Bubba Wallace said Friday that the last few weeks have been a whirlwind that have left him “wore the hell out … a little frustrated” and “finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”
With countless media appearances during that time, as well as discussions with fellow drivers and NASCAR officials about how to make the sport more inclusive, a visibly weary Wallace admitted that he’s struggled at times to keep up with the pace he’s maintained – and that also includes driving a race car in a Cup doubleheader Saturday and Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
“You just have to be mentally strong,” Wallace said on a media teleconference. “Where I’ve gotten my strength from, I couldn’t tell you. … My emotions these days are one, being wore the hell out, two is being a little frustrated, and three is just finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m probably a fool for thinking that because it’s 2020 and something else will probably happen tomorrow and we’ll be right back where we are.”
As the only Black full-time driver in NASCAR’s premier series, Wallace has been front and center of the sport’s efforts to rid itself of the Confederate flag, while also offering a welcoming environment for new minorities.
But he’s also been a target for critics.
“Athletes are put on a pedestal, there’s not a manual or guidebook to tell you how to handle yourself off the court, racetrack or field,” Wallace said. “It’s all something you learn and you go through the trials and tribulations to grow from those incidents and I think that’s what makes you tougher throughout.
“The people that are sitting on the couch, have never done anything with their lives to be able to amount to something and they’re jealous of your lifestyle and they just are trying to spew hate. That’s unfortunate, but you just have to worry about your life and not worry about other people’s lives. You shouldn’t let them dictate how you live your life to the fullest.”
While Wallace singled out Jimmie Johnson as having been one of his biggest supporters, continually reaching out to him, he also applauded two drivers in particular – Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman – for their support, even though they and Wallace have had their conflicts on the track.
“Aric Almirola sent me a nice text right before (the race) Monday that we’re not friends and we don’t act like we are, but we’re going to stand next to each other, that he’d be proud to stand next to me as a brother and being human beings,” Wallace said. “I thought that was pretty special because we don’t click at all very well, we both will tell you that.
“And Alex Bowman coming up saying we don’t see eye to eye on everything but that he stands behind me 100 percent, something along those lines. I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve always had respect for Alex. We’ve butted heads and lost respect at times for each other but it shows we can all get together.”
Following Monday’s race, Almirola spoke about his relationship with Wallace, particularly the “I Stand With Bubba” outpouring on pit road after a noose had been found in Wallace’s garage stall Sunday night.
“It was a lot of emotion, I think we were all just proud to be together,” Almirola said. “I think as competitors we all want to beat each other, but as human beings we all want to show love and support for each other.
“I think that’s one thing about our NASCAR community that has always stood out, is that regardless of what happens on the racetrack, off the racetrack we’re a family. We all support each other. You see it when we put fundraisers on or foundation events. We all show up. We all support each other because we’re a family.
“We live next door to each other 38 weeks a year in the motorhome lot. When you see a brother that’s being singled out, that’s being hurt, you want to show love and you want to show support.”
As for Bowman, he appeared in another teleconference Friday morning and had this to say about his relationship with and support of Wallace:
“There’s no secret we’re not best friends, right? We’ve had our fair share of run-ins and you know that on-track stuff is just going to happen, right? Tempers are going to flare, and if you run into the same guy a couple weeks in a row here and there, it’s not going to go great for your relationship.
“But that’s as a race car driver and that’s on the racetrack. As a human being, I have a big appreciation for him, trying to push us all to be better and speaking up and helping us do the same.
“So I think it really comes down to on the racetrack, we’re probably not going to be friends. But as a person, I appreciate what he’s doing and just wanted to show my support for him in that sense.”