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Come Ride With Me

Jul 16 2020
Photo by
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Photo by
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Bubba Wallace
Richard Petty Motorsports
Jul 16 2020

Hell, I’m just tired.

Simple as that.

Hearing from tons of media outlets around the clock. Not really being able to put the phone or computer down. I haven’t been able to take my foot off the gas for weeks. Imagine being asked about hatred every single day for like three weeks. And then having your message overshadowed by something out of your control. It’s exhausting.

Anyone who thinks this is what I wanted, just doesn’t know me at all.

I’m a simple, country guy — someone who’s always tried to make his own choices and stand up for what’s right. It’s the way I was brought up. I’m no hero, and I’m not trying to be. I never saw myself as an activist. I’m just a guy who likes to drive fast, you know? That’s who I’ve been since I quit my AAU basketball team and got a go-kart when I was nine.

I never thought I’d be the reason for a national media debate about the Confederate flag. I never thought I would put BLACK LIVES MATTER on my car. And I never thought I would be at the center of a national conversation about race and sports.

Then … everything in the world just shifted. And I became that guy, for better or for worse. And I’m learning to embrace it.

Anyone who thinks this is what I wanted, just doesn’t know me at all.

I think the moment was the trigger for me. The Ahmaud Arbery video really shook me to the core and spurred me to stand up and say something. And then seeing George Floyd go through that was kind of like the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

I’m not much of a reader, that’s for sure. Words don’t stick with me. But music does. And after I saw that video of George Floyd, I thought of this song that I’ve been listening to over and over ever since.

I’m a big heavy metal-screamo guy. That stuff that you’ve probably heard once and been like, What are they even saying? That’s my genre. It might seem crazy, but the heavier it sounds, the more calming and soothing it is for me. That’s when it really resonates and makes me feel at peace. I love lonely rides on my motorcycle and just listening to music. I love them so much that I watch the weather obsessively so I never miss a chance to take my bike out on a sunny day. When I’m on a quiet road, I just let the music take me to a place where I don’t have to think.

But this song I’m talking about is different. I actually listen to it to help me think. It came out a few years ago and talks about social injustice and racial inequality in America. It says things I just can’t put into words myself.

It’s by the band Silent Planet. And it’s called “No Place to Breathe.”

The drums, the guitars — everything — just accent the powerful lyrics:

Place your hands to the pulse of this city, keep your ear to the ground, hear him gasp, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

Are we so blind to believe that violence could give birth to peace?

Make every breath a protest in a world where your neighbors cannot breathe.


Barry Cantrell

I was born in Mobile, Alabama. My family moved to Concord, North Carolina when I was two, and I’ve been here ever since.

My first love was basketball. I have an older sister — she’s 31, 32? (Hell, I don’t know. She’s getting up there in age.) We grew up really close, and she played basketball all the way up until her junior year of college. She had a full ride to South Carolina State, but she tore her ACL her junior year. I remember running around the gyms when I was six, seven, eight years old, following her.

I’ll never forget the year my dad bought a Harley-Davidson because that was when I found a new love. I was eight years old, and I had just successfully made it through AAU basketball tryouts for the second year. This guy Chris, who ran this bike show out at the racetrack, fixed my dad’s bike up for him. After he fixed up the Harley, Chris invited me and my dad out to the track to watch him do his thing one weekend. And that was it. We got hooked watching go-karts. With my dad’s blessing, I decided to quit my AAU team, get a go-kart, and go race.

From then on, me, my dad, and Chris were at the racetrack together each and every weekend. Me and my dad became more like best friends than father and son. We were always there together, racing together, winning races and losing races, and showing up the next weekend to do it all over again. We were racing throughout the summer. We were racing five times throughout the week, Monday and Tuesday in Charlotte, and then Wednesday and Thursday in Atlanta. Friday or Saturday was Kentucky or Nashville. We were racing a bunch, just trying to get better and better running with the best competition, and continuing to grow.

Racing … I just love, man.

And 17 years later, here I am, driving in NASCAR. The 43.

It’s been quite the journey, a lot of ups and downs. A lot more downs than ups, that’s for sure, but that’s the way the sport goes.

Did I ever look around and think, Dang, there’s not a lot of black and brown people around me at the track?

Nah.

To be honest, I never even looked at it like that. I just went out and did my job, got back on the road and went home, step and repeat. It was something I didn’t pay much attention to. It was just like, Hey, how many people are in the field tonight? Ten? Alright, let’s go beat ’em.

I have the sweetest, most caring mom, and when I was a kid she told me all these stories about the racism she’d experienced back in her day. She ran track, and sometimes people would throw rocks and whatnot at her team’s bus when they’d travel for meets. So, I always knew that racism existed. It just wasn’t something I ever experienced or noticed, especially on the track. Or if I did, I was too young to understand it.

