Darrell Wallace Jr. hopes being just the fourth African-American driver with a full-time national series ride will make him more of a NASCAR role model than a trendsetter.
The 19-year-old Wallace, who has a multiyear deal with Joe Gibbs Racing, will race in the Camping World Truck Series full time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2013.
He joins a short list of full-time African-American drivers in NASCAR. Wendell Scott became the only African-American to win a Cup race at Jacksonville Speedway in 1964 and raced from 1961-1973. Two others — Willy T. Ribbs (2001) and Bill Lester (2002-2007) — drove full time in the truck series with Lester earning two top-five finishes.
“African-Americans don’t have any (current) idols to look up to in this sport,” Wallace said Saturday. “You don’t have anybody. … They want to see who they can be like and they look at NASCAR and is there anybody there? No.
“When I started, I never watched NASCAR. I watched some races, but I never was like, ‘I want to be like him.’ I just jumped in it and we started winning and just kept going.”
Wallace, a 19-year-old from Mobile, Ala., has spent the last three seasons in the K&N Pro Series East while also running select Nationwide Series races. He knows his emergence with a full-time truck ride will garner extra attention, something he’s been used to since doing a BET reality show at age 16 that covered NASCAR’s diversity program.
“I’ve been the same color since I’ve started out — I’ve only gotten taller,” Wallace said. “I’ve been racing for nine years. I’m pretty good with it now.
“You’ve just got to go out there and put it in the back of your mind. The main thing in the front of your head is doing the best that you can.”
Wallace was part of the NASCAR diversity team (Rev Racing) in 2010 and 2011 before driving for JGR in 2012.
JGR, owned by NFL Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, started a diversity program a decade ago with NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White, who died in December 2004.
“When we started with Reggie, the idea was for him to be an owner and bring diversity to the sport, which is hard,” JGR President J.D. Gibbs said. “In football, you can be a good athlete. In basketball, you can shoot the ball. Over here, you have to have financial resources to make it work.
“Darrell is really poised to take that step and bring more fans to the sport.”
Aric Almirola, who is of Cuban descent, was a graduate of NASCAR’s diversity program and races in the Sprint Cup for Richard Petty Motorsports.
But it’s no secret that NASCAR is anxious for an African-American driver to have success — NASCAR President Mike Helton was part of the Wallace announcement Saturday.
Marc Davis, a member of the JGR program who finished fifth in the East series in 2008, made 13 NASCAR national series starts from 2008-2011 but never landed a full-time ride and had a best finish of 16th in the truck series. Chase Austin had nine national series starts from 2007-2010 but with one top-15 finish, never could attract full-time sponsorship. Neither had a stable, well-funded ride…
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