NXG Youth Motorsports (Nexgeneracers), a racing program that helps predominantly minority youth become race car drivers through exposure to motorsports, held the first racing event of the 2020 Indianapolis Motor Speedway racing season June 27-28 and featured a NASCAR Cup Series star.
The group of boys and girls ages 11 to 15 began their day on Saturday with a virtual appearance by a special guest: Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bubba Wallace, the only African-American driver in NASCAR’s top level of stock car racing. Wallace shared words of advice and wisdom, along with practical tips during an engaging conversation.
“There’s a lot of people that are going to be against you saying that you can’t do it, but you are much stronger than that,” Wallace told the students. “You are there right now, and you guys are there for a reason. Don’t let anybody take that reason away from you.”
The program, founded by Charles Wilson and Rodney Reid, visited IMS for the 14th consecutive year. As a longtime sponsor of Nexgeneracers, IMS remains committed to helping the program succeed and grow.
Split between classroom and on-track time, the program teaches the young, aspiring racers about more than just driving. The program offers fundamental learning programs and uses STEM-related education, English and other critical thinking assignments that revolve around racing.
Teaching the teenage drivers about the importance of off-track qualities in race car drivers is where Wallace’s expertise came into play. Via videoconference, he talked to the class about understanding their voices as athletes, how to prepare for motorsports careers outside of driving, standing up for and believing in themselves and much more.
The first bit of wisdom Wallace shared to the pre-teen and teenage kids stationed inside the famed Gasoline Alley garages was to understand how powerful their voices can be. He shared that as they work toward public careers that are different than their peers, their voices and actions will be amplified. Therefore, he said it was important for them to be prepared and know how to handle it.
“I will say the hardest part about being a driver or an athlete or anybody that is successful at what they do, there’s this imaginary pedestal that you’re on,” he said. “If you take away one thing, it’s that your voice matters, and it carries much more weight than other people. Always remember that. Your actions do, as well.”
Immediately, Wallace transitioned the session from himself to the aspiring race car drivers. Wanting to hear from them, he opened it up to questions from the kids.
The group of kids introduced themselves and asked a wide array of questions from how to handle race-related issues to how to get their start in racing and how to navigate family and friends who may question their desire to be a professional race car driver.
Wallace has been very active on racial equality issues since the death of George Floyd in early June, urging NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag from its racetracks, which it did. He also raced a car with a #BlackLivesMatter livery in early June at Martinsville Speedway. That work led 14-year-old Camille Robson to ask Wallace about racial issues he faced while growing up at racetracks around the country.
Wallace told Robson and the rest of the class he didn’t understand some of the problems he faced when he was younger, but as he got older, he realized what he had been up against. He said learned from his mom to study and understand people he is around and if they are the kind of person he wants to be involved in his life.
“I don’t know if I ever have (been questioned based on race) on a constant level,” he said. “I had some instances when I was a kid when I was starting out that I didn’t really understand, and my parents would handle it behind the scenes. They would just tell me to go back the next week and win.”
However, Wallace said that if or when the kids ever face race-related issues growing up, they shouldn’t let it impact them but instead use it as motivation to prove they belong where they are – just like he did.
“I don’t know if race ever brought me to a level where I struggled to perform,” he said. “It just made me that much stronger. I use it as motivation. People that want to try to take things away from me because of my race just adds fuel to the fire for me to go out and run that much better.”
Wallace used that fuel to score his first-career NASCAR national series win in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2013 racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports. With that win, Wallace became the first African-American driver to win in one of NASCAR’s national series since Wendell Scott in 1963.
“Man, that was a special day with everything that went on at Martinsville,” Wallace said. “I just go out and race, and whatever barriers I break or records I set after that, I let it all set in place and let my actions do the speaking for itself. That was such a special day having the Wendell Scott family there, knowing all the history behind it was really cool. That was a win on the top of my list that I will never forget.”
Eric Hampton, a 15-year-old who is entering his third year in the program, is looking for his first win in NXG and said he hopes it is as memorable as Wallace’s first NASCAR win. He added he learned a lot from the video conference with Wallace, most importantly to be true to himself.
“I learned to be myself,” Hampton said. “He said to always lookout for myself and always just to race and race yourself. Don’t worry about anyone else, always worry about yourself the most.”
While Wallace spoke to the group at the Racing Capital of the World virtually, he will be at the track in a few days. He will drive the famed No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet in the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Powered by Big Machine Records on Sunday, July 5, live on NBC.
Wallace returns to Indianapolis after a stellar performance in last year’s race, won by Kevin Harvick. Wallace surged toward the front late in the race, but the iconic No. 43 was no match for Harvick’s No. 4 car, and Wallace settled for a third-place finish and his second career top-five finish in the NASCAR Cup Series.