NBA legend and one of the biggest sports icons of all-time Michael Jordan is forming a new NASCAR team set to compete for the 2021 season.
Jordan is partnering with current NASCAR driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin, to put together this team. Together, the two have purchased a charter from Germain Racing to compete in NASCAR's top series. Jordan becomes NASCAR's first majority Black owner since Wendell Scott in the 1960s and 70s.
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 champion, will remain with JGR while remaining a part-owner for the team.
The racing team will be called ‘His Airness’, according to NASCAR, and have Bubba Wallace serve as the team's first driver.
"Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I've been a NASCAR fan my whole life," Jordan said in a release. "The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me."
Wallace, NASCAR's lone active Black driver, signed an unspecified multi-year deal with the team according to the release.
Earlier in September, the 26-year-old announced that he would not be returning to Richard Petty Motorsports next year. Wallace has spent his entire four-year career in the Cup Series - three as a full-time driver - on the team owned by "The King" and seven-time NASCAR Champion Richard Petty.
However, despite the fame and name recognition, RPM is not a racing team that can regularly compete with the top garages in the sport. RPM has not had a driver finish in the top 20 in the NASCAR standings since 2015. The team has also struggled to find a regular primary sponsor since RPM moved to a single-car team.
Petty Motorsports had reportedly discussed offering Wallace an ownership stake to renew his contract with the team.
Currently Wallace is in his best season as a driver in the top racing series. He sits at 23rd in the standings (a career-high) and has the most top tens (5) this season of his career with seven races remaining.
"This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career," Wallace said in a release. "Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them."
Wallace made national headlines this season for off-the-track circumstances after NASCAR returned from the coronavirus pandemic. With the sport banning the Confederate flag from races, much attention surrounded Wallace. NASCAR also created a new role within their organization with a VP for Diversity and Inclusion and launched a commitment to initiatives to enhance the diversity of the sport at all levels.
Then, in June a noose was found in his car's garage that sparked an FBI investigation. While the agency determined that Wallace was not a victim of a hate crime, there was a moving form of solidarity shown by the drivers toward Wallace.
The changes enacted by the sport is part of the reason Jordan committed to a launching a new race team.
"Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing," Jordan said in the rlease.
Jordan has also owned NBA's Charlotte Hornets since 2010. He is also the owner and creator of the Jordan Brand which Hamlin has been a sponsor for over the past several seasons.
The car number and sponsors will be announced at a later date.