Bubba Wallace On What it Means to Be Authentic, Talks Confederate Flag at SXSW

Ever since Bubba Wallace supported the Black Lives Matter movement in June 2020 wearing an “I Can’t Breath” t-shirt, the race-car driver has become the face of NASCAR’s social justice advocacy journey.

As the only Black driver in NASCAR’s top racing series, Wallace has used his platform to make a difference in the predominately white sport. He successfully called on NASCAR to ban the display of the Confederate flag at races, for instance, and he’s part of the organization’s recent diversity council.

Because of this, his personal brand is seeing major gains, from garnering a new fandom to landing endorsements and a Netflix doc to boot, however, this wasn’t something Wallace planned.

During a panel discussion at SXSW on Monday in Austin, Texas, Wallace was asked how the conversation happened with NASCAR when it came to his support for BLM. “It didn’t,” he said. “I just went and did it. That was the risk.”

While in the long-term, Wallace’s decision to speak out against the racial injustices in America paid off, there were initial blow-backs, including hatred and outright racism from people on social media.

He said when the decision to ban the Confederate flag went into place, some fans said they would never watch a race again.

“In the short-term, you kind of go through the rumps and bumps, but we look at this year. We had an exhibition race in the heart of L.A. at the Coliseum and over 70% of the ticket sales were all first-time fans that have never seen a race,” the athlete explained.

He added, “I wanted to bring awareness inside our four walls. Our sport needed the biggest culture shift of all.”

For Wallace, who signed on to be a brand ambassador with Columbia in August 2020, partnering with companies that align with his values has been key to remaining authentic.

“Being real. Being yourself. That’s the easiest way of going about life,” he said. “The more I can be myself and feel comfortable with everything that I say and do, the companies that align with that, those are the ones that resonate the most with me because they’re uplifting and wanting to push that same positive message.”

The 28-year-old from Mobile, Ala., who drives the number 23 Toyota Camry for the Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin-owned 23XI Racing team, has looked back at this time to reassess his purpose outside of the sport, too.

Wallace said, “You have to go through these trials and tribulations to figure out as you go. I feel like my my mission in life may be much bigger than [just being a race-car driver.] So it’s understanding your spot in life and how to surround yourself with the right people to help you elevate not only yourself, but the people around you.”

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