Bubba Wallace fans at Talladega: ‘We were there for him’
As engines fell silent and drivers climbed from their cars, another sound emerged Monday at Talladega Superspeedway.
It started with a couple of fans chanting.
“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”
Soon more joined.
“Bub-ba! Bub-ba! Bub-ba!”
Lydia Diaz, a 30-year-old mother of two and Walmart employee, yelled so much that her head began to hurt, but she kept chanting Bubba Wallace’s name.
Diaz was among a group of about 15 Black fans who came from Atlanta to support Wallace, a day after NASCAR stated that a noose was discovered in his team’s garage stall at Talladega.
The FBI later said that no federal hate crime was committed against Wallace because the noose had been there since Oct. 2019 and there was no way to know back then that his team would be in that particular stall this year. A NASCAR investigation could not determine why the pull down rope for the garage bay door was fashioned that way and who did it.
MORE: Recent events leave Bubba Wallace hopeful but also wore out and frustrated
In the stands with Diaz on Monday was fiancé Mel Rose and friend Brionne Horne. Also there was Errin Bentley and Greg Drumwright, a senior minister at the Citadel of Praise Church and Campus Ministries. Bentley had called Drumwright, telling him about the noose found in Wallace’s garage stall and asked Drumwright to help organize a group to go to Talladega.
When the race ended, Wallace was so far away on pit road from the stands that Diaz said he looked “a little like an ant” to her. But the group continued to chant Wallace’s name.
“I heard the Bubba chants, and I looked over and I see a decent amount of African Americans sitting in the stands,” Wallace said. “I was like, dude, that’s badass, that’s awesome. I guarantee you that was their first race. I felt obligated to walk over there, I wanted to walk over there. I wanted to kind of share that moment with them.”
He did. Wallace slapped their hands through the fence and thanked them for being there.
“That was an epic moment for me,” said the 36-year-old Bentley, a restaurant employee. “That was an out-of-body experience.”
It was a bigger moment for the sport, said Brad Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team.
“When I saw those fans leaning against the fence, I thought, man, this is awesome, this is what we need,” Daugherty said. “We need the symbolism of people not being discouraged to come and participate in our sport.
“It made me feel great. I’m so excited. I’m telling you, the folks at NASCAR better watch out. I’ve got about a hundred people that I want to get garage and pit passes for. It’s going to be big. They want to come to the racetrack.
“It’s going to be great to see a sea of color as well as being embraced by our Caucasian brothers and sisters while we’re there. Maybe we can get back to this being about race, but the human race.”
They call Drumwright Pastor Greg. His church is in Greensboro, North Carolina, but his ministry is where healing and justice are needed.
He went to Brunswick, Georgia after Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a white man while jogging.
Drumwright was in Minneapolis where George Floyd died after a since-fired white police officer had his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds. Drumwright traveled to Houston for Floyd’s funeral.
Drumwright then went to Atlanta after a since-fired white police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks.
Never did Drumwright expect he would go next to Talladega, Alabama.
But Bentley felt something had to be done after seeing the reports about the noose.
“I felt like if I was to be just like the other millions of people that say I’ll let somebody else handle it, then I’ll become part of the problem,” Bentley said. “It’s really that simple to me. That is really a big major problem that we have, whether it’s Black Lives Matter, whether it’s human rights, civil rights or anything of that nature, someone is always trying to pass something over to somebody else.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility. Nobody wants to stand up and be the face. Too many people are afraid. That’s part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution.”
For as much as NASCAR has progressed with diversity, its past and stereotype cast a long shadow over the sport. When Drumwright organized the group to go to Talladega on Monday, he and others got calls from friends and families urging them not to go.
“This far into 2020, it is still a commonly held belief that Black folks are not safe in an overwhelmingly white space in the Deep South,” Drumwright said.
It had been less than two weeks that NASCAR announced it was banning the display of the Confederate flag at all its events and facilities. Just the day before they were at the track, a plane flew over the speedway towing a Confederate flag and the message to Defund NASCAR.
When the group with Drumwright stopped at a Dollar General store in Alabama to purchase supplies for posters to take to the track, he said “we were literally told by local residents, you all need to be careful … but we were also told, we are glad you are here, We needed you all to come here. Thank you for being here.”
Drumwright wore a black shirt that read “We Still Can’t Breathe” on it. Horne was among a few in the group who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt. The message on Bentley’s shirt stated: “We march. Y’all mad. We sit down. Y’all mad. We speak up. Y’all mad. We kneel. Y’all mad. We die. Silence.”
The posters they carried included those that stated:
“We stand with Bubba”
“We Bang with Bubba”
“Let Freedom Ring”
“Take Your Knee Off Our Neck”
When they arrived at the track, they saw a tent set up not on track property selling Confederate flags.
“It’s still difficult to look at it,” Horne said of the Confederate flag.
Those in the group admit to getting stares, eye rolls and seeing some people look away after they arrived at the track.
But those that made the trip to Talladega also said they were warmly welcomed by fans.
Horne, a 20-year-old student at Georgia Southern, said a fan came to members of the group and asked to take a picture with them.
“After that, it was like family after family after person after person kept asking us to take pictures (with them), showing their support and their love for what we were out there doing for the Black Lives Matter movement,” she said. “That, I feel like, completely changed the fear, the anxiety we had walking into Talladega.”
Bentley, who had never been to a NASCAR race before Monday said he was more afraid going to Talladega than any time he has protested in the streets. Bentley said after attending Monday’s race, he would encourage Black fans to go to a race and support Wallace.
“I would tell them don’t be afraid,” he said. “If they were afraid, you don’t have to be afraid anymore.
“As long as we are afraid to do something, we don’t have any control. We don’t have any fight. You’ve got to have courage, you’ve got to have heart, that will to want. (Wallace) needs our support. We need his support.”
NASCAR Cup races this weekend at Pocono Raceway, July 5 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and July 12 at Kentucky Speedway will be held without fans. The next race scheduled to have fans will be the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which will admit up to 30,000 fans.
Drumwright, who wants a meeting with NASCAR leadership, said he is looking to organize a larger group for the Bristol race.
Diaz, a mother of boys ages 2 and 3, said it was “mission accomplished” for the Talladega trip but acknowledges more can be done in society.
“I’ve been out here for the last month, fighting for everybody to be equal so my kids, when they are older, they can go wherever they want and they do whatever they want and they don’t have to worry about nobody judging them because of who their father is or who their mother is or the color of their skin,” she said. “That’s what I’m out here for, honestly, every day.
“I wanted Bubba to know that we supported him for that noose that was found in his garage. I wanted him to know that we were there for him.”