and for people to say, ‘There’s someone we can look up to now.'”
Unlike others who have participated in NASCAR’s diversity program, Wallace has succeeded in landing an opportunity where he could make a real impact.
Though the Truck Series is perhaps similar to Double-A baseball (with Sprint Cup being the major leagues), a win or two by Wallace would mark substantial progress for African-Americans in NASCAR.
Only Wendell Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester have run full seasons in one of NASCAR’s top three series; Scott’s 1964 Cup win at Jacksonville, Fla. stands as the lone victory by a black driver.
Why does Wallace believe he will succeed?
“I’ve come up through the ranks and been successful in pretty much every car I’ve jumped in,” he said.
He already knows his equipment will be up to the task.
Wallace is a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, but will drive a Toyota fielded by Busch, whose trucks have won 18 races in three seasons.
Though he ran just four Nationwide Series races last season, he showed right away he was a capable driver; Wallace had three top-10 finishes and was 12th in the other event.
Those finishes would be considered good for a young driver, but Wallace was disappointed.
“I was actually pissed after the races, because I wanted to win,” he said. “Seventh, for me, was like a 20th.”
He expects to contend for Rookie of the Year in the Truck Series but cautions people shouldn’t expect him to win right away. After all, he’s never driven a race truck.
“I’m not going to go out there and set the world on fire,” Wallace said. “That’s what everybody’s expecting me to do, but the biggest thing is to finish the races and then everything else will fall in place.”
J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, said that’s exactly the approach Wallace should take.
“What you don’t want to do is push yourself too hard and make mistakes,” he said. “Just be consistent. Take what you got.
“For him, he wants to go make his mark. He could do it, but what you don’t want to do is go out there and tear stuff up and get in situations you could have avoided otherwise.”
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