Long: Bubba Wallace shares momentous win with Wendell Scott’s family
TALLADEGA, Ala. — History came together in a break room adorned with disregarded candy and oranges, half-empty coffee pots and boxes of soft drinks.
Bubba Wallace, less than an hour after winning Monday’s rain-shortened Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, was handed a phone.
On the line was Frank Scott, son of Wendell Scott, whose victory on Dec. 1, 1963 made him the first and only Black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier series.
Wallace took the phone into the break room, spun around and bent over as he shouted.
“How about that?!” he told Frank Scott.
Laughter followed for the two who have known each other for years.
“I know your dad is up there (in heaven), and he just said ‘Hell yeah,’” Wallace said on the phone.
Their conversation lasted less than 90 seconds - other duties called for Wallace - but it was a moment to appreciate the spectrum of Wallace’s win in what has been and remains a traditionally white sport.
“I wish I could have been there today with him,” Frank Scott told NBC Sports from his Danville, Virginia, home as family members celebrated in the background.
“But we were there with him. Not physically, but we were with him spiritually and emotionally. It was great, man.”
Wallace’s triumph was celebrated by many others, including Bill Lester, the last Black driver to compete in a Cup race before Wallace. Lester, who ran two Cup races in 2006, tweeted Monday how Wallace’s win “moves the NASCAR needle forward on so many fronts. Glad I was a witness.”
Wallace’s victory came nearly 16 months after fellow drivers pushed his car on pit road to the front of the grid at Talladega in a show of support for Wallace after a pull-down rope in his team’s garage stall was fashioned into a noose.
An FBI investigation later proved that the rope had been there for months and Wallace had not been the target of a hate crime.
But hate has followed Wallace, the only Black driver racing full time in any of NASCAR’s three national series. He’s faced social media harassment. Then-President Donald Trump issued a tweet that accused Wallace of a hoax.
Wallace is among the drivers who typically receive the most boos during introductions before races.
“Everybody says, ’As long as they’re making noise, that’s fine,’” Wallace said. “I get booed for different reasons, and that’s the tough thing to swallow.”
Car owner Denny Hamlin said he can’t relate to what Wallace has gone through in his career.
“I see it on my social media,” Hamlin said. “People just automatically dislike me because I hired Bubba Wallace. ‘What are you talking about?’”
Ryan Blaney has known Wallace since they were racing in their early teens. He’s seen the hate directed toward Wallace. Blaney raced to be among the first to congratulate Wallace on his win Monday.
“He’s went through a lot,” Blaney said. “I think his perseverance has spoken a lot for the sport.”
It hasn’t been easy, Wallace admits. He used to read the hateful messages he received on social media.
“After a bad race, I would become one of those haters that doesn’t know anything,” Wallace said. “I would become one of them. Just start telling myself a bunch of dark thoughts. It never helped anything.”
Hamlin encouraged Wallace not to be motivated by those who hate him but to “get your motivation from trying to do the people that support you proud.”
That included Wallace’s mother, Desiree, perhaps best known to NASCAR fans for her emotional embrace with her son after he finished second in the 2018 Daytona 500. In tears, Wallace told her that day that she acted like he had won that day.
Monday, Wallace, who turns 28 this week, could celebrate a win with her in a brief call that had both crying.
“She is the number one person that knows how hard I am on myself each and every weekend, each and every day,” Wallace said. “She is always sending me positive encouragement, scriptures, just always is holding that positive light.”
Wallace has needed it. He’s discussed his bouts with depression, noting that while he is a race car driver, he is human.
He also knows he can be too emotional at times in the car. That’s something he and his team have worked on this season and seen progress.
Wallace was steely in the car as he raced for the lead Monday. Rain had already delayed the race for 18 minutes before halfway and again was on the radar as Wallace raced among the leaders.
This time, the race had gone past the halfway mark, so if it was stopped and couldn’t be resumed, it would be official.
Wallace ran led a line of cars with Brad Keselowski, the winningest active driver at Talladega with six victories, immediately behind. Keselowski slammed the back bumper of Wallace’s car. Keselowski eased back to get a run on Wallace. With rain imminent, the field raced as if it was the last lap instead of more than 70 laps to go.
“We’ve been beat by them guys for … four years,” said Freddie Kraft, Wallace’s spotter. “You learn what they’re doing. I’ve gotten better. He’s gotten better at it.
“You’ve got to see it before it’s happening. If you’re trying to react to it, it’s too late. You’ve got to see as soon as he’s backing up. You’ve got to react to that. The farther back you let him go, the farther out you get. They’re just going to have that much bigger run. You’re trying to see stuff and predict stuff before they do it.”
Nobody could predict when the rain would come.
“I was right behind Bubba and had a chance to make the move to take the lead, but just felt like it was a little too soon with four or five laps left in the stage, and I didn’t want to get swallowed back up, but I picked the wrong move,” Keselowski said.
A crash brought out the caution with Keselowski behind Wallace. Then the rain came. NASCAR sent the cars down pit road where Wallace waited. A crowd of photographers surrounded him. Hamlin stood nearby under an umbrella.
The rain turned to a drizzle and NASCAR began to dry the track. Wallace walked to his pit box and waited.
The rain returned. It would take too long for NASCAR to dry the track before darkness. Talladega does not have lights around its 2.66-mile speedway. The race was over after 117 of 188 laps.
NASCAR had a new winner.
“I’m not going to be able to please everybody,” Wallace said. “Doesn’t matter if I won by a thousand laps or won a rain-shortened race, not everybody is going to be happy with it.
“That’s OK. Because I know one person that is happy, and that’s me because I’m a winner and they’re not.”
Back in Danville, Virginia, Frank Scott got to enjoy a celebration he’d been waiting more than 50 years to see.
It came less than two months after the Scott family received a trophy that Wendell Scott should have been given for winning that Cup race in 1963.
As Frank Scott pondered what Wallace’s accomplishment meant to him, he thought back to something his father said.
“I think of perseverance and determination,” Frank Scott told NBC Sports. “It’s like my father said one time: He said ‘Quitting is not the plan.’ If anybody thinks I’m going to quit, they got a mistake coming.”
Then Frank Scott added: “You don’t quit. You keep going.”
Just as Bubba Wallace did Monday.