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EFrom the start of the first episode of Race, the six-part Netflix docuseries about Bubba Wallace, the thesis statement comes in as loud as a full-throttle stock car. “I think a lot of the world needs to understand that he’s probably the most pressured athlete in the history of the sport,” mused Ryan Hall, Wallace’s baby-faced manager. And while no one will deny the unique stress Wallace endured as the only black driver in Nascar’s top racing division…pump your brakes.

At last check, Warner Bros just released a feature film about two black girls from Compton who somehow dominated the white world of tennis. And then there’s also that black kid from Stevenage who broke into Formula 1 on the verge of becoming arguably the greatest driver in the history of the sport. The Old World racism the Williams sisters and Lewis Hamilton overcame on their way to the top is just as virulent as the fried Southern variety Wallace, 28, has to reckon with – and the Williams and Hamilton don’t. have not entirely exceeded. That is. This self-important streak is a major headwind for Race, who would have been better served by letting the whirlwind pilot’s life speak for itself.

It was the hook for Behind the Wall, the eight-part docuseries that helped launch Facebook Watch in 2018. And it introduced the world to a carefree guy who didn’t shy away from being the fourth black driver to n ever competed in Nascar’s top-tier Cup series, but also didn’t let that burden keep him from playing with his fellow drivers and crew, whipping out his basement drums for fun or to annoy his fiancée, Amanda, with her bouts of uncontrolled flatulence.

The letting the subject breathe approach just doesn’t work for Behind the Wall, which captures Wallace in his first Cup season when the driver colloquially known as Nascar’s Charley Pride had hoped to be considered one of the good old boys. But the show-don’t-tell formula eventually becomes the secret sauce of Drive to Survive – Formula One’s hit Netflix reality series. It lets F1 personalities, politics and rivalries do the hard work of whittling a sprawling, tech-savvy sport down to tasty morsels.

The race was meant to be the rebuttal of Nascar Drive to Survive, their attempt to lure race agnostics into the sport. But unlike the previous series, which limited expert testimony to a small group of insiders, Race does something very different. Rather than restricting wide-angle perspectives to authorities such as Nascar D&I chief Brandon Thompson and omniscient journalist Bob Pockrass, the urgency to attract casual viewers prompted director Erik Parker to W Kamau Bell, Jemele Hill and other Nascar dabblers to reinforce why this project here is so essential and well worth your time. Here’s the thing, though: unlike Formula 1, still largely unknown on these shores, Bubba Wallace’s curious odyssey of Nascar has been in the headlines for the better part of a decade.

Racing resumes at its controversial climax in 2020 and finds the world-weary driver struggling with depression. In the doc, Wallace calls 2020 the craziest year of his life, and June was by far the craziest month. Race reveals how a sport slowed by the pandemic sent Wallace on an accelerated course with the social justice movement in turmoil, and how the viral video of Ahmaud Arbery’s shooting death has rekindled memories of a similar incident in his family 15 years earlier. (Get ready: The first episode almost happily replays Arbery’s video. And more. And more…)

Determined to make a statement, despite the owner of his car recording his disdain for the national anthem protesters, Wallace showed up to the June 7 Nascar restart in Atlanta in a black T-shirt wearing the latest words of George Floyd: “I can’t Breathe.” A day later, he pushed Nascar to ban displays of the Confederate flag, an ugly holdover from the sport’s Southeast roots. For the following week’s race in Martinsville, Virginia, his car was turned into a Black Lives Matter billboard. Two weeks later, he was greeted at a race in Talladega by a parade of rebel flag bearers and with what looked like a noose hanging from his garage door. And when the FBI closed its investigation without calling the noose incident a hate crime, apparently all of President Trump’s right wingers called out Wallace for crying wolf – even though it was a crew member who had called observation.

But the truly amazing part comes when Wallace, in the Race premiere, explains how he knew he was risking everything by placing the Amazon order for that “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, and how he was prepared to face the consequences. “I put everything else aside and was selfish to change,” he tells me. The irony, of course, is that by standing 10 toes in his blackness, Wallace hasn’t just been embraced by Nascar’s inner circle and America’s largest black community; he’s become a magnet on his way to leading an expansion racing team co-owned by Michael Jordan that just opened the 2022 season with a second-place finish in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Worse than missing Drive to Survive’s luxury brands, glamorous locales and space-age technology, Race smothers its subject matter in context, exaggerating the importance of a pilot who doesn’t need much. configuration. Wallace is not the untold story of a distant historical figure, but rather an unfinished journey of a driver about to unfold before the scrutinizing eyes of social media and the international press. This is a very compelling hook on its own. Race didn’t need more fury to justify himself.

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