Bubba Wallace is coming up fast on a spot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but there is no sign that he plans to push for better treatment of women or less overt racism from his fellow drivers.
Instead, he says he is intent on using his star power to make a positive change.
As Wallace campaigned last week in the Bank of America 500 in Charlotte, N.C., for an expansion of the historic Rolex 24 at Daytona, he found himself cast as a spokesman for what he’s campaigning on, as opposed to a driver who is just competing in the race.
The role of advocates in motor sports has changed substantially since Danica Patrick, a former Sprint Cup series driver, became famous for her breast cancer awareness campaign and became a spokesperson for United Way.
“If I’m going to be a celebrity, I’ve got to do more than just drive a race car and race,” Wallace told The Associated Press. “If you don’t have a platform, you are not going to have any attention from the fans and that starts from within. So I want to use my platform to impact people.
“I know the world is going to change one day and I don’t want to be one of those people.”
Patrick has embraced public activism in the past, even buying a $10 million home, but her moves have not always satisfied her many critics, including some in the form of online petitions to have her disinvited from other races and to have her top sponsor, GoDaddy, drop her.
Among Wallace’s most high-profile “pushes” to date has been his campaign to draft a woman to his No. 6 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion car in the Daytona 500. NASCAR’s tendency to dismiss the role of women in motorsports – especially when they’re on TV – tends to make Wallace’s pro-hockey-style draft even harder to fathom.
“People are coming up to me in their truck pulling up and they’re asking me ‘Bubba, why didn’t you draft Denny Hamlin?’” Wallace said. “Just goes to show you there’s still a long way to go.”
Whether his push to draft a woman will be successful remains to be seen. Should a female driver enter Wallace’s draft, she would at least give the scene a modern feel.
But Wallace doesn’t seem unduly bothered by the “pushback” he has received.
Instead, he is focusing on going to next month’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona and having fun. And that seems to be where a little activism is best left.