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Darrell 'Bubba' Wallace Jr. On Going Back To The Daytona 500


Bubba Wallace made history last year at the Daytona 500. He finished second. He became the first African-American stock car driver since 1971 to compete in that most famous stop on the stock car circuit. And, by the way, he drove a Chevy Camaro for Richard Petty Motorsports - No. 43, like the founder.

The 500 opens the season tomorrow - Bubba Wallace, second season on the circuit. And Darrell "Bubba" Wallace joins us now from Daytona International Speedway. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Wallace.

DARRELL WALLACE: Yeah, thank you. It's a pleasure to be on here with you.

SIMON: What's this last year been like for you?

WALLACE: It's definitely been the toughest year I've ever had in my career. It's not just taking that next step. You have to - you have to be on top of your game from point A to point Z and back again. So it's been fun learning the ins and outs of the sport and, you know, who you can work with, who you can't. And it's just all part of the game.

SIMON: Let me ask you a little bit about your background. You grew up in Charlotte I gather, right?

WALLACE: Yes, sir.

SIMON: And one of the homes of motor racing, obviously.

WALLACE: Absolutely.

SIMON: How did you begin to race?

WALLACE: I started racing when I was 9 years old. My dad bought a Harley Davidson, got it all chromed out, took it to a bike shop. The guy who owned the bike shop raced go-karts. And he invited us to come out one weekend and come watch him. So it was as simple as going out and watching and getting hooked and buying a go-kart and went out racing the next weekend - and never turned back.

SIMON: What do you think hooked you?

WALLACE: I think, you know, we got to travel a lot. That was fun. And you just got to do something where we thought we were pretty decent at. And we kept trying to be better and better in each series. We'd spend about two years in every series and move up to the next bigger and better and faster car. Next thing you know, you're driving the famed No. 43.

SIMON: And the name Bubba, how did that get into your life?

WALLACE: Yeah, Bubba came about I think the day I was born, from my sister, Brittany. She called me that ever since I came out. And it kind of stuck. And now we've kind of created a brand around it.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, some places in the South - and not just the South - the number 43 and the name Richard Petty are pretty much interchangeable.


SIMON: What is it like to drive the car that bears his name and number for the man himself?

WALLACE: Oh, it's awesome, you know, to hear the stories and the history behind the 43 and him and Dale Inman at the track. It's - I wouldn't trade it for anything. Honestly, it's fun trying to bring the legacy back and build the program back up to what it once was.

There's a lot of work that needs to be done, but we all know how much it takes to be successful in the sport. And we're trying to do everything under our power to do that. And so I've learned a lot, you know, in the last year I've been around them. But I've still got to dig deep and press hard on for this year.

SIMON: He must really believe in you.

WALLACE: He does. He gave me the opportunity back when their former driver got hurt. And I was able to fill in for them. And then next thing you know, I get a phone call to come drive full-time.

SIMON: And how is the sport changing?

WALLACE: It's changing every day. You know, I'm trying to do my best of filling out the demographic side of things and getting more faces in the stands and in the sport, whether that's behind the scenes or on pit crews or even in the seats to drive. So it's been a - it's been a fun journey. It's been a - it's been cool to see how things have changed over the years.

SIMON: Bubba Wallace, about to drive in his second Daytona 500. Good luck to you, sir. Thanks so much.

WALLACE: All right. Thank you, I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.