Darrell Wallace Jr. had no idea of history he made in NASCAR, but he’s ‘all in for that’ now

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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For Darrell Wallace Jr., winning last week felt great.

It didn’t feel historic until later.

“The stories and everything started flowing in after that about the history and the record and Wendell Scott, and all of it just came rushing in after — I had no idea,” the first-year driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series said. “I just went out there and tried to win the race.”

In winning last week’s truck race at Martinsville, the 20-year-old from Concord, N.C., became only the second African-American driver and the first in 50 years to win in one of NASCAR’s top three touring series.

Wendell Scott was the only African-American driver to win a national NASCAR event, a Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) race at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Fla., on Dec. 1, 1963.

“It’s for the better, and it’s trying to change the sport. And I’m all in for that,” Wallace said. “Just carrying the torch that Wendell Scott laid down for us and taking it farther. That’s the biggest thing I’m trying to do.

“I don’t really pay attention to all the media stuff and let that get to me and forget where I came from. That’s not my type. I read through it, appreciate everybody for all the comments, but I’ve still got three races to go.”

That includes Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 350 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he finished sixth in a June truck race.

It is not by accident that Wallace, a rookie, comes into the weekend eighth in the points standings.

The graduate of NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” program, aimed at finding and developing minority drivers, won a race in the K&N Pro Series developmental circuit in 2010 and was named rookie of the year after finishing second in points.

Now in his first full season in the truck series, he has five top-5 finishes and 11 top-10 finishes in 19 races driving the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

“We’d heard and heard about Darrell Wallace Jr., but he’s finally coming into his own, regardless of his skin color,” Fox television analyst Kyle Petty said. “It took him a season to get used to the sport and the competitors, but he will win a lot more races because of his talent.”

Fox announcer Darrell Waltrip said the victory also shines a spotlight on NASCAR’s efforts to diversify.

“NASCAR has been trying to create an environment attractive to minorities that would break up what has been the ‘norm’ in NASCAR the last few decades,” he said. “This kid hung in there and took advantage of the opportunities he’s been given.”

Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first black race winner, grew up about 30 miles from Martinsville. The elder Scott, who died in 1990, used his sons Wendell Jr. and Franklin in his pits.

Wendell Jr. “discovered” Wallace five years ago while scouting for the Drive for Diversity program. Franklin said the entire family has been receiving congratulatory phone calls from across the country now that another African-American driver has joined the winning ranks.

“I find it so ironic that he would win this particular race in Martinsville, so close to Danville,” Franklin said. “Because my father, he raced here every year from when it was a dirt track all the way up until I went through his Sprint Cup career.”

Wallace is the son of a white mother and African-American father. He grew up in Concord, N.C., and like many professional race car drivers, began racing go-karts early on.

Petty said he hopes the potential is there for more minorities, including women drivers like Danica Patrick and Johanna Long, plus pit crews and engineering departments.

“The last barrier to break is the driver barrier,” he said. “It’s incredibly tough to break that driver barrier because of the sheer numbers. There are 43 Cup drivers, 30 to 40 Nationwide drivers and 30 to 40 Truck drivers. You’re looking at no more than 100 or 125 people, so the numbers are against everyone, not just minorities.

“But if the door is open and the barrier has been broken, it is easier for people with talent, regardless of race, creed or color, to get here.”

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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