Darrell Wallace Jr. may look like your average teenager, but there’s a little more to his story than meets the eye. At 19 years old, Wallace is only the fourth black driver with a full-time ride in a NASCAR series. Friday, Wallace will be behind the wheel for the Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway, making history as he puts the pedal to the metal.
“It’s kind of up to me,” Wallace said. “It’s kind of a huge weight. “You don’t have a role model. That’s why you don’t see anybody in it,” Wallace said. “They can’t look up and be like, ‘I want to be like him because he’s the same color as me.’ There’s no one there to do that. I’m the top one right now and I’m only 19.”
Wallace joins Wendell Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester as the only full-time black drivers in the 65-year history of NASCAR. Scott is the only black driver to win a race, way back in 1964.
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Wallace’s father, spoke about the racial epithets his son had to endure during his rise to the top:
“We used to take it from fans,” his father, Darrell, said. “We’ve had it from other drivers. We’ve had it from officials. We’ve had it from promoters. We’ve had it from track owners. We’ve pretty much had it from everybody.”
Wallace said the heckling was his biggest form of encouragement. “I’d show up the next week and wear ’em out again,” he said, smiling. “I really didn’t understand it. My dad got more fired up than anything.”
Wallace also had the support of his parents in reaching his goals as a top NASCAR driver. His father has owned an industrial cleaning business since 1999 and pumped at least $1 million into his son’s fledgling career. He spent as much $250,000 in 2008. His father paid bills late and borrowed money to keep his son’s career alive.
“He tried to do everything he could to keep me racing,” Wallace said.
Apparently it’s paying off.