Bubba Wallace has been named to Ebony Magazine’s Ebony Power 100 for his accomplishments as a NASCAR Cup series driver.
Listed as an “MVP,” Wallace joins other athletes such as Antonio Brown, Stephen Curry and Venus Williams as well as former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama.
The list was created to recognize leaders of color who have positively impacted their community.
“This is quite an honor to be recognized with others in the African-American community,” Wallace said in a press release. “It’s humbling to join a list of the other star athletes, artists and community and national leaders. I’m just trying to be the best driver that I can be and focus on winning races for Richard Petty Motorsports and our partners. To be recognized for some of our accomplishments this season is an honor and I’d like to thank Ebony for the recognition.”
Wallace gained the honor based on his on track performance early in the year, including a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a top-10 finish at Texas Motor Speedway.
His off-track accomplishments also played a role in the selection. Wallace has been a notable influencer on social media. Earlier this year, Facebook posted a “Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace” docu-series that earned more than five million views.
“We are proud of what Bubba is doing both on and off the track for our race team and our partners,” said Brian Moffitt, CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports, in a press release. “We know that we have something very special with him and he continues to break barriers outside our sport to be a first-class athlete, spokesperson and inspiration to many.”
Bubba Wallace will be without a backup car for this weekend’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. Sunday on NBC).
The Richard Petty Motorsports rookie will have to make it through one practice session and qualifying on Saturday with one No. 43 Chevrolet at his disposal before competing in his second Cup race on the 2.66-mile track.
“Out of all the speedway races we have had, we have run okay, but then the cars are totaled at the end,” Wallace said Friday at Talladega. “That is part of it. So, yeah, we are just going to go out and do our own deal until the race starts. That was new news to me going into this weekend. I was like ‘Oh, alright’.”
He finished 16th at Talladega in the spring and placed 14th in the July Daytona race.
The lack of a backup car is a product of RPM’s lack of funding.
The team has struggled to secure sponsorship for Wallace, who finished second in the Daytona 500 but has one top 10 in the 29 races since. He has wrecked in four of the last 10 races.
Sunday’s race will be the seventh where Petty’s Garage and Medallion Bank have been on the car. Both are companies operated by the team’s co-owners, Andrew Murstein (Medallion Bank) and Richard Petty (Petty’s Garage).
“Reality is we were so late in what took place in ’17, budgets were petty well set in ’18,” Brian Moffitt, the team’s CEO, said at the time of signing Wallace. “We knew this year was going to be like it is. We were hoping we would close more business in-season like everybody does. We really think that ’19 and the discussions that we do have are very positive around Bubba.”
Wallace called the team’s situation “ballin’ on a budget.”
“Money is the root of all evil and success for us,” Wallace said. “We just need a partner, and we have great partners right now with World Wide Technology for a brand-new sponsor to come on-board and to take a big leap with us is big. So, they have done a lot for us. STP, Air Force, Click N’ Close, and we have had a number of great partners throughout the year to get us to where we are at, but we still need more. We want more funding to help our speed, help all resources that go into making a race team successful. …
“We will go out and finish out these next six races the best that we can. We have a new car coming here in a couple of weeks, so we have some good things coming it’s just a matter for having a little bit of luck on our side. I was just glad to be able to finish Dover last weekend (in 23rd, his best finish in seven races) and now we can kind of get through this weekend, hopefully unscathed and then get the last five I would say into a smooth consistent roll into the off-season. And then get really prepared for when February comes around.”
NBCSN will debut “Racing Roots: Featuring Bubba Wallace” at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday after Cup qualifying.
After Saturday’s qualifying, Wallace posted a message on Twitter for those who had been concerned about the team not having a backup car this weekend.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at how a team prepares for a race. He will be with the team at the shop and at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Watch for his stories each day through Sunday.
WELCOME, N.C. — A stillness hangs in the heavy air. Sounds echo, whether from crickets or distant traffic. Morning dew clings to the grass and the sky is dark as many of the shop employees at Richard Petty Motorsports leave home.
