Perhaps Desiree Wallace says it best about her son, NASCAR driver Darrell Wallace Jr.
Very early in the ESPN E60 profile airing Tuesday, December 14 (7:30 p.m. ET), Desiree says, “You either love him, or you hate him.”
It is an honest assessment. One that will continue even after viewers take in the 90-minute special titled Fistful of Steel – The Rise of Bubba Wallace.
Narrated by ESPN reporter Ryan McGee, who sits down with Wallace for a candid interview, the program goes in-depth not only about Wallace’s journey to NASCAR’s premier level but how he got there. Documenting the highs and lows Wallace has experienced in racing and his personal life.
Take the night in May 2003 when Wallace’s family dealt with the death of his 19-year-old cousin Sean Gillispie, who was killed by a police officer when reaching in his pocket for his cell phone. As McGee narrates, not only were the officers never disciplined or charged but they were also cleared of any wrongdoing when a lawsuit was brought against them.
Wallace also tells of how he was pulled over twice in 2011. During the first, he was confronted about whether he could afford the car he was driving. A few months later, during the second stop for failing to his turn signal, law enforcement asked to search his car because Wallace was in an area where drugs, money, and weapons came through.
These are some moments that helped Wallace understand the world around him. As the piece lays out, Wallace never thought much about being a Black race car driver or how he was different from most of the other competitors at a racetrack. But things changed the older he got.
It all came to a head in 2020. Wallace was brought into the conversation around race when Kyle Larson was suspended for using a racial slur in the spring; then, he became more outspoken about social justice issues following the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd before a noose was found in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway.
While it was determined the noose was not a hate crime, Wallace explains how he went from “somewhat favorite driver to the worst hated driver in the sport.”
Not much of Wallace’s story is well-known. At least, not to the detail that E60 goes with its up close and personal look at Wallace and his family.
There is the once-close relationship between Wallace and his father, Darrell Wallace Sr., that was shattered in 2016. After racing together and dreaming of making it to NASCAR, Wallace Sr. wasn’t there during one of Wallace Jr.’s biggest moments, and it explains why he was so emotional after finishing second in the 2018 Daytona 500.
Other interviews in the special include NASCAR president Steve Phelps, Jimmie Johnson, as well Wendell Scott family members Wendell Scott Jr., Franklin Scott, and Warrick Scott.
“Nothing is ever going to be simple for Bubba Wallace,” Desiree Wallace says as the program winds down. “Everything that he does is going to be scrutinized. So, I told Bubba, ‘You drive for Bubba. This is what you love to do.’”