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Finding Success as a Black Driver Not Easy on NASCAR Circuit

When it comes to the NASCAR circuit, there has always been a push for diversification of the athletes who participate in the sport. Part of that is surrounding the culture of the sport. Primarily associated with the American South, NASCAR developed a good-ole-boy network that dictated who would and wouldn’t race. But there has been a recent movement to promote the sport beyond the primarily caucasian fan base.

The displaying of Confederate flags at tracks around the country has been banned. Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s lone black driver in the Sprint Cup Series, has found success during the past few seasons. However, Black sports news shows Wallace’s journey has been difficult. While many other sports have seen significant breakthroughs for Black athletes, finding a home in NASCAR will always be challenging.

But should Wallace find success at the top level and stay there for a couple of years, that should help get other people interested.


Wendell Scott’s Breakthrough Moment Took Time to Recognize



Other than Wallace, only one other Black driver has ever won a Sprint Cup race. Wendell Scott was the first African-American driver to compete and win at all levels of NASCAR. Outside influences hampered Scott’s ability to win races. 

He was once poisoned before a race. Scott also faced death threats at multiple events throughout the country. Even Scott’s crowning achievement in the sport wasn’t properly recognized. Unlike today, when recent sports updates are more readily available due to better technology to track results, things weren’t easy to keep track of in the 1960s.

Scott picked up his lone win at the top level in 1964 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville. Scott wasn’t announced as the winner when he crossed the finish line. Buck Baker, who placed second, was thought to have won the race.

Nearly two hours after the race, NASCAR officials determined that Scott had not only won the race, but he won by two laps. Scott didn’t even receive the trophy for winning. It was presented to his family by NASCAR in 2021, 58 years after the race and 31 years after Scott died.

While Scott was successful for a long time despite a low budget, he never broke through into mainstream popularity. Scott’s best season in NASCAR was when he finished with $47,451 in winnings.


Other Prospects Besides Wallace


Four Black drivers are competing in NASCAR at some level of the sport. Rajah Caruth is a full-time driver in the Truck Series and is part-time in the GMS Racing & Xfinity series. Jesse Iwuji is on the Xfinity Series part-time, while Armani Williams is in the Truck Series part-time.

None of the drivers has yet to pick up a victory. All three are still looking to gain more experience. Caruth and Iwuji have made 34 and 33 starts, respectively. Williams has made six starts.

Before the current crop of prospects, several other inactive drivers found their way to NASCAR. Bill Lester, a Georgia native, was the most accomplished of that bunch. Lester made 146 national series starts, including two in the Spring series. He competed from 1999 to 2021.

Willy T. Ribbs also competed from 1986 to 2001. He also made 26 national series starts and three starts in the Sprint series.


Wallace Has Blazed a Path


Wallace, 30, is the only full-time African-American driver in all three of NASCAR’s national series. He started driving in 2010 during a regional and developmental series as part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. After leaving the program, Wallace signed as a developmental driver for Joe Gibbs Racing.

That was the start of what would be a successful stretch for Wallace. He would finish with six victories and 30 top-10 finishes during 51 appearances in the Truck Series. Wallace finished in the top 10 36 times in the Xfinity Series in 88 races. 

Wallace would end up finding success at the top level as well. He has competed in 197 races at this level for seven years. Wallace has won two races and finished in the top 10 31 times. Wallace has proven he is a more than capable racer. He reached the playoffs for the first time in the 2023 season and continues to try to exceed expectations.


Battling Racism Tough for Wallace


Wallace was part of one of the more bizarre incidents in NASCAR history. In June 2020, someone on Wallace’s team reported a noose had been left in his garage stall at Talladega Speedway. The reaction to the incident caused a significant wave among people in the sport.

NASCAR stood behind Wallace, and the organization’s president condemned the action. The FBI investigated and determined Wallace wasn’t the victim of a hate crime. However, the reaction to the investigation would also cause issues for Wallace. Anyone looking at top sports news today will see that Wallace has taken a lot of heat for the incident. Some people accused him of fabricating the outrage. 

Wallace ended up facing more discrimination as a result of people who thought the incident with the noose was staged. The incident even drew the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who accused people of staging the incident as a hoax.


Diversity Program Has Mixed Results



NASCAR’s Driver for Diversity program has helped some minority drivers break into the sport. One notable incident with one of the alumni of the program caused waves. Kyle Larson, an Asian American driver, used a racial slur during an iRacing event in April 2020. Chip Ganassi Racing suspended him without pay.

NASCAR also would later suspend him. Larson wouldn’t have his racing privileges restored until January 2021. Larson is back on the circuit and again racing in the Sprint series. Larson has been a successful driver otherwise.

The diversity program has shown an ability to reach many minority drivers. In addition to Wallace and Larson, Hispanic driver Daniel Suárez came through the program and found success in NASCAR.

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