Bubba Wallace’s Rookie of the Year campaign has had its fair share of ups and downs.
Through the first 29 races, the Mobile, Alabama native has amassed two top 10s and one top-five finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. Talk about starting off with a bang.
But Wallace’s career has been a unique one. From the K&N Pro Series, up through ARCA, Trucks, XFINITY and now Cup, the current driver of the No. 43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports has been at the top and bottom of the mountain a plethora of times but always manages to be one of the most personable, likable and biggest figures in the NASCAR garage.
In this sit-down interview at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Wallace chatted about the trials and tribulations of his 2018 campaign, friendship with Ryan Blaney, carrying the African-American mantle for the sport and more.
Davey Segal, Frontstretch: Tell me a little about World Wide Technologies. Some people might see www and think Internet.
Wallace: It’s really a cool technology company and we’re still trying to figure out what all they can do. They can do so much and they’re really implemented with our team behind the scenes in engineering trying to get a format and template laid out to make it easier to call aces for crew chiefs and engineers. It’s pretty cool for them jumping in. And they love it.
When NASCAR started, there was no technology at all, and now if you don’t have technology, you’re running last. It’s big for them to jump in and it’s a whole new environment for them. Hence why you’ve only seen them a couple times this year. But now that we’re in the final 10 races, they take up a majority of the sponsorship, they had enough time to get prepared and everything. We’re excited to have them on board. It’s cool to see new partners come into the sport, love what they see and we love what we see. We’re gonna try and seep making that relationship better.
Segal: You and Ryan Blaney are kind of friendship goals. You guys don’t change your personalities when the camera comes on. What do you attribute that to?
Wallace: A lot of our quirks are inside jokes that nobody knows of course. We’re quoting movies, we do that all the time. When there’s a camera there, they’re capturing it all. I mean we’re talking about some stuff we can’t talk about on camera, but we still kind of filter around it and have fun with it. Just a product of having a good relationship with your buddy.
Segal: The Facebook Watch series that debuted this season was incredible to watch. How was it to film and go through all leading up to the Daytona 500?
Wallace: It was hectic for sure. Very intrusive. We knew that from the get-go how it would be. We tried to make the most of it at times. There were times when I was like I’m not filming anything today, you know? We could come back tomorrow and try again. But I think the content turned out great. It was a good piece for everybody involved with the team, partners and future partners for sure. It’s got a lot of eyes on it, reached out to a lot of people. Just gave an insight on what it’s like leading up.
Segal: You think you might do something similar like that in the future?
Wallace: There’s talks about doing another season of that. I’m sure y’all would love it. The timing is the hardest part because leading up to the start of the season, you’ve got some downtime. But when you’re in the thick of the season, it’s tough.
Segal: Does Amanda like having all those cameras around or is she like, “Nah get these away from me”?
Wallace: She’s camera shy. She doesn’t mind them being there, but she can’t be herself around them.
Segal: I feel like, at a certain point, you almost forget they’re there. Have you ever experienced that?
Wallace: I did a reality show back in 2010 on BET. That’s where I got my first true taste. I was probably shy around them, and we did two months of filming. It just comes with time.
Segal: You’ve taken a ton of big hits lately. First off, how are you feeling? And what’s is going to take for you to stop taking these big hits every week?
Wallace: I’m good. And I know, it’s the nature of the beast. For me, I just have to climb back in and give it my all every time. Brake failures, it’s just a heat thing. I’m trying to push it to the edge each and every time. Some areas we push too hard, some areas are just out of our control, just a freak of nature. Stuff happens like that. Wish we had a solid answer, a solid solution for that, but you just never know.
Segal: Most of my friends back home aren’t familiar with NASCAR, but when I tell them about you and how you’re the only full-time African-American driver currently, they become intrigued. Have you seen the spotlight shift onto you a little more?
Wallace: Oh yeah for sure. I was always going off and doing appearances for NASCAR and I’d be off with three Cup guys and then you’d have the XFINITY driver Bubba Wallace. And they’d be like, “what’s Xfinity?” and you’re like “… one of these people.” When people think about NASCAR they think about Sunday, they think about Earnhardt. And that’s it. Talladega Nights, that’s what they think about. So when you talk about Trucks an XFINITY … “what do you mean you race trucks?” You’ve gotten these questions, too. But once you get to the Cup level it’s like oh, that’s cool, that’s badass.
Segal: There isn’t a ton of color in this garage. What does it mean for you to carry the mantle for African-Americans in the sport?
Wallace: We’re all kind of taking the path that Wendell Scott created and taking it a little further. Just doing what I can with most of what we’ve got. You’re starting to see more people behind the scenes. Pit crews, officials at NASCAR, and a lot of people that are at home. We’ve got some diversity in the sport that you just don’t see on camera. And for me to be at the forefront of the ones you see on camera, it’s pretty cool. There’s some pressure with that, but it’s all how you manage it.
Segal: Things that stick out to me is when a little kid comes up to you wearing a Bubba shirt and you take the time to talk with them. Are those the moments that make you sit back and go, “man, this is pretty cool?”
