By CARA COOPER
NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace (center) poses for a picture with the Magna Vista cheerleaders during his visit to the school Tuesday.
Bulletin photo by Cara Cooper
NASCAR Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace is used to fielding a myriad questions from reporters on a weekly basis. But even he wasn’t prepared for some of the tough questions he faced Tuesday at Magna Vista High School.
“Do you like the movie ‘Cars’?”
“Since you’re a racecar driver, do you have trouble driving on the road?”
“How many tickets have you had?”
“Can you follow me on Instagram?”
Those are just a sampling of some of the things students asked the Cup Series rookie Tuesday during a question and answer session following an assembly at the school. Wallace paid a visit to Magna Vista ahead of this weekend’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway to talk with students about his rise through the NASCAR ranks, what he’s done in his 15 years of racing to be successful, as well as impart some wisdom on the students.
Wallace has two wins at Martinsville Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series, but this weekend will be his first time at the Paperclip in a Cup car.
So, what made Wallace want to pursue his career in NASCAR even though people said he couldn’t? That was another tough question from a student.
“Ever since I started out, I just fell in love with the sport,” Wallace said. “I started out when I was nine, and all the way up through those ranks, I had no dreams or aspirations of being in NASCAR, no dreams of being where I am today. I just did it because it was fun and we were winning and when you’re winning and you’re competitive at something you want to keep doing it.
“But I never looked at as ‘I want to do this, I want to be that person.’ I just did it because I thought I was good. I thought my team was good and one door closed, one door opened and now I’m here talking with you today. I pursued it and it kept happening.”
Wallace is the first African American driver in NASCAR’s Cup Series since Danville native Wendell Scott drove in the 1960s and early ’70s. Wallace was driving a truck with Scott’s old paint scheme when he won for the second time at Martinsville, and remains close friends with the Scott family.
The students connected with the 24-year-old Wallace, who admitted he was in their shoes in high school just a few short years ago, and got them cheering when he mentioned getting to meet rappers Ice Cube and Migos this past weekend, and staying up until 2 a.m. playing video games. Not only did Wallace leave with new fans, but the students got an up close and personal look at one of the most down-to-earth drivers in the Cup Series.
“It shows you how big the moment in time is right now. For me to be here at the pinnacle of our sport and try to elevate it to new levels and reach a new audience and new crowd, I think we’re knocking on those doors each and every day and every weekend,” Wallace said following the assembly.
While Wallace made a connection with students, he took time to speak to them about the amount of hard work it’s taken for him to get to where he is today.
“It comes with a lot of perks being in NASCAR, being at the top level, you get to do a lot of cool things, meet a lot of cool people but at the same time this is a sport, and it is the only sport that you lose more than you win,” he said. “The win/lose ratio is pretty bad but that’s what it takes to be successful. You have to be able to overcome finishing second, finishing 20th and what not to be stronger for that next weekend. So that’s what you keep working on each and every day, each and every weekend of your life. For me, the last 15 years that’s what it’s been.”
“It’s great to have somebody like Bubba here, somebody who has paid their dues in NASCAR to get where he’s at today,” said Magna Vista Principal Charles Byrd. “I think the message sent to the students that if you continue to work hard good things will happen to you, I think that had a big part to play in the message we hope to relay to kids. You don’t end up one day being a superstar, it takes a lot of work and dedication and determination in order to be there. So I think it meant a lot to our students to have that energy and someone of his caliber in our school.”
Even though he faced hard-hitting questions from the students, Wallace seemed to have an impact on them, with many posing for selfies and trying to get autographs from the driver as he walked out of the auditorium.
Students may have joked around with Wallace during the Q&A, but many were inspired with his words after he left.
“I just felt like, just seeing someone around our age and being so inspirational, coming in second at Daytona, that’s a great accomplishment,” said MVHS student Charquise Smith-Stultz. “And just thinking he’s only a few years older than us, thinking about the goals we can reach if we really set our minds to them.”
“I just think it was great to have him,” said MVHS student Jordan Brim. “We live in a relatively small town, and to have someone relatively famous come in and talk to us was really inspirational. He even talked about how he didn’t go to college. You can still do other things besides go to college and that was really inspirational for those people in the audience who don’t want to go to college.”
Wallace will strap in for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway Sunday at 2 p.m., and he made sure to let the students know his sport is nothing like the movie Talladega Nights, another question he was asked.
He may have even convinced local students to give racing a try, or at least gained a few new fans.
“It’s pretty cool. Growing up, being a NASCAR fan, you get to see someone as popular and successful as he is come out and speak to us, it’s really amazing,” said MVHS student Caleb Hubbard.
“And 15 years of it, it comes with a lot of practice and it translates over to the real world,” Wallace said. “You’ve got to have a lot patience and you’ve got to be able to just deal with al that comes with it. You guys are young, you guys are coming out of it, you guys get to deal with the real world stuff here soon, but just be ready for it and try to stay focused no matter what comes at you.”
This story first appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin in March 2018.