A few months ago, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s name was splashed across most major media outlets’ headlines. The only black driver at NASCAR’s top level, there were some suspicious circumstances related to Wallace that caused fans, sponsors, and fellow drivers to stand up in support of the driver.
Now, Wallace is getting even more support from both inside and outside the sport. Veteran racer Denny Hamlin is joining forces with NBA superstar and Charlotte Hornets owner, Michael Jordan, to build a new NASCAR team around Wallace.
Jordan, an international marketing powerhouse in his own right, said the time was right for another black-owned team in NASCAR, “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…”
Jordan said this move is just one more step in his actions to combat “systemic racism,” as he hopes to use the platform to promote education and opportunity, “I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for black people in racing…”
Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, is still actively racing and doing it well, angling for a place in the Cup title run. He agrees that Jordan is good for the sport, “Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport but also well beyond it…”
The partnership with Jordan presents an interesting professional and PR situation for Hamlin, who is still actively racing for Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin says the move is not meant to disrespect the Gibbs team and ownership but is the next step in a friendship with Jordan going back more than a decade:
“Eleven years ago, I met Michael Jordan at a Charlotte game, and we became fast friends… Not long after, I joined the Jordan Brand as their first NASCAR athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years, and now we are ready to take it to the next level… Deciding on the driver was easy… It had to be Bubba Wallace.”
The PR aspect of hiring Wallace cannot be overlooked. The driver is winless in 105 Cup series starts over the past four seasons, though he has won six times in the Truck Series. Some in racing media say Wallace’s lack of success has more to do with “mid-level” equipment than skill. His cars haven’t been as well-financed as other teams. Still, many point to Wallace’s recent headline-making situations as the real impetus for his hiring by the Jordan-Hamlin team.
Hamlin counters this criticism by saying he believes Wallace’s star is on the rise. “We believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level… He deserves the opportunity to compete for wins, and our team will make sure he has the resources.”
That’s a statement and a promise NASCAR fans are going to remember.