MARTINSVILLE, Va. — In some ways, it was an unlikely pairing.
Petty, deemed “The King” of stock car racing, was instrumental in the development of the sport while Bubba Wallace epitomizes the future of NASCAR.
Wallace first connected with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2017 when he filled in for the injured Aric Almirola, competing in four races mid-season. After Almirola announced his departure from RPM at the end of 2017 Wallace was signed to drive the iconic No. 43 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Since then, he has handled being the face of the African American community in NASCAR with a maturity beyond his years. He has also risen to the challenge of representing the legacy of Petty with ease.
And though they come from different generations, they share a passion for racing and an appreciation for their fans that is reflected in their working relationship. Petty’s iconic status stems not only from his 200 wins in NASCAR’s top series but because of his dedication to those fans.
Some drivers look at signing autographs as an obligation. Today’s fans often have to jump through hoops just to be part of autograph sessions that are first-come, first-served and limited to a strict period of time. Petty is a different breed of driver and has never forgotten that without fans, there would be no racing.
Wallace shares Petty’s point of view.
“We’re here racing, putting on a show for them,” he told me. “There’s obviously boundaries and the right times for the right things.” But, he continued, “You’ve got to realize, you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes. They don’t get this opportunity but one time out of the year when we travel to their state. They get to see an athlete right in front of them having a meal and obviously at the track. NASCAR is second to none as far as fan access.”
Wallace has learned from the master, not through words, but by example.
“There’s been plenty of opportunities where it’s just been him and me going to appearances and you see the fan engagement with him and you’re just like, Hey, that’s pretty cool and you want to be that guy.”
“I don’t know if I’d ever be able to pull off the cowboy hat and the sunglasses,” he joked, “but yeah it’s pretty cool to see what he does for his fans.”
While Wallace’s respect for Petty and his heritage is profound, he remains grounded by striving above all else to be true to himself. He prefers to concentrate on what lies ahead rather than look backward.
“I think about it a lot. But times have definitely changed since then. Back when he was racing versus now, is a huge difference. The sport has totally changed since then. I look at it as driving an iconic number but rewriting history, no.”
Above all else, Wallace has found a team that embraces his values as he upholds their traditions.
His favorite aspect of driving for Petty, he said, “is that because it’s a small team, we’re all like family. We see the same people every day of the week around the shop. Everybody’s just there to bring you back up or cheer you on or keep you going so it’s super nice”.
The best thing, he reiterates, is, “The Petty’s are all about family.”
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