Sports | May 5, 2021 9:01 am

Bubba Wallace’s Race to Become the Face of NASCAR Has Begun

Now driving for Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing, Wallace is poised for big things in 2021 and beyond

Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 DoorDash Toyota.
Brian Lawdermilk/Getty

Rising NASCAR star Bubba Wallace had a difficult 2020 for a variety of reasons, many of which had nothing to do with COVID-19. And, like many of us, Wallace is just trying to get back in the driver’s seat in 2021.

The only Black driver racing on NASCAR’s top tier, Wallace left Richard Petty Motorsports in the fall and is now the only member of 23XI Racing, the single-car team owned by Michael Jordan and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. As part of a long-term partnership between himself, his team and Dr Pepper, Wallace is now driving the 23XI x Dr Pepper Zero Sugar car, which fittingly bears the number that’s synonymous with Jordan’s greatness in the NBA: 23. “That was kind of a given,” Wallace tells InsideHook.

According to Wallace, Jordan’s influence extends well beyond having his number on the team’s car, and 23XI Racing is committed to winning championships on the track in NASCAR the same way their number-sake did on the court.

“This is a very serious deal. We’re not here just for a dog-and-pony show,” Wallace says. “We’re here to win races, to build this team, build the foundation, become established inside the sport and grow to a multi-car team in the years to come. We have the resources in place to make those things happen. It’s just a matter of execution on my end. Every race, every scheme and every conversation I have with the crew chiefs and engineers at every track we go to is new. It is a fresh start. It’s turning over a new leaf. Every race is a new opportunity and challenge for us. There’s so much potential. I look forward to getting to the racetrack every time. We have everything in place.”

Partnering with Dr Pepper (which Wallace drinks for “breakfast, lunch, and dinner”) and driving for Jordan and Hamlin aren’t the only new initiatives the 27-year-old is taking on in an effort to leave last year in the rearview mirror. Announced in late April, 300 Studios and Boardwalk Pictures will document Wallace as he competes for the 23XI Racing team during the 2021 NASCAR season in a new Netflix series as well.

“I actually raised this idea to my management company. I said, ‘Hey man, this is the start that we’ve all been looking for for so long and I think it’d be awesome to document what it takes to be successful. Let’s see if we can get Netflix,’” Wallace says. “I became a huge fan of the documentary thanks to the F1 stuff. It is super awesome to watch. I’ve been an F1 fan for a while and to see how intense it is to get that behind-the-scenes feel, I felt like NASCAR needed something like that. Something that’s raw. We do a lot of staged stuff [for NASCAR] that’s very scripted. I told them the first thing I want to do is throw away the script and be off-the-cuff and raw and emotional so viewers see exactly what it takes. You’ll see the good days ad you’ll see the bad days. That’s what makes and breaks the best athletes out there.”

But Wallace — who is working for someone who is no stranger to the documentary treatment, thanks to MJ’S involvement with The Last Dance — has every intention of making it in 2021.

“I was ready for change going into this year,” he says. “This opportunity came about really late and then was really rushed. But to see where we’re at and the progress we’ve made, I’m happy with the decision I made. This could be the opportunity to take me to the next level. That’s what it’s all about. It’s trying to take the negatives and making them into positives and encouraging others to take the positive road as well. You’ve just got to deal with everything that’s thrown at you with positivity and try to make the most of it. It’s just progression man. That’s all we can do. Just keep climbing the ladder. Every race is a new rung on the ladder. Just got to keep climbing to the top. It’s a fresh start with a brand new leaf turned over. I’m just ready to roll.”

We’re ready, too.