To quote the film, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, characters Cal Naughton Jr. and Ricky Bobby said it best in a clip of a conversation.
Ricky: “You can’t have two number ones.” Cal: “Yeah… you can’t, that makes eleven.”
Darrell Wallace Jr. finished second behind Austin Dillon in the 2018 Daytona 500. That was not first place however he became number one in steering a responsibility.
The success began with an opportunity given to Wallace.
After Aric Almirola announced his departure from Richard Petty Motorsports, team owner Richard Petty announced that he and the team were working on hiring Wallace as the new driver of the No. 43 in 2018.
Wallace was officially introduced to the team as their new driver on October 25, 2018. Wallace became the first African-American driver to have a full-time Cup ride since Wendell Scott in 1971.
Wallace does not consider himself a pioneer; he hands the title to Scott who raced in the Cup Series in the 60s and 70s. Scott faced racism from drivers and fans.
Wallace’s team owner “The King” Richard Petty an iconic figure in Nascar is the one driver who has been in Wallace’s corner moreover helped Scott.
When Scott was posthumously inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his family was greeted backstage by Petty. After he left, Scott’s daughter shared with ESPN, “People have no idea how many times that man ‘accidentally’ left a set of tires or tools or even a whole engine behind in the garage for my daddy to ‘find.’ They don’t know because he’s never bragged about it. So, I’ll brag about it for him.”
“For Richard to reach out and lend out parts he no longer needed, Wendell Scott used and had a career in it, that’s special.” Wallace Jr. stated.
Scott was forced to retire due to injuries from a racing accident at Talladega, Alabama in 1973. He achieved one win, and 147 top ten finishes in 495 career Grand National starts. Scott died on December 23, 1990, in Danville, Virginia, having suffered from spinal cancer.
Two number ones make eleven. There can only be one pioneer.
Wallace’s experience in Nascar stands out from any other driver in the Daytona 500 this weekend.
Wallace took his talents to Miami, Florida this week before the big race where he was able to take in a walking tour of the historic Overtown neighborhood as part of Black History month.
Located just northwest of Downtown Miami. Originally called Colored Town during the Jim Crow era of the late 19th through the mid-20th century, the area was once preeminent and is the historic center for commerce in the black community in Miami and South Florida. Legend has it, Overtown was the original South Beach, in South Florida.
“As many times as I have been racing here in Homestead. I have never heard of this (Overtown) it makes you open your eyes more,” Wallace stated. “Open your ears more to listen to history and become more involved in the community.”
The 25-year old Wallace is only the second African-American driver to race on the sport’s highest-level full time.
Fellow drivers and fans embrace Wallace, social media, however, can be a place where ignorance is portrayed constantly but Wallace takes the high road.
“People will reach out and sit behind their keyboards and send out the hate and you have to do your best,” Wallace stated. “Do you want to stoop to their level or take the high road out and be the classy guy you are told to be.”
Wallace admits he is brash but with a southern charm who is fearless. He will begin his second full season of Cup racing in the number 43 car that once belonged to Petty.
Petty by the way, won the Daytona 500 seven times in three decades.
“It is life, once you become this face in an area that normally people would not look at there comes a pressure,” Wallace shared. “It is all on how I deal with it.”
Wallace has taken it in stride after his historic start at the Daytona 500 last year. However, he struggled to stay consistent throughout the season after Daytona, scoring only two additional top -10 finishes at the spring Texas race and the fall Phoenix race. He finished a disappointing 28th in the final point standings.
“For me, I try to walk to the same line I walked before I became who I am. I still think I am the same nine-year-old, buckteeth kid that just got started in racing,” Wallace stated. “The end goal is to let go out and win the Daytona 500 and let all the media, records, barriers be broken and settle in after that.”
Two numbers ones make eleven; however, Wallace winning the Daytona 500 may propel the sport to a status that can keep it number one kicking off the season.