Wallace: Yeah, for sure. I’m super competitive. You always have those certain fans that are hanging around for an autograph and you’re like “fine” and they’re like “man, you did good today,” and you’re like “what race were you watching?” And then you sit back and think, they’re pumped to be here and spend the time.
Segal: Has it been a little tough this year knowing that you aren’t going to compete for wins every week? Have you had to adjust your mindset at all?
Wallace: Nah, I think I’ve gotten some good practice the last three years in the XFINITY stuff (laughs). But it’s tough. Even that switch too, coming from really successful Truck years to having some decent runs in XFINITY. And jumping to Cup I knew it was going to be a tough transition and I found that out making my debut last year at Pocono.
Contending for wins—I mean I want to contend every week—but they’re not in the picture. For us, it was just to keep building on the top 15s we had in the four races we did. That was a good baseline, let’s keep improving on this and see where we can go from there. We’ve kind of gotten behind it. It’s just circumstances. And we all know we’re doing all we can with everything we’ve got. That’s the biggest thing. As long as we’re not leaving a stone unturned, that’s a victory for us.
Segal: How does the team camaraderie at RPM compare to places you’ve been (KBM, RFR)?
Wallace: It reminds me a lot about KBM. Small shop, you see the same faces every single day you go in there. And Roush, you have so many employees you don’t get the chance to meet all of them, every day you’re meeting someone new.
Segal: It’s almost as if that was more business-like and this is more family like.
Wallace: That’s exactly what it is, for sure. From the day I walked in last year to the days I keep walking in this year. It’s still the same—how many employees do we have?
(Team member shouts 44)
Why don’t we have 43?
Segal: I was gonna say, that’s a missed opportunity there.
Wallace: You see those same 44 people every day. It’s good because everybody’s super friendly, everybody’s talking about the race, and we all know our circumstances so when we get back and we run 26th and they say “you did a hell of a job.” It’s like, alright, they get it and see what’s going on so it’s good to have that support.
Segal: Is it tough to not have a teammate to lean on?
Wallace: I’m good. Riding solo, it’s all us, I’m greedy. We have the alliance with RCR, Germain and LFR. So we have some teammates, but once you get out on the racetrack, you’re just out there.
Segal: Where did your love for drums come from?
Wallace: Ever since I was two years old, my parents just said I was beating on pots and pans. I think I’ve always had a knack for rhythm. Got a drum set when I was 11 years old, piddle paddled with that a little bit and then back in 2015 I bought an acoustic set I love. I was playing on it right before I left for this weekend. It’s just fun to be able to get away and recreate some stuff.
Segal: Time for the fun stuff. Cookies or brownies?
Wallace: Neither. I’m not a sweets guy. I like candy. Skittles probably.
Segal: Bacon or sausage?
Segal: Pancakes or waffles?
Segal: Peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese?
Wallace: Grilled cheese.
Segal: Hot or cold?
Wallace: Cold. I sweat too easily.
Segal: Chipotle or Qdoba?
Wallace: Qdoba. I haven’t had Chipotle in forever. I used to be on a big kick, went to both like every week and then got burned out one day. Looked at Chipotle and I was like, “that don’t look very good.” Qdoba though? Oof. That diablo queso.
Segal: Chocolate or vanilla?
Segal: Snapchat or Instagram?
Segal: Sports car or pick-up truck?
Wallace: Sports car.
Segal: McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King: rank them.
Wallace: I just had McDonald’s for breakfast this morning … McDonald’s, Burger King and then Wendy’s.
Segal: Cheese or pepperoni on your pizza?
Segal: Favorite movie?
Wallace: Life. Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence. Hilarious.
Segal: Favorite artist to listen to?
Wallace: Right now, it changes. Probably Devil Wears Prada.
Segal: Do you have a pump song by them that you like to listen to?
Wallace: By them, it’s Survivor.
Segal: Favorite sport and team?
Wallace: College football. Go Vols.
Segal: Favorite holiday?
Segal: What’s the weirdest thing you dressed up as?
Wallace: I dressed up as myself one time. Last minute I was like “I don’t know what to wear” so I put on my firesuit.
Segal: Favorite superhero?
Wallace: Iron Man.
Segal: What’s a sporting event you haven’t attended that you’d like to?
Wallace: Manchester City vs. Manchester United.
Segal: Celebrity crush growing up?
Wallace: Charlize Theron. But I didn’t freakin’ meet her.
Segal: What’s a household chore you hate?
Wallace: Washing dishes. I hate touching the water that has stuff in it. It’s gross.
Segal: What’s a funny first date story that you’ve had?
Wallace: We were friends in high school, I had a huge crush on her. She had a boyfriend I had a girlfriend. But when we were on a break, I was like “she’s hot.” So we would go out on dates, grab ice cream, whatever. So I’m thinking I’m getting warmer and warmer, and she’s just like “thanks for the free food!” Multiple times we would talk about her ex-boyfriend. I was like “I don’t wanna sit here and talk about your ex-boyfriend.” But it all worked out.
Segal: What’s a meal mama made for you growing up that you could shovel down easy?
Wallace: Chicken and rice. So good.