When the team moved on Jan. 2 from its Mooresville, N.C., location to the Richard Childress Racing campus farther north, it meant that many employees had about an hour’s drive to the shop.
Alarm clocks are set earlier to be in the building by 6:30 a.m. for those who work only in the shop and 7 a.m. for those who work on the road crew.
Among the first in the building is shop foreman Brian Dantinne, who wakes up at 4 a.m. and makes the 45-minute drive — among the shorter one-way commutes — to be there by 6 a.m.
Mechanic Jerad Hewitt, whose uncle once was a crew chief at Petty Enterprises, is used to 5 a.m. alarms. He would get up then, have plenty of time to read the paper before making his five-minute drive to Joe Gibbs Racing. After joining Richard Petty Motorsports last month, Hewitt gets up at the same time but has less free time before making the hour-long drive to the shop.
It’s a daunting schedule for those who are not early risers and seems even more challenging when a team’s results include few top-10 finishes. With limited funding — the team does not have a primary sponsor in seven of the 13 remaining Cup races — this single-car team and its employees face challenges each week to be competitive.
So how do those who work at RPM get out of bed, make a long drive to work and face seemingly long odds at success many weeks?
“I look at it as we’re against the mega-teams,” Dantinne said, taking a break from ordering parts while crew members work on the Bristol car nearby. “I look at it as a challenge every day I get up to go to work. Hopefully contribute and get better. Trust me, I want to run good. We see our faults, we know what our faults are, so hopefully we can make them better. We’re all driven. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here.”
Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or the NBC Sports app) presents an opportunity for a better result since there’s less reliance on aerodynamics at the half-mile track. The team is hopeful it can repeat its April performance there when Bubba Wallace drove to the front and led six laps. With the team hosting potential sponsors this weekend, another strong run could impact the team’s future.
“Every weekend is important, there’s no question about it,” Brian Moffitt, the team’s chief executive officer says. “But this one in particular with where we know Bubba has run good and we have run good … we are extremely confident that when we give Bubba the right equipment, he can drive it and take it to the front. It’s exciting going into Bristol knowing that.”
Wallace’s car will have Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage listed as the primary sponsor at Bristol — companies operated by the team’s co-owners Andrew Murstein (Medallion Bank) and Richard Petty (Petty’s Garage). Those logos are put on the car when there isn’t another company that has bought sponsorship.
Bristol marks the fifth race in the last six where Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage were on the car. Philippe Lopez, the team’s director of competition, admits he has to be a strict gatekeeper on how much money the team can spend based on its sponsorship.
“I have to say no a lot,” Lopez said. “It sucks because I put myself in (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer’s) shoes a lot. When I have to say no, I just don’t say no like your parents did. I explain to him this is where we’re at and this is what we can do this month and here’s what I’m thinking, the money we have we need to spend to go fast. Most of the time Drew and I agree. There are some things we need to spend money on, there are some things that would be nice, but it’s not keeping us from that next position.”
That can mean the team might not have the latest versions of some parts or need to run a chassis more races than a bigger team that is constantly building cars that go faster.
With a storied name such as Petty and a dynamic driver as the rookie Wallace, it’s easy to wonder why the team hasn’t been able to find sponsorship for every race this season.
“Reality is we were so late in what took place in ’17, budgets were petty well set in ’18,” Moffitt, the team’s CEO, says in his office, which is decorated with the trophy from the July 2014 Daytona win, the team’s most recent victory.
“We knew this year was going to be like it is. We were hoping we would close more business in-season like everybody does. We really think that ’19 and the discussions that we do have are very positive around Bubba.”
RPM didn’t sign Wallace until late October last year. That was past when many companies had set their budgets. It’s no coincidence that the team announced a two-year extension of Wallace’s contract in late July. That gives RPM additional time to talk to potential sponsors and for those companies to budget money to sponsor the team.
