Judging by the evolution of the racing world, it’s clear that American businesses just can’t get enough of Bubba Wallace. Put simply, the 28-year-old driver from Alabama and the first black driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race in the modern era of stock car racing has become a marketing dream on which some of America’s biggest brands capitalize.
This week, Wallace picked a new sponsor in Wheaties, which will adorn his # 23 Toyota at Auto Club Speedway next February while Wallace promotes the brand’s 100th anniversary. McDonald’s announced last week that they will be expanding their sponsorship of Wallace and sponsoring him in the 2022 Daytona 500. Big brands like DoorDash, Columbia Sportswear, Root Insurance and many more are also sponsors of Wallace’s.
Although sponsorship support for Wallace has become almost overwhelming, things weren’t always that way for him: early in his career, and before he rose to fame, Wallace was just one of the many young NASCAR drivers who have to grind, scratch, and claw to get a sponsor’s attention. Part of a runner’s job that’s almost as demanding as actual driving, and a burden Wallace is happy to have taken off his shoulders thanks to the influx of sponsors into his racing team.
“It definitely lets you focus on your real trade and go out there and run and get the best results you can get. Sleepless nights are a little shorter now that we have funding,” Wallace said. at CBS Sports. “And so with the arrival of great partners, it has been a spectacular first year for us at 23XI Racing this year and we are already starting to support it in our second year. humility, that makes you all appreciate those difficult days of the previous years. “
Those tough days came as Wallace rose through the ranks of NASCAR, and they extended early in his Cup career. As he progressed through the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, Wallace relied heavily on manufacturer support from Toyota, then Ford, as well as limited sponsorship. Eventually the money ran out and Wallace saw his Xfinity team shut down midway through the 2017 season due to a lack of sponsorship. Even after moving up to the Cup Series with Richard Petty Motorsports, limited sponsorship played a big role in limiting Wallace’s ceiling as a Cup driver.
Compared to those with whom he rose through the ranks, these issues have led Wallace to become one of the best drivers in the Cup Series. Ten years ago, Wallace was among the very first drivers in the NASCAR NEXT program, which has served as a showcase and springboard for drivers like Wallace, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and many more. Many, including Wallace, have since reached the highest level of NASCAR – and are among the biggest stars in the sport.
But even though he stands alongside his contemporaries as one of the young faces of NASCAR, Wallace is well aware that he still has a long way to go to match them.
“Chase and Larson have championships – me and Ryan don’t. And I’m still behind Ryan, so they have a lot more race wins and were able to show every weekend that they were fighting for the wins,” , Wallace said. “We have a lot to do, a lot to clean up and a lot to improve as far as I’m concerned, for sure. But it’s cool to see us coming from where we are (when we were) little kids. raced since I was 10 years old with Ryan and Chase. I met Larson when he just joined the NASCAR ranks.
“It’s cool to see everyone doing well. I know there’s a lot in front of me to catch up, but I remember when I beat them. So I know we can do it, we just have to put it all together. “
In 2021, Wallace was finally able to claim his title of winner of the Cup Series. In the fall race at Talladega, with looming rain threatening to end the race, Wallace took the lead on lap 113 and held it for the next five laps before the yellow flag went out and the sky opens. When the rain prevented the resumption of the race, Wallace was declared the winner, securing his first career Cup victory and the first for a black driver since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott’s only Cup Series victory in 1963.
This victory for Talladega – which Wallace estimates he watched about 100 times – highlighted a strong superspeedway schedule for 23XI Racing in the team’s first season. But mixed in with Wallace’s victory at Talladega and a runner-up at Daytona were somewhat mixed results for the freshman team co-owned by NBA icon Michael Jordan and NASCAR star Denny Hamlin: besides a fifth to Pocono, good days as Wallace and his team usually finished in the Top 15 or 20, with bad days resulting in missed opportunities due to self-inflicted injuries.
Still, approaching the situation pragmatically, Wallace thinks 23XI’s first season has been a good one.
“Getting that win at Talladega obviously meant a lot. I think it was a huge accomplishment that I don’t know if any of us had in mind that it would happen this year just because everything is new and we let’s figure it all out, ”Wallace said. “But other than the speedway stuff we had a lot of races that stood out where we had a lot of speed and we were making the most of it, and then I would make a mistake at the end of the race or the pit crew would make a error.
“But these are growing pains, it’s a learning curve for all of us going through this first year and trying to iron out the issues that we have had. Satisfied for sure. I can do what I love. , basically work one day a week, so I’m not complaining. But we need to step it up. We need to clean up some things on my end, clean up some things on the pit crew, just clean up the whole thing to really be competitive. “
Expansion of the 23XI is part of Wallace’s enthusiasm for next season, as Kurt Busch – longest-serving Cup Series driver and 2004 Series champion – joins the team to drive a second car . Wallace believes Busch’s ideas and overall attitude will be edifying for the team, especially as they try to get a head start with the introduction of NASCAR’s Next Gen car.
“Having a Kurt Busch mindset and experience will help us grow and show progress at a good pace. That’s what excites me,” Wallace said. “Kurt’s here, he’s been doing this for a long time, but it’s a clean slate for everyone. It’s a whole new car for all of us. The way it drives, the atmosphere is totally different so it’s okay. take time adjusting.
“But having Kurt out there giving his opinion, given his stature and who he is as a person, who he is as a pilot, it’s already starting to show itself and shine in all directions of our team. . It will be good.”
As Wallace prepares for the 2022 season, he’s spent the start of this week promoting the launch of the 100th anniversary series of Wheaties, delivering the new Michael Jordan Gold Foil Wheaties box to the Charlotte area. Jordan, co-owner of 23XI Racing, makes a record 19th appearance on the Wheaties box.
“I consider Wheaties to be such an iconic brand, and it’s an honor to partner with them,” Wallace said. “When I was a kid I vividly remember sitting there before school reading the backs of the Wheaties boxes, enjoying all the athletes they had covered, real champion acts, this they’ve accomplished on and off the courts, fields, racetracks, you name it – Wheaties has been there to add a spotlight and bear their name. So it’s an honor for us to highlight the success of Michael Jordan, our team owner, he made history recently as the first black majority owner in NASCAR, so I’m just the lucky one who can drive the race car.
“So it will be cool to kick off the partnership with this announcement today and race the Wheaties Toyota Camry in California later this year. Really cool for us, really exciting for MJ, I’m sure. “