NASCAR in Joliet: Darrell Wallace Jr. aware of what his presence means
By Tina Akouris firstname.lastname@example.org August 28, 2013 10:20PM
Darrell Wallace Jr. visits the Galowich YMCA in Joliet Wednesday to promote the Sept. 13 EnjoyIllinois.com 225 truck race and speak with some children. | Supplied photo
Updated: September 30, 2013 2:15PM
It seems fitting that Darrell Wallace Jr. spoke Wednesday with children about life lessons at the Galowich Family YMCA in Joliet, as thousands gathered in the nation’s capital to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s March on Washington.
Wallace is the first African-American to race full-time in a NASCAR series, driving the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series.
“We go (to the YMCA) to tell the kids what it means to stay in school and motivational stuff to keep them going, to tell them to see what life is all about,” Wallace said. “(The March on Washington) is the backbone of our history, and we can use that and feed it into (children’s) heads about what (this country) was like then and what it is like now.”
After the YMCA visit, Wallace went to the Chicagoland Speedway to promote the track’s September tripleheader event from Sept. 13 through 15: the EnjoyIllinois.com 225 Trucks race, the Dollar General 300 Nationwide race and the first race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, the GEICO 400.
While in Joliet, Wallace also participated in NASCAR’s driving experience. He gave fans some pointers about driving race cars and trucks.
Wallace is just 19 years old, but sounds like a seasoned NASCAR veteran. He started racing at age 9. Wallace doesn’t hear people whisper about him being the only African-American in the garage area anymore, but he is mature enough to know he has to live up to different standards.
“When I started out (the talk) wasn’t bad. But you hear stuff and now I don’t hear anything anymore,” Wallace said. “You have to take it in stride and use it as motivation. You want to be the first (African-American driver) since Wendell Scott to win a NASCAR race and that’s a goal of mine.”
In 2012, Wallace drove in four Nationwide series races and had three top-10 finishes. This season, Wallace is 11th in the Trucks points standings and has one top-five finish and seven in the top 10. His best finish was fifth at Martinsville, Va.
“We got on a hot streak a month ago, and there were three races in a row where we were in the top 10,” Wallace said. “Then we jumped out of nowhere with some bad luck. It wasn’t what we needed and it knocked out of the top 10 in points. But we are not giving up.”
Wallace already has been part of history this season, competing in the first NASCAR series race at Eldora Speedway’s dirt track in Ohio in July. He also wants to make his own history.
“To know that you’re the only one out there of color means a lot,” Wallace said. “There are extra odds on me and it is tough, but I try to do my best and focus on running up front.”