Wallace Jr. ready to show what he can do
Saturday, May. 19, 2012
The only colors Darrell Wallace Jr. notices while hes racing are the sponsor logos on the cars of his competitors.
He believes those are the only ones others see as well.
In a sport that sees few women and minorities, Wallace would like his ascension up the NASCAR ranks to be noticed more for his performance than his trailblazing.
Regardless, Wallace will stand out when he makes his first Nationwide Series start Sunday at Iowa Speedway.
When he takes the green flag, Wallace will become the third African-American driver to make a start in the series since its inception in 1982. Bill Lester ran one race in 1999 and Marc Davis made 10 starts between 2008 and 2011.
Wallace, 18, is arguably the most successful driver to go through NASCARs Drive for Diversity program, which provides an opportunity for minorities and women to race competitive equipment in NASCARs development series.
"Racing has always been fun for me. I tried basketball, but I can tell you I was no Michael Jordan, said Wallace, who is running a full schedule in the K&N Pro Series East as well as at least four Nationwide races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.
Ill be honest, I found the fact there were not many racers like me who had gone up the ladder sort of a challenge. Wendell Scott was probably the best and his Cup win was like 40 to 50 years ago, he said.
I look now and there is no one there like me. Thats a goal to go for.
Wallace, who lives in Concord and graduated from Northwest Cabarrus High, began running go-karts when he was nine and over time progressed to Bandoleros, Legends cars and late models. He found success just about everywhere.
He signed on as a development driver for JGR in 2009 and spent two seasons (2010 and 2011) in the Drive for Diversity program, where he won five times in 22 starts with Revolution Racing.
While still running this season in the K&N series he picked up another victory in Greenville, S.C. JGR is using the Nationwide races to gauge performance and interest from sponsors. JGR would like him to run full time in the series in 2013.
Weve been in this long enough that you kind of watch guys and you know they either have it or not, said JGR team president J.D. Gibbs. Darrell has things he has to work on, but he certainly has what it takes to make it in NASCAR. Hes gifted.
We think if given the right platform and stage, he can show everyone what he can do.
The Nationwide opportunities this season for now are limited.
Wallace said part of the challenge of his debut is to temper the anticipation of the spotlight with realistic expectations.
I want to be there at the end of the race, he said. We have to manage everything well pit stops, getting in and out of the pit box well. I definitely need to be focused on that.
Also I cant overdrive the car, just need to relax, settle down, get into a rhythm, tick off the laps. Its my first race. Im not going out there to set the world on fire.
Im definitely going out there to show my capabilities, what Im able to do on the track and also off the track.
Wallace has plenty of internal pressure as well.
The No. 20 Toyota hes driving this weekend has won the past two Nationwide races with Joey Logano at the wheel.
His crew chief, Adam Stevens, constantly reminds Wallace the importance of finishing the race.
And then theres Wallaces father, Darrell Sr.
He said, I want a top-five finish. Well, I told him he better go out there and drive it himself, the younger Wallace said.
Id love a top-five finish even a win. These guys have won the last two weeks, they dont like to finish second.
While every drivers experience is different, Wallace was asked what advice he would give other young drivers to help move up the NASCAR ladder.
You cant rush anything. You have to go out there, and patience is a virtue. Thats the key thing to racing, he said. You just got to take it race by race and dont let anything get in front of you.
So far, nothing has.
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