Last week Darrell Wallace Jr announced his decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports at the conclusion of the 2020 season. It was a decision that many weren't surprised by but to an RPM fan like myself, it left a bitter feeling and made us question Bubba’s loyalty.
I know many of you will say It’s a business and there isn’t much room for loyalty and typically I’d agree. in this case, I feel it runs deeper. The 2020 season has been the most unique in NASCAR’s history. Along with the rest of the world, they have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve also dealt with trying to address racial inequality. While that has been a challenge for all sports, you could easily argue that NASCAR has had the toughest time balancing being more inclusive without alienating old school fans. At the center of that movement in NASCAR has been Wallace. He is the sport's only full-time African American driver. He called for NASCAR to ban the confederate flag and NASCAR enhanced their enforcement of flag policies. The decision has been met with a lot of pushback from longtime fans and that was made very clear when Wallace was booed at this year’s All-Star Race.
Richard Petty is the owner/face of Richard Petty Motorsports. His resume doesn’t need to be listed here. He’s considered by many to be the greatest driver in the history of the sport. He is 83 years old and is fairly outspoken when it comes to political issues in our country. He’s very publicly supported Donald Trump. Petty publicly criticized NFL star Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the national anthem. I don’t bring any of this up to take sides on these issues. I mention this