For a guy that has never won a NASCAR race, Bubba Wallace has become a racing star.
He’s improving and, with a better car and team around him, NASCAR’s lone black driver might be on the verge busting loose.
His future is bright enough to have caught the eye of North Carolina native Michael Jordan. The majority owner of the NBA’s Carolina Bobcats has teamed with NASCAR veteran Denny Hamlin to form a racing team featuring Wallace as its top driver.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” Wallace said.
“I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
The adventure would begin in February 2021 at the season’s opening race, the Daytona 500 – pandemic pending.
The connection between Jordan and Hamlin is professional and personal. Hamlin endorses Jordan’s signature “Jordan Brand” clothing and accessories and they have been friends for years.
Jordan said in a press release that his parents took him and his siblings to NASCAR races and he has remained a fan of the motor sport.
“The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me,” he said.
Jordan has said more about racism and equality since the killing of unarmed George Floyd on Memorial Day than he had in his entire career.
Adding Wallace to his racing team was an opportunity to again voice his newfound willingness to speak out.
“In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing,” Jordan, who becomes the first Black NASCAR team owner in more than 50 years, said.
“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”
Hamlin said many details are yet to be ironed out with the new team, but “deciding on a driver was easy — it had to be Bubba Wallace.”
“He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”
“Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins,” Wallace said.
In 105 NASCAR races, which were all with Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace’s best finish was second place in the 2018 Daytona 500. He secured five top-10 finishes this year, making this his best year statistically.
The odd part of the Jordan-Hamlin owned team is that Hamlin will remain the top driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, has won six times in 2020 and is a favorite to win the NASCAR driver’s championship.
He will go into every race next year hoping that Wallace finishes second to him and Gibbs racing. Hmmm.
Another concern I have for Wallace is that Jordan has been one the most mediocre NBA team owners since he acquired majority interest of the franchise.
Once close friends, Jordan and former NBA great and current NBA analyst Charles Barkley are estranged. Jordan remains bitter because of Barkley’s critical assessment of Jordan’s choices for managerial positions when he was Carolina’s general manager.
In May, Barkley recounted what he said – and it is pertinent to Jordan’s foray into NASCAR.
"I'm pretty sure I said, 'As much as I love Michael, until he stops hiring them kiss-asses, and his best friends, he's never going to be successful as a general manager,' Barkley explained.
“Very few of your friends are going to be honest with you. And that's very hard for any celebrity, but especially somebody of his stature.”
So, who is Jordan’s partner? Hamlin, a close friend.
We’ll learn beginning next year how the partnership works out for upcoming driver Wallace and for NASCAR.
Sanders heads South
The last thing I wanted was to get in a fight in Jackson, Mississippi on a Saturday night – “Uneasy Rider,” by Charlie Daniels (1973)
This lyric came to my mind when I read that NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders is the new head coach of the Jackson State University Tigers.
Sanders wanted to be a head coach, it’s not a secret. His dream was to be named head where he starred in college – Florida State University. With no college or NFL coaching experiences, that was not going to happen.
He should be commended for finding a head coaching position, especially with an HBCU program.
But I just can’t see “Primetime” Sanders enjoying his time in Jackson. The Confederate Flag is everywhere, and it is not going anywhere. Yes, the legislature recently voted to change the state flag because the “Stars and Bars” was on it. But more than 70 percent of the state’s residents did not want it to happen.
Jackson isn’t Dallas, where Sanders resides. It isn’t Los Angeles. Heck, it isn’t Kansas City or St. Louis.
But if Sanders is willing to give it a shot, I have to support him.
If Sanders believes he can convince a bevy of five-star football players to join him at Jackson State, he’s in for a rude awakening. He might get one or two. Of course, that might be enough to make significant progress.
On his “21st and Prime” Barstool podcast, Sanders said, “God called me to Jackson State.”
He was greeted with a police escort upon his arrival in Jackson on Monday, and the Tigers’ marching band led the way into his introductory press conference.
"We're going to win," Sanders said.
"We’re going to look good while we win. ... And we’re going to win professionally.”
He asked the audience, “Do we believe?”
“We believe!” many said in response.
“Start calling me ‘Coach Prime’ from now on because I’m not going to answer to anything else,” Sander said on the podcast.
Sanders will have to answer to Thomas Hudson, Jackson State’s interim president and the board of trustees.
Hudson is in the position because former president William B. Bynum resigned in February after being nabbed in a prostitution sting by law authorities.
His predecessor as head coach, John Hendrick, was fired in August. Jackson’s State’s website lists several assistant coaching and athletic department vacancies.
Like other HBCU schools, the football program is on hold in 2020.
Sanders is not inheriting a model program. He was a great player. He now has to be a great leader.
The Reid Roundup
The first top-flite football player that Deion Sanders must convince to play at Jackson State is his son, Shedeur Sanders, a highly recruited dual-threat quarterback at Trinity Christian School in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill. He had committed to Florida Atlantic in July…Former Detroit Lions African-American head coach Jim Caldwell took the troubled franchise to the playoffs in 2016 and narrowly missed the postseason with nine wins in 2017. His replacement, Matt Patricia, has a record of 9-25…As much as I want Black quarterbacks to succeed in the NFL, Anthony Lynn, the Black head coach of the San Diego Charges, needs to play rookie Justin Herbert over black QB Tyrod Taylor after Herbert played well in an emergency start last Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Major League Baseball and its Players Association pledged $10 million to the Players Alliance, which was established by more than 100 current and former Black players. It will finance a player-led mentorship program, help recruit Black students to internships in the sport and purchase baseball equipment to Black groups in need.
Tight end Darren Waller, who starred in the Oakland Raiders 34-24 win over New Orleans on Monday night, is related to a guy I graduated from high school with in 1978, Adrian Waller.
Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” His Twitter handle is @aareid1.