This was quite a week for Darrell Wallace Jr.
Not only was he getting ready for his first full season in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series as the new driver for Richard Petty Motorsports, but he also had a lot of weight on his shoulders. Wallace received plenty of media attention leading up to the Daytona 500 because of the excitement he has generated as a rookie driver and that fact that he is NASCAR’s first full-time African American driver at the highest level of the sport since Wendell Scott in 1973.
So as “Bubba” Wallace was getting into the iconic 43 car this past Sunday before “The Great American Race”, RPM majority owner Andrew Murstein came over to him with one more pre-race responsibility.
But this one was significant, historic and pretty cool all at the same time.
“Right before he stepped into the car I called Hank Aaron and handed the phone to Bubba so he could wish him good luck,” said Murstein who is friends with the baseball Hall of Famer that sits on the board of Murstein’s company Medallion Financial Corporation.
It was a magical moment as two men from Mobile, Alabama shared a moment on the phone. An iconic sports figure speaking to a young man who hopes to accomplish so much in his his sport.
“Hank broke records and racial barriers,” said Murstein. “I honestly believe that one day Bubba will do the same.”
Well after this past Sunday, Bubba Wallace is well on his way to greatness after a remarkable second place finish at the Daytona 500.
“I was very impressed with the young man on the track,” said Aaron. “He did a great job. I was even more impressed with everything he has been doing off the track including his relationship with his family who was at the track. That interview he did post race showed the very human side of sports. I believe he has a very, very, bright future. He has the potential to bring many new fans to the sport, and I hope he succeeds.”
While Wallace certainly made a name for himself on Sunday, it was a very important day for Richard Petty Motorsports as they handed the keys to their car to a man who they hope can drive the team back to the top of the sport. It was also the beginning of a new partnership between RPM and Richard Childress Racing.
RCR’s Austin Dillon won the race and RPM’s Bubba Wallace edged out Denny Hamlin for second.
“This was a great day for RPM and RCR,” said Murstein. “I was talking to Richard Childress after the race and we both said what a great way to start the season with our new alliance together. (We finished) first and second and we helped push Austin to victory”.
The family of late Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt allowed the number 3 to come out of retirement and with Wallace driving Richard Petty’s 43, the results of this race and the excitement of what lies ahead is exciting.
“The 3 and the 43 are probably the two most iconic numbers in the sport and for the first time ever we are pretty much on the same team,” said Murstein. “Bubba showed enormous talent, intelligence, passion and charisma all week. Richard Petty looked at me and said, “Andy we have a star in the making.” If anyone knows one it’s him.”
As you could imagine, “The King” was extra giddy after Wallace steered his 43 car to a second place finish. He doesn’t head down to pit road very often, but on Sunday, he couldn’t wait to see Wallace after the race. Petty has been very excited about bringing Bubba on board, and that excitement was turned up a notch after an incredible start to the season.
“Richard had an extra bounce in his step yesterday,” said Murstein. “He’s in great shape but yesterday he came to pit road after the race and he was walking faster than all of the reporters who were chasing him. He wanted to congratulate Bubba because “The King” could not be more proud of him.”
This is truly a new era for RPM.
They have a new driver in Wallace, a new primary sponsor in Click n’ Close, and Chevrolet is the new car manufacturer. Throw in the alliance with Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports has officially ushered in a new era. The hope is that there will be a time when finishing second is disappointing, but what happened on Sunday signals a new beginning for the team.
“This was the best second place finish ever,” said Murstein. “This was RPM’s best ever finish in the Daytona 500.”
While Richard Petty won the race seven times during his career, he hasn’t won it as an owner. In fact, the results overall for RPM over the years has not been satisfying but now there is more than just a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone involved. There is optimism, excitement, and smiles throughout the team as they get ready for this week’s race in Atlanta.
The centerpiece of this new era in RPM history is clearly Wallace who is part of a new era of young drivers in NASCAR that have the responsibility of carrying the torch for the sport after a number of veteran drivers recently retired.
On Sunday, Wallace looked like anything but a rookie with a performance that everyone is still talking about.
“For a rookie driver in his first ever Daytona race at this level to perform like that is unheard of” said Murstein. “It’s a new day at the greatest name in racing…Richard Petty Motorsports. It’s historic not just for RPM but for the sport. (Bubba) is a real game changer and will bring a lot of positive interest and attention to our sport.”
Wallace has the ability and personality to help drive business for RPM and NASCAR. On Sunday morning, he was featured on both ESPN SportsCenter and Fox News Channel and during the week did a plethora of interviews for many outlets including Sirius XM NASCAR Radio. The aura of the Daytona 500 is already legendary, but now the arrival of Wallace has created a new excitement.
Before, during and after the race on Sunday, he set the tone for the rest of the season as RPM appears to have turned a corner in building the brand back to elite status in NASCAR.
“The whole day there was magic in the air,” said Murstein. “From stars in other sports wanting to meet Bubba, to all of the media attention he was getting, to history in the making with the first full-time African American driver in nearly fifty years, you just knew something great was going to happen. “So even when we went down to about 25th place you knew he would come back. Nothing was going to hold him back today.”
While RPM has opened up a new chapter in it’s history, the emergence of Bubba Wallace is also part of a bigger picture when you think about NASCAR as a whole. There are so many quality young drivers in the sport like Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott. They are more than just the future of the sport…they are a big part of the present.
And now RPM has their own in Wallace.
“Yes we have a star in the making,” said Murstein. “He handles everything perfectly. He has a great sense of humor, he’s smart, charismatic and he has the eye of the tiger. There’s a big youth movement in the sport today and you have several young superstars in the making. Thankfully, we have one of those to now build our team and our future around.”
As Bubba Wallace and the RPM team head to Atlanta for this Sunday’s race, there is a new sense of excitement around the 43 car. Andrew Murstein has said over and over how the goal has been to bring Richard Petty Motorsports back to the top of the sport where it belongs.
With Bubba on board, a new and exciting primary sponsor, and a partnership with another iconic racing brand, the future for RPM is very bright.