Bubba Wallace has become one of the most famous faces in sports over the past two weeks as he led the movement for NASCAR to ban the use of the Confederate flag, and even more so since a noose was found in his garage stall on Saturday, which on Tuesday was revealed to have been there for months — well before he was assigned the garage. He took a break from the frenzy to answer some questions from The Post’s Steve Serby, though the driver took the lead:
Q: Describe the emotions of the last couple of days.
A: I guess the last 24 hours — just short of pure hell.
Q: Can you elaborate?
A: Just a lot of BS going on. Just frustrating to read and hear — I need to stop reading, I guess, that’s my problem. … But the false accusations and stuff that I’m kinda being put in the limelight of. But that’s people’s opinions. I wish I could convince everybody like I’m a good guy, you know? And people will always judge a book by its cover and whatnot. I’m working on that not affecting you as much as it has in the past. But other than that, it is still good to keep moving the needle on what we’re fighting for, we’re fighting for what’s right inside the sport and ultimately inside the nation to get rid of racial injustice and provide inclusion and diversity in the sport.
Q: What would you say to the haters who are so eager to test your character and integrity?
A: People are quick to not listen to the facts and what I was saying in my side of the story. They’re just quick to judge a book by its cover. You’re not gonna change the opinions of those people. Their minds are too small. It’s time for me to stop worrying about that and move on and continue to focus on the positives out of all of this.
Q: In your mind, that was a noose, correct?
A: Yes sir, it was. Clear as day.
Q: Does it sadden you that you believe it was a noose?
A: Yeah, it does. It just coincidentally had to be in our garage and kinda created this whole media frenzy around it, and unfortunately, it looks like we’re on the bad end of the stick. Although I know we’re not, it’s just the way things worked out. I’m glad it wasn’t a racist act, or any crime towards me or towards my family, everybody’s safe and sound.
Q: You released a statement calling the result of the FBI investigation not showing you were a victim of a hate crime a relief, but expressed that you were angry on CNN on Tuesday night.
A: I just said I was angry at being falsely accused of a hoax. I am relieved that it was not a racial act towards me.
Q: Who has reached out to you over the last couple of days?
A: A lot of people. I’m just overwhelmed with it all.
Q: What has it been like being Bubba Wallace, in NASCAR and outside of NASCAR?
A: It’s been a fun journey; it’s been a tough journey sometimes. Nothing’s ever a cakewalk. It’s a journey I knew that would be tough from the start in learning how to be competitive, to learning how to handle yourself off the racetrack and represent the best way you can, represent sponsors and all that stuff. There’s no written manual for how to be an athlete, and so you go through all the trials and tribulations of what it’s like, the ups and downs of it. You get thrown through the ringer, and you’ll have days that test you, and weeks that test you. We’ve been going through that the last couple of days, the last couple of weeks. … Just kinda going through that whole roller coaster of emotions. It’s all part of it.
Q: Are you optimistic that the Black Lives Matter movement will change America for the better?
A: I am. I’m not very optimistic about many things, but seeing the change that has been going on inside of our sport, and a little bit inside of the nation in recent weeks has shown some positive sides, but there’s still the negative sides to it as well, people not wanting change and don’t see that there’s a reason to change. They don’t understand it fully what the African-American race goes through, and they don’t want to take the time to understand it. They are frustrated that we’re still talking about it, and that’s simply what we have to do — our voice hasn’t been heard in a really long time. You see some positive light coming out of this. It’s gonna take a lot more time to fully get there.
Q: How dispiriting for you has it been outside of NASCAR to have endured racism?
A: I’ve had my fair share of incidents with law enforcement, whether they’re saying smart remarks, condescending remarks to downplay who I am and what I can afford. … It’s something that made me stronger on the back end of it, and learned from those instances. But it’s something that A LOT of people go through, and it’s always different circumstances for everybody. The common denominator is racism. But every encounter’s different. It’s just unfortunate times that we live in that it still goes on.
Q: You’ve been pulled over while driving?
A: I have, yup.
Q: What can you tell me about those experiences?
A: Just like I said, condescending remarks: “Can you afford this car? It’s a nice car.” You don’t know who I am, how much money I make. You’re totally asking that because I’m an African-American guy.
Q: Racers you’ve admired?
A: I’ve always been a [Dale] Earnhardt fan because of my parents, so I just kinda inherited that. I’m not a big role-model guy, I like doing things on my own and figuring it out, but I think throughout these times and these last couple of weeks, the last month or so, Jimmie Johnson has showed why he’s a stud on and off the racetrack. He’s been in my corner heavily these last couple of weeks, checking in on me, making sure I’m OK mentally and physically. … Kevin Harvick has reached out and shown his support. There’s been a lot of drivers in my corner. We were able to see that on Monday during the pre-race where all the drivers came together. That was pretty special, it showed what NASCAR is all about. It’s family, it’s unity, it’s leadership and togetherness.
Q: A scouting report on Bubba Wallace?
A: A competitive guy that doesn’t back down to anything on or off the racetrack. I’ll never be intimidated by somebody, and I will treat you will respect as long as I’m treated with respect.
Q: What advice would you have for people battling depression?
A: Through every rainfall there’s always that awesome sunset. It may take a couple of days to see it, but the sun’s gonna come out, and it’s gonna shine bright. You just have to keep digging through those days, you have to keep digging through those dark days. I’ve been there. It’s a tough battle to walk. I feel for everybody that goes through it because depression is real, and it doesn’t take much to put you in that state of mind to where you think everybody’s against you, you’re up against the world and that’s not true. You have A LOT of people in your corner pulling for you to fight through it all, and to see the good in life and to know that with a little bit of hard work and perseverance, you could get through it. Always keep fighting.
Q: What drives you?
A: My schedule drives me right now. I’ve got a lot of commitments to fulfill. I feel like my story’s just getting started, and there’s just a lot more to tell and a lot more to unfold, and so, each day is a new day. You never know what’s gonna happen. You never know what’s gonna unveil itself.
Q: How would you describe Richard Petty for me?
A: Gentle giant. The King is 82 years old, he’s a helluva guy, a helluva team owner. He’s very in tune with what’s going on outside the racetrack. The racetrack is what fuels him to keep on going. He goes to at least 20 or something races a year. He’s just on top of things, he wants to know why certain things are the way they are, whether that’s race car or whether that’s just life in general. It’s been a fun three years working with them. They’ve brought me in like family, and excited to see where that goes in the future.
Q: Three dinner guests.
A: Ryan Blaney; Lewis Hamilton; LeBron James.
Q: Do you hope you’re an inspiration for young black kids in any field that you can overcome odds by being strong and courageous?
A: Absolutely. It’s to all kids and everybody who goes through hardships in their life, whether they’re standing up for what’s right or whether it’s a math exam or English exam, whatever it may be. Just knowing that you can do it as long as you put your mind to it and stay true to who you are. No matter what faces you in life, always look up to God, and he will guide the way. You just have to walk that path very stern, and very proud.
Q: What message would you want to leave to NASCAR, to American sports fans and really to all of America about what these last couple of days have showed you, or proved to you?
A: As athletes we all know that we always have a platform to utilize and to create change in our communities, in our world, whether that’s talking to friends, whether that’s talking to fans, whatever it may be … endorsements, whatever it is … you’re enlightening people on so many things, whether it’s sharing your own stories or what you think we could do as a nation to make this a better place for the next generation, whatever it may be. You have to stick to who you are, stick to your character, your integrity and never let anybody take you away from that path, and make you somebody that you’re not trying to be. You stand up for what’s right, and stand there proud.