NASCAR & Auto Racing

‘I keep going’: NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s struggles, on and off the race track

Bubba Wallace battles competitors on track and depression off

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace battles competitors on the track and depression off. Wallace who has been driving on the cup series for two seasons has experienced the highs and lows of racing.
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NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace battles competitors on the track and depression off. Wallace who has been driving on the cup series for two seasons has experienced the highs and lows of racing.

Bubba Wallace has among the sunnier dispositions you’ll find in the NASCAR garage. But things have been difficult for Wallace since he moved up to a full-time Cup Series ride in 2018.

“I show up, I’m happy-go-lucky,” Wallace said Saturday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he will start 29th in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. “Hey, everything’s good.

“But inside I’m beating myself up. It’s not fun. It’s tough.”

Wallace revealed recently he’s dealing with depression, much of it stemming from the struggles he’s had in the No. 43 Chevrolet he drives for Richard Petty Motorsports.

Wallace, 25, has yet to win a points race in his one-plus season in NASCAR’s highest level. That’s perhaps why he reacted with pure joy and excitement last weekend, when he won the second stage of the Open qualifying event for NASCAR’s All-Star Race. He followed that up with a fifth-place finish in the All-Star Race.

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“As many dark moments as I’ve had, how many times I’ve given up – and I know I sound like a broken record – it’s been tough,” Wallace said after the All-Star Race. “But I keep going.”

Wallace first talked about his depression at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago. He told the Observer on Saturday that he is now seeking professional help.

Wallace moved up to the Xfinity Series in 2015 from NASCAR’s Truck series, where he had just finished third in the points standings. Two seasons later, he landed his Cup ride. With that, however, came the glaring-hot spotlight of being the only African-American driver in the Cup series, who also happens to drive Petty Motorsports’ No. 43, the iconic car once driven by team co-owner Richard Petty.

Wallace’s results have been spotty, at best. Although he won a Truck race in 2017, he has just one top-5 finish as a Cup driver. That was a second-place finish in the 2018 Daytona 500, his first start with Petty. He sits 29th in the points standings this season, with a 17th at Martinsville being his best finish.

“You go from running good to running mediocre and that changes everything,” Wallace said. “It changes your perspective. You start doubting yourself. “How can I go from this to that? Is it me? No, it’s not. Is it me? Well, maybe it’s me. Is it me? Yes, it’s you.

“Nowadays, it’s rare for me to show a smile with teeth.”

Trying a journal

In October, late in his rookie season, Wallace’s mother, Desiree, suggested to her son that he start keeping a journal, something Bubba had tried before but never stuck to.

Wallace jotted down two statements in the journal:

“You’re not good enough.”

“You should give up.”

Wallace wrote the words “yes” and “no” next to them. He then circled “yes” to both of them.

He threw the journal across the room.

“Ever since then, I’ve been super hard on myself,” he said. “Every instance where something doesn’t go right on the track is my fault. It wears you down.”

Wallace is realistic about where he and his team stand in the NASCAR world. Despite having perhaps the sport’s greatest name on its masthead, Petty Motorsports struggles to find the find the funding that comes with consistent sponsorship.

And that is something else Wallace deals with.

“They have a lot leads on things, but I don’t want to know where we stand on anything until it’s a done deal,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Don’t fill me in on anything because I don’t want to know.’ I like to walk into the shop and see a nice, new logo on the car.

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“There are conversations; there’s a meeting next week. My thing is, ‘And your point is?’ Unless there’s a signed check and there’s something on the car? Then, no. Too many times over my career, I’ve heard that and come to the track and there’s the car in plain black. What happened?”

That’s not to say Wallace doesn’t understand the realities of operating a race team and being the one responsible for how the car performs on the track.

“When I started racing, there were no obligations,” he said. “I was always late to the (starting) grid because we were out there throwing a football. Now things are tougher. People think you make all this money, drive around on weekends, this and that. You have no idea.”

So each week, Wallace deals with the hopes of craving a win with the realities of where he is likely to finish.

CLT_BUBBA_17
NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace hugs his nephew Brandon Smith before climbing into his car for the NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18. Brandon’s mother, Brittany Smith, holds son Brixton while Wallace’s mother, Desiree, watches. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

17th at Martinsville? ‘Nice job’

“King (Petty) wants us to win and be up front,” Wallace said. “We have that mentality. But we also will get together and say, ‘Let’s get a top-20 today.’ So we come back from Martinsville 17th, we high five in the shop. King comes and says ‘Nice job.’

“So we’re balancing both ends. I want to win. But ‘nice job’ for 17th? I know our circumstance. I know where we’re at.”

Wallace said he’s happy he has gone public about his depression. Fans at the race track and have been supportive. He said he received an encouraging text from Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It’s cool to see how much support there is out there,” Wallace said. “Being open about it, you hear that a lot of people hide it. It’s tough to deal with as a 25-year-old. Being depressed is tough. I didn’t know that. I thought, ‘You’re depressed, move on.’ But it’s opened up my eyes and ears.”

David Scott: @davidscott14

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