With civil unrest continuing across the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minnesota police officer, more and more NASCAR drivers are using their platforms to spark conversation.
Daniel Suarez and Ty Dillon were among the first within the industry to use their social media channels to share their feelings, and were joined by the likes of Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Jimmie Johnson, and Brad Keselowski. NASCAR shared a statement calling for unity against racism late Monday, and on Tuesday, many participated in #BlackOutTuesday by posting a stark black background on social media.
Darrell Wallace Jr. has been front and center on the issue, appearing on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast earlier this week, in addition to an emotional segment during “Race Hub” on Fox Sports 1. Wallace, the only black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, has been sharing his personal experiences while urging his fellow drivers and NASCAR to be more vocal on issues they feel are wrong.
Wallace and Dillon also did an Instagram Live together, during which Dillon admitted that while he has known Wallace his entire career, hearing his stories were eye-opening.
“I think sometimes it’s easy for us who don’t know, as a white man or a white person, in general, we don’t know these stories,” said Dillon. “We don’t, all the time, ask the right questions to become informed. And just hearing what he’s gone through in his career and having to deal with people… on top of being a good race car driver, which makes people not always like you, but the color of his skin being something that he’s had to battle in his career, and will have to continue to battle.
“Just hearing those stories impacted me in just saying that Bubba’s going through this, so is everyone else that looks like him, so why can’t we emphasize to learn more and hear the stories so that we can help make a change, have the right verbiage in our communities and in our groups so that this problem doesn’t continue on.”
One story Wallace shared this week is that his cousin was killed in a police shooting in 2003. He also expressed fears that if he were to make one wrong move in the presence of police officers he could lose his life, and recalled being questioned about whether he can afford the cars he drives
“We have got to do better, we’ve got to step up,” said Wallace on the Dale Jr. Download about what he’s told his fellow drivers. “[I] encourage everybody to say what they feel. At the end of the day, this is way more important than any race win, any championship that you have ever accomplished. This something that can change on a global impact.”
Seven-time champion Johnson said Friday morning he’s been trying to educate himself. Johnson has also spoken with Wallace, first to check on him, but also to learn about what Wallace has dealt with.
“I think for those of us that ask ourselves ‘is there more that we can do,’ that’s the start of it,” said Johnson. “I think that’s, ultimately, what a lot of the protestors far and wide want to ignite in people – do you think you can do more? And when that really hits inside of you, will you act on it. I do think there’s time to do stuff this weekend. There’s a lot of discussion going on behind the scenes with many drivers with our sport, the leaders of sport.”
Dillon and Johnson aren’t worried about the reaction to their speaking out. While Johnson is still trying to find his voice, Dillon will continue to speak from the heart.
“I don’t care if I ever win a race or a championship in my life or lose every follower I have on Instagram or sponsor that I have, but when my children grow older, and I take my last breath, I want to be made sure that I was on the right side of what I felt is going on in history,” he said. “And that means way more than acquiring fame and trophies and wins. Those things all fade away. But the impact you had on human beings in your life, the relationship lasts forever. So, that’s my heart behind this.
“I know some people might not feel the same as me, and I understand that, as well. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. I just wanted to stop, in the middle of my career, and say, hey, this is where I stand, and there is the taunting in your head of what if I lose this or what if something happens. But, I know at the end of the day, this is what I believe in, and I’ll stand up for what I believe in.”