(Reuters) – Bubba Wallace held back tears while reflecting on the long road that led him to his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series win at Talladega Superspeedway on Monday.
His victory in the YellaWood 500 came after a rainstorm cut the race short with Wallace in the lead, making him the first Black driver to win a race in NASCAR’s premier series since Wendell Scott did so in 1963.
“I never think about those things,” Wallace said when asked about his historic achievement.
“But when you say it like that, it obviously brings a lot of emotion, a lot of joy to my family, fans, friends. It’s pretty damn cool. Just proud to be a winner in the Cup Series.”
Wallace won in a car owned by basketball great Michael Jordan and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, who last year partnered to form a new single-car NASCAR Cup Series team with Wallace as the driver.
Wallace was thrust into the spotlight last year when his calls for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag — which many Americans see as a symbol of oppression — at all events were ultimately adopted.
The driver was later thought to have been a victim of a racial attack when a noose, a symbol connected to lynching and America’s slave history, was found in his garage at Talladega Superspeedway.
The noose, according to NASCAR, was actually a garage door pull rope fashioned like a noose and the U.S. Justice Department said after an FBI investigation that Wallace was not the target of a hate crime.
Although the racing world rallied behind him during the incident, Wallace would later come under fire from then U.S. President Donald Trump over the incident.
“This is for all those kids out there who want to have an opportunity in whatever they want to achieve, and be the best at what they want to do,” said Wallace.
“You are going to go through a lot of (BS), but you always got to stick true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you.
“Stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry. There have been plenty of times when I wanted to give up. And you surround yourself with the right people, and it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Christian Radnedge)