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“It wasn’t a hoax. It was real.”
That’s what former FBI supervisory agent Stanley Ruffin tells viewers in ‘RACE: Bubba Wallace,’ a Netflix docuseries that chronicles the only black driver at NASCAR’s top tier and his professional rise and role staff in social justice issues. The series is aimed at a non-NASCAR audience unfamiliar with Wallace’s emergence or the facts surrounding the noose found in his garage at an Alabama track.
Wallace had successfully petitioned NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag from its June 2020 events. Two weeks later, NASCAR told Wallace that a noose had been discovered in its assigned pit at Talladega Superspeedway.
The incident came at the height of a national racial toll following the killings of black men George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. Wallace felt compelled to hold public office for the first time in his life – he was 26, NASCAR’s only full-time black driver, and despite having driven for icon Richard Petty, Wallace was an underachievers looking for his first career Cup Series victory.
The FBI investigated and determined that the noose had been in that garage cubicle for months, since the device was last used. Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime.
He faced national ridicule — then-President Donald Trump accused Wallace of committing a hoax — even though Wallace didn’t discover the noose or even see it. Wallace was accused of orchestrating the whole incident to boost his career.
“Mr. Wallace had nothing to do with the placement of that noose,” Ruffin, who led the investigation, said in the docuseries that debuts Tuesday, two days after the Daytona 500 season opener. .
The six-episode series directed by Erik Parker documents Wallace’s life and his ultimate transformation into an agent of change eager to use his voice and his platform. Wallace wanted a show – he had Netflix create something like his behind-the-scenes “Drive to Survive” Formula 1 show – to chronicle his first year driving for 23XI Racing.
Wallace was told the project was to include his tumultuous 2020.
“I just wanted to race,” Wallace said. He told The Associated Press that “I was a pain in the ass” for Parker as the director tried to focus on 2020.
Wallace has exploded in exposure and attracted millions of dollars in new sponsorships in 2020 and he’s turned it into a lifetime’s work. The funding helped Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan launch 23XI, and Wallace wanted to chronicle what he believed to be his best shot at securing his first career Cup win.
“I wanted this documented,” Wallace told AP. “And I wanted people to see what it takes to be successful at this level and how difficult it is…I wanted to show what it’s in my head to be in these races.
“But, the other side of that is the off-track stuff. How Bubba Wallace got his household name off the racetrack was everything from 2020. That was Erik’s path, he wanted to capture the historical side of things and I focus on the racing side. It’s created an interesting dynamic there.”
Parker leans on Wallace in “RACE” to recount Talladega’s emotional roller coaster, from finding the noose to Wallace earning his first career win 15 months later at the same track.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps alerted Wallace to the noose, and the driver included his estranged father among the first phone calls made. Their relationship has been strained since her parents divorced in 2016, a theme discussed as the possible root of Wallace’s admitted struggles with depression.
“They found a noose,” Wallace recounted, telling his father.
“Do you have a gun? Wallace said Darrell Wallace Sr. responded.
“You must have one.”
Parker told AP he found asking Wallace to relive 2020 conflicts with the way Wallace lives.
“It seems like his mantra is moving forward, moving forward, moving forward,” said Parker, who added that he felt compelled to accurately document what was “such a traumatic time, not just for Bubba, but for the country.”
“I can see where someone like Bubba, he was trying in his mind to move on to tomorrow, he’s already moved past that,” Parker told AP. “So getting him back was always like taking him back in time, as he races into the future. It wasn’t all easy, but it was a big effort.”
That was Wallace’s attitude Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway, where he deflected questions about his race.
He’s still NASCAR’s only top-level black driver, but Jesse Iwuji, 34, a Naval Reserve lieutenant commander, will become the second full-time black driver this season with plans to race in the second-tier Xfinity Series. level.
Iwuji co-owns his team alongside Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, who comes to NASCAR a year after Jordan and entertainer Pitbull joined the ranks of owners. Floyd Mayweather has a car that will try to qualify for the Daytona 500, as does NY Racing, a team owned by black entrepreneur John Cohen.
When the season opens Sunday with the Daytona 500, Cup Series race director Jusan Hamilton will become the first black race director in the long history of NASCAR’s biggest event.
McDonald’s, one of Wallace’s sponsors, announced a streetwear line Wednesday in collaboration with the driver and 23XI. Proceeds from the 10-piece collection will benefit the 23XI Speed Institute, a development program focused on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in motorsport.
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Hamlin said the McDonald’s line was part of 23XI’s desire to push the boundaries and beyond the NASCAR standard — a directive from Jordan himself.
“I think it was very important for our team in general to be different,” Hamlin said. “I guarantee you that this drop of this special collection (McDonald’s) will be eaten up very, very quickly, probably by young people, and the next thing you know people are wearing NASCAR gear again.”