‘Never quit.’ Why Bubba Wallace and his mom were in tears after his Daytona 500 run

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace breaks down after 2nd-place finish in Daytona 500

Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., NASCAR’s only black driver, broke down with his mother and sister after finishing second in his first career Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.
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Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., NASCAR’s only black driver, broke down with his mother and sister after finishing second in his first career Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018.

Funny, isn’t it, how tears speak more clearly than words?

Even muffled, they just say things words never can. And for Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only black driver and the runner-up in Sunday’s Daytona 500, that was especially true.

That Wallace finished his first career Daytona 500 was impressive, given 15 cars didn’t. That he finished second (and propelled Austin Dillon to the win) is even more so.

But that it was his first career Daytona 500, and the best finish in history by a black man, and that legendary baseball player and civil-rights figure Hank Aaron called him before the race to wish him luck? And that at this time last year, he had no sponsors, no ride, and no idea what his future held?

Well with all that, you get tears.

“For Hank Aaron also to call right there before was really special,” Wallace said, “and just knowing that people are tuning in and hopefully noticing the new face and the new change that’s coming to NASCAR, and they get behind it and support it.”

Now, Wallace may have been able to hold them in a little better if not for his mother, Desiree. After admittedly getting lost and left behind on pit road, she stumbled into Wallace’s postrace press conference about a minute late.

As if she was going to let any silly press conference stop her.

Before the start of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb.18, 2018, baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron called NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace on pit road at Daytona International Speedway. Aaron endured much racist vitriol as he neared and finally broke Babe

Desiree bounded through the room and up the steps to her son. They hugged – and that’s when the sobbing started.

“I am so proud of you, baby,” Desiree said without breaking the embrace. “We did win that race baby, we did.

“I love you.”

They kept hugging and crying for a few seconds, and then Desiree stepped away ... only for Wallace to call for his sister Brittany up on stage instead.

“It’s a sensitive subject, but I’m just so emotional over where my family has been the last two years, and I don’t talk about it, but it’s just so hard,” Wallace said. “I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do, and my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it, but I just want to make them proud. Second is horrible, but it’s still a good day.”

At that point, Wallace finally dried his eyes and began answering questions.

He spoke about the anxiety of this whole week, with mainstream media and cameras tailing him at every turn and corner. He spoke about how he’d dodged a crash with two laps to go in the race, veering his car left of the carnage and almost wrecking in the process. He spoke about how he came out of the final restart and pushed Dillon, his teammate, into the lead.

But no matter what technical or race-related questions he spoke about, he always came back to the emotion of it all.

“It’s just all about adversity, and looking at the stuff you've gone through, it’s motivation,” Wallace said. “Never quit.”

NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace was asked by a reporter following the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018 if he is always so emotional. Wallace responded understandably that when you have family and run a good race it tugs at your heartstrings. Walla

Eventually the press conference, delayed and then twice-interrupted, finished. Wallace left the media center, and this time his sister and mother followed right behind. Wallace went off to celebrate (his mother guessed to eat some Goldfish or a Domino’s pizza), but Desiree kept walking and shaking her head.

And at last, she tried to put into words everything their tears had already told.

“There’s just been a long, hard-fought road for him,” Desiree said. “A lot of people saying he doesn’t belong here. I just think that tonight, he proved that he did. He belongs here.

“And he’s here to stay.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks