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Black NASCAR driver welcomes spotlight

Darrell Wallace Jr. talks of being NASCAR’s Tiger Woods.

Darrell Wallace Jr. talks of being NASCAR’s Tiger Woods.

Speedweeks schedule

Thursday

9 a.m. NASCAR Nationwide practice

10:15 Nationwide practice

12:10 p.m. NASCAR truck practice

2 Sprint Cup Budweiser Duel 150s (two races, 60 laps and 150 miles each), TV: Speed

Friday

11 a.m. Daytona 500 practice

12:30 p.m. Daytona 500 practice

1:40 NASCAR truck qualifying (two laps, all positions) 3:35 NASCAR Nationwide qualifying (two laps, all positions)

7:30 NASCAR trucks NextEra Energy Resources 250 (100 laps, 250 miles) TV: Speed Channel

Saturday

10:30 a.m. Final Daytona 500 practice

1:15 p.m. NASCAR Nationwide DRIVE4COPD 300 (120 laps, 300 miles) TV: ESPN

Sunday

1 Sprint Cup Daytona 500 (200 laps, 500 miles) TV: Ch. 13

DAYTONA BEACH — With his Cannon 60D in hand, Darrell Wallace Jr. is a fixture at the track, eagerly snapping photos with an insider's view of auto racing. His Instagram account is littered with day-in-the-life snapshots of cars and crews, all carrying the tag, "My crazy life captured in pictures."

Wallace, though, isn't a typical 19-year-old NASCAR prospect trying to climb the ladder, and he's less interested in a budding photography career. He is a pioneer of sorts as only the fourth black driver with a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

When Wallace takes the wheel for the Truck Series race Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he'll become a slice of NASCAR history in a race that ignites his goal of serving as a role model for a generation of potential future black drivers.

"It's kind of up to me," Wallace said. "It's kind of a huge weight."

Busting down racial barriers in a sport long reserved for whites is pretty heavy stuff for a teenager, and all eyes are on him. Yet Wallace, the son of a white father and black mother, openly talks of becoming the Tiger Woods of NASCAR: the great black star who can prove people of all colors can race.

"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.' 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 NASCAR's 65-year history. Scott is the only black driver to win a race, in 1964.

Wallace is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing and will drive the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports on Friday. Gibbs knows what it's like to work with black athletes under the microscope. He coached the Redskins when former Buc Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to win a Super Bowl in 1988. Gibbs said Wallace has the talent and the mental toughness to break through in NASCAR.

"I think he's the right kid," Gibbs said.

Wallace, raised in Concord, N.C., has the support of earlier black drivers. Lester has sent encouraging tweets. Wallace met some of Scott's children.

"They're just happy to see someone following in their dad's footsteps," he said. "I'm hoping that I can carry that torch a little farther."

He's in a better position to succeed than many minorities over the years. He has sponsorship and a top-flight team in JGR and is a graduate of NASCAR's diversity program. Now drivers of all sexes and colors are accepted.

Wallace, who goes by Bubba, spent the last three seasons driving in a low-level NASCAR developmental series and said racism in all forms was nonexistent.

At lower levels, though, Wallace would hear racial insults or encounter ignorance.

"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 heckles and hurtful words from his formative years have been left on the side of the road.

"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."

Black NASCAR driver welcomes spotlight 02/19/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 8:00pm]
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