Did I ever look around and think, Dang, there’s not a lot of black and brown people around me at the track? Nah.

It’s different now, though.

Now I can see it clearly.

Now, I know when I’m being treated a certain way because of the color of my skin.

I remember one time I was pulled over by this cop in Virginia for not using a turn signal. He walked up to my window, and he said to me: “There’s a lot of nice cars coming through these roads with either drugs, money, or weapons. You don’t have any of those, do you?”

“No, sir,” I said. “Just going to visit my friend.”

He said, “Well, mind if we search your vehicle? Step out.” And then he made me walk away. He must have called for backup because before I knew it, three other cops showed up and searched my car. (Didn’t find anything, of course.) I was pissed after that.

Hell, I got pulled over recently.

An undercover cop pulled out in front of me and turned his hazards on, so I went around him, passing a double yellow line. The officer pulled up to the stoplight behind me, got out with his gun out. Not pointed at me, but gun out, ready for something.

He said, “I advise you to pull over here in this parking lot.”

After he was done writing me a ticket, he was like, “This is a really nice car. You sure you can afford it?” That kinda stuff would burn anybody up. I wanted to say some smart-ass shit back, but I didn’t say anything.

Now, I’ve been on the other side of it, too, where I’m pulled over and it’s like, “Oh, man, you’re Bubba Wallace! I’ll let you go. Just be careful next time. Best of luck next race.”

Courtesy of Bubba Wallace

I’ve had more run ins with racist people than I have ever before in my life in the past few weeks. All because I spoke up.

Now, let me get something straight. I’ve seen that Confederate flag so much that I actually had become quite numb to it.

But when someone from my community says that this hurts them?? I’m gonna say, “Take that shit down.” It just alienates people. I’m still educating myself on these issues just like everyone else. If you dive back deep, and read about the Confederacy — which I’m still learning about as well — you understand what those people were fighting for. People will say anything to defend it. But make no mistake: It was a war over slavery. It was about the South trying to keep their slaves.

I’ve had more run ins with racist people than I have ever before in my life in the past few weeks. All because I spoke up.

And you know what? They LOST!

It’s the loser’s flag, is what’s funny.

The noose thing, especially, has been really hard for me to get a handle on.

I wasn’t there when it was found, but this is what I know.

My crew member was just sitting there talking with some guys in the garage stall. Usually, work might be happening, but at the time, there wasn’t much work to do. Guys are allowed to just show up and race now, so you’re not thrashing on the cars all day. At that time, they were all just kind of standing around talking, and I guess that’s when he saw it. The way he described it, it was just kind of like, Oh, wait a minute, what is that?

I’ll say this. Having been in garage stalls on a regular day, hell, you don’t notice those types of things. There’s so much action going on when you’re in the garage, usually. And even for me, just standing there, when I climb out of the car and watch my guys work for a minute, I’m not looking at a damn rope that’s hanging from the garage door. And so, whoever tied it, tied it and left it there, and that was it. And moved on. We’re only at Talladega twice a year. And so, the reason that it sat there is because that was the first time the garage had been used since October.

It’s not something that necessarily stands out unless you’re absolutely looking for it. Because yeah, you assume, Oh there’s a rope hanging there. It’s a garage pull, O.K. But with everyone hanging around, someone finally had an opportunity to notice something weird about that particular pull. Like, Whoa, wait a minute, this one is tied like a noose. Alright, now that changes things.

Of course, I’m frustrated. The minute I spoke out about removing the Confederate flag from NASCAR, I knew I was putting a target on my back. That certain people would be looking for any little thing to discredit me, no matter the facts.

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

But still, I don’t hold any regrets about being vocal on it.

My mom calls me every day. No. 1 fan in my corner. Having her support means a lot, and she’s definitely proud of how I’ve handled myself in the last couple of weeks. And also, who I’ve become throughout my life in just getting my feet under me and being able to stand up for what’s right.

I hope, after all this, you all are on board with me, because I’m just getting started.

I love racing. I love NASCAR. But sometimes change is good. Sometimes it’s the right thing.

NASCAR’s been saying for years that it’s wanted to be more inclusive and more diverse. Now, we’re finally starting to see actions behind their words, and that’s making a lot of people tune in for the first time. I’m proud to be at the forefront of that.

I love racing. I love NASCAR. But sometimes change is good.

Not because I’m some hero or politician or whatever.

No, man. Because I LOVE this sport.

Listen, I’m new to all this. I’m still learning. But I’ve never been the guy to follow the crowd because it’s safe or easy, and I’m not going to start now.

We’ve got a lot of work to do — but I’m ready for whatever.

I may be tired now, but I’m energized for what the future holds.

See you at the racetrack.

Bubba Wallace
Richard Petty Motorsports