Sometimes, coming in second place can be pretty awesome. That was the case Sunday when Darrell “Bubba” Wallace – NASCAR’s only black driver – made runner-up in the Daytona 500.
But another symbolic moment came just before the race started, when Wallace got a surprise phone call from another African-American ground breaker, baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.
The call lasted only seconds, but it was clear Aaron knew Wallace was poised to make history.
“When (team co-owner) Andrew Murstein came up to me and said, ‘Hey, Hank Aaron is on the line,’ I’m like, what? That’s awesome,” recalled Wallace of the moment. “I was pretty excited about that.”
A video of the moment shows 24-year-old Wallace struggling to hear Aaron over the noise on pit road, but he is clearly hanging on every word. Wallace smiles as he hands the cellphone back to a team member.
“He just said, ‘Good luck and have a good race today.’ It was just five seconds. He knew we were pressed for time,” said Wallace, who has tried to play down his role as NASCAR’s first black driver. “That was really cool.”
Turns out both Wallace and Aaron are originally from Mobile, Alabama. Sports Business Daily Journal reporter Adam Stern tweeted after the race that Aaron had wished Wallace luck “from one Mobile son to another..always believe in your dreams and anything is possible.”
Aaron is considered one of the greatest baseball players of any race, but he endured extra scrutiny because he is African-American. That scrutiny intensified when he broke Babe Ruth’s hallowed mark of 714 home runs and finished his career with numerous big-league records. He held a Major League record of 755 career home runs for three decades, until Barry Bonds surpassed it in 2007, according to Biography.com.
It was Wallace’s first Daytona 500 and the best finish in history by a black man.
Wallace is not shy about his status as the only black driver in a predominantly white sport; he’s acknowledged that is why he’s getting so much coverage lately.
“You’re not gonna stop hearing about ‘the black driver’ for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey,” he recently tweeted.