While talks continue, a cost-cutting method the team does — when it doesn’t have a sponsor other than Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage — is wrap the car in sponsor logos a day before the car is loaded in the hauler to go to the next race. That gives the sales team extra time for any last-minute deals.
It also creates scenes such as Wednesday afternoon at the shop when the crew is working on and underneath the front of the car, while decals are being placed on the back of the car.
Hewitt, who came to RPM from Joe Gibbs Racing admits it is a different atmosphere with a smaller team, but it’s one he appreciates.
“A team like this, a smaller team, everybody is much more focused on the one goal, the focus is on the car,” Hewitt said. “You have to wear a lot more hats because you’re trying to get a lot more done. That’s a little bit of an adjustment where at Gibbs if you saw a certain something that wasn’t in your area you would go find that person. (Here) you just do it.”
“He’s in the care of his doctors and expects to be able to operate normally today,” Waltrip said in a press conference at Auto Club Speedway. “That’s really all the information I have today on what his current state is, other than he feels really good, and he’s really sad.”
Waltrip and Ty Norris, executive vice president at MWR, did not reveal where or the number of blood clots Vickers had. They also did not have a timetable for when Vickers might return.
“He is more susceptible to clots evidently than you and I are. We knew that could be an issue,” Waltrip said. “Are we surprised? Yes. Did we think it would happen? No.
“We support Brian. We love his heart. We love who he is. We don’t know how long he’ll be sidelined. This is all very fluid. We’re learning as we go.”
Norris was the first official from Michael Waltrip Racing to learn about Vickers’ malady.
“I got a phone call at about 1 a.m.,” Norris said. “He’s disappointed in the result. But Brian has a lot of things in perspective. He was aware of the issue, thought he knew what it was, and it was confirmed. He’s getting the right treatment. As a human being, he’ll be fine. That’s the most important thing.”
Waltrip said Brian Moffitt will drive for Vickers in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Moffitt, who is under contract to MWR but was on loan to Front Row Motorsports, finished eighth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in place of Vickers three weeks ago.
“He fits in Brian’s seat, so there are no issues at all getting Brett into the car,” Waltrip said. “He’s never run a lap here. That’ll be fun to watch. He certainly overachieved for us at Atlanta. I was afraid that with youthful enthusiasm and exuberance that he would overdo it and mess up, and he was the opposite. He was just smart, methodically made his way through the race and produced a great result at the end, outrunning Brad Keselowski on the same tires.
“I love his heart and spirit and am glad he’ll be able to step in for Brian.”
Waltrip said any plans going forward will be predicated on what is learned further from Vickers, who is in Los Angeles with his doctors. The team likely will have a firm plan next week.
“For the foreseeable future, Brett is definitely our guy,” Waltrip said.
Could the fourth instance of being sidelined by blood clots mean the end of Vickers’ career?
“I just know his heart and passion, and he would not say that, so therefore, I will not say that,” Waltrip said. “I guarantee he would tell you he’ll be back in a couple weeks or months, or whatever the decision comes from his doctors that it will be.
“I expect him to overcome this. It’s obviously a setback for our team and Brian, but we’re just glad that Brian is OK..”
Vickers’ latest reoccurrence comes on the same weekend that Saturday’s Xfinity Series race will be sponsored by Drive4Clots.com. March is Blood Clot Awareness Month.
Kevin Harvick empathized with Vickers during his media availability Friday.
“It’s just a very, very tough situation,” Harvick said. “As you look at all the things that he’s gone through and really, especially the last one with the surgery (to replace a defective patch in his heart last December), and then thinking that everything was just fixed and going to be OK and then you come back and it’s kind of like the same old thing all over again.
“The first thing is I feel bad for Brian because he does have that drive and determination to be in the car. He’s been through a lot to try to get everything fixed, but it just seems like it just keeps creeping back up. It’s just a really unfortunate situation.”
Other drivers reacted on Twitter to Vickers’ news:
Feel so bad for my teammate @BrianLVickers. He's fought so hard to be back in this sport and now sidelined again. 💩💩💩