Darrell Wallace Jr. caught a break at the right time.
Starting in go-karts around 2002, Wallace had a fast racing progression. From karts to Bandoleros and Legend cars, Wallace was competing in Late Models by 2009. And up until that point, Wallace was doing so with the financial backing of his parents, Darrell Wallace Sr. and Desiree.
“We had a small business that was able to get us to 2009,” Wallace told NBC Sports, “and we were able to get that far. They spent a quarter of a million dollars in 2008, so that was a lot for them.”
Wallace ended up signing a development deal with Joe Gibbs Racing. He made his way into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with the Drive for Diversity program. Wallace won six races between 2010-12 and earned 2010 Rookie of the Year honors.
In 2012, Wallace went full-time in the Camping World Truck Series under the tutelage of Gibbs driver, Kyle Busch. After two full seasons and five wins, Wallace again made a move. This time, it was to the Xfinity Series, where he now competes for Roush Fenway Racing. Although he has yet to break into victory lane, Wallace is championship eligible after advancing into the second round of the inaugural Xfinity Chase.
As for the journey, Wallace admits, “Kind of the right spot at the right time.”
The following Q&A has been edited and condensed
NBC Sports: On your website, it says your interest in racing was by chance, what does that mean?
Wallace: I started racing when I was nine, but my dad bought a Harley Davidson and he wanted to trick it out and make it look good and the guy who did that, Chris Rogers, he had a bike shop. He raced out of the back of his shop, so we became good friends, and he invited us out to one of his races. We were sitting in the stands, and my dad was like, ‘Hey, you want to try it?’ So it was just one of those going out to watch and ended up buying a go-kart.
NBC Sports: How important was signing with Joe Gibbs Racing, in addition to participating in the Drive for Diversity program?
Wallace: The way it worked out was 2008 had a really good year; 2009 is when we signed on with JGR, and they gave us a little financial backing with the Late Model stuff, but that ended up being our worst year in Late Models. I don’t know why. We ran about half a season there and called it quits so then we were trying to figure out what’s the next step. JGR had their (K&N Pro Series) East program going on at the time, but they had Max Gresham and Brett Moffitt driving. So they didn’t really have anything, but they looked into the Drive for Diversity deal for us. We did some research and saw that Andy Santerre was running the whole deal, and we’re like, ‘Well, hell yeah, we’ll go over there and run that.’ It was kind of a blessing that we did because those two great years with the Drive for Diversity program really helped my career launch.
NBC Sports: Do you have a racing story you like to tell or one that stands out?
Wallace: Got a lot of good stories; got a lot of bad ones, too. I ran over my dad when we were go-kart racing. We were at Concord Speedway, and Chris (Rogers) and my dad were out there, and I leveled my dad at like 45 miles per hour. I thought I killed him and he comes hobbling up and says, ‘All right, let’s keep going.’ So that one’s probably the scariest one I’ve had. The best one is probably Dover. The first Dover (September 2010) I was scared. Driving into the corners like, ‘Heck no.’ Had motor problems, and we were in a Rookie of the Year battle with Cole Whitt. He blew a right front tire Lap 27; I blew a right front tire Lap 37. So we locked up the Rookie of the Year title.
Going back (in September 2011) I’m like, ‘Here we go with this place again’ and that’s when my mom lost her uncle. We took my name off the door, and I just put a piece of tape down and wrote his name on there. It was pretty special because we went out and won both practices, sat on the pole (by) two-tenths and won the race. So I think that was a pretty special weekend. That’s one of my favorite stories.
NBC Sports: Take me back to the Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega when you had that really bad accident in 2013, is that the most scared you’ve been behind the wheel?
Wallace: Yeah, I think so. When I hit for some reason there was a flash of like an actual car going down the highway, which I don’t know why that crossed (my mind), but it was like, ‘Holy crap.’ I had no brakes and was sliding towards I think it was Jeb Burton’s pit stall. Kyle (Busch) come down into me; hit the wall head-on, and I went back down heading straight for their pit box and closed my eyes and come to stop. Didn’t hit the wall. Then my spotter was like, ‘Put it in reverse, we still gotta finish,’ so I threw it in reverse not having brakes, so I’m gassing on it and John Wes (Townley) beats me by inches and then I don’t know how I stopped. I don’t know if I hit the wall or if it just kind of come to a stop. But that one was pretty scary.
NBC Sports: How did your love of instruments start and did you teach yourself how to play the drums?
Wallace: Mom says I was banging on pots and pans since I was two, so I had an itch for it. In middle school, you could try out for band when you got to seventh grade and you had to write down three things you wanted to play. Drums were my top one and think I put like saxophone and trumpet. Well, I didn’t get chosen for the drums but it ended up working out. The first year it was more of both Snare (Drum) and then when you have a Bass Drum, the one that sits on a stand and put your arm on it and just hit it with a mallet.
I took over that role in eighth grade, and everybody knew that was MY spot. But growing up, I got into the heavy metal stuff in about seventh grade and it took me listening to stuff and shutting out the words. Yeah, you don’t know what they’re saying unless you pull up the lyrics and read along, but it’s easy for me to listen to the drums and be like, ‘Oh, it’s kind of cool how he’s doing footwork.’ Now I’ve got my own little kit just trying to get better, and it’s fun to do.
NBC Sports: Have you always been very outgoing and open to sharing things on social media?
Wallace: Yeah, but (Ryan Blaney) is not. That’s more of me pushing him, ‘Hey, this is going out Twitter.’ Like that video of Chase (Elliott) I posted after the Georgia – Tennessee football game I said, ‘Hey bud, just so you know this is going on Twitter.’ That stuff, I’ve always been post it and get it in trouble later instead of worry about the consequences right away. But I’ve always been like that and the crazy stuff we’ve done, I think all you guys have seen it.
NBC Sports: Is there anything in particular you like to shoot when doing photography?
Wallace: Really anything; a lot of time-lapse stuff. It’s always fun looking at the clouds and see what they’re doing because every three to four seconds it changes shapes. I haven’t picked up my camera in a while but I’m always looking at buying new equipment, and I don’t even use it. It’s weird and not smart decisions but it’s still fun to look at how to be better and how to take better pictures. We did a photo shoot recently for the Coca-Cola racing team, and people will think, ‘Oh, you just like to look at yourself’ and I’m like, no it’s really cool how you get these kind of shots. So I can sit there at a photo shoot and be there for hours trying to figure out what in the hell they are doing. I got to do stuff with NASCAR at the racetrack, like shoot the All-Star Race a couple of years ago. Shot the Xfinity race (at Charlotte) a few years ago as well.
NBC Sports: How is Darrell Wallace afraid of the dark?
Wallace: When you grow up and watch scary movies non-stop. I’ve had a love for scary movies but they scare the hell out of me …
NBC Sports: So do you keep the lights on all the time?
Wallace: No, I have a process that I need to film to share with you guys. So in my house, the living room has big high ceilings and it has a ceiling fan, but it doesn’t have a light. You have to use two lamps and then my stairs are right beside me; so I’ll get up and turn on my stairway light then go turn off my lamps. Walk up the steps, turn on my hall light, turn off my stair light; walk to my bedroom, look behind me, turn off my hallway light, close my door and go to bed. It’s a process. I don’t trust looking in the dark because your eyes start fixing to the dark and you start seeing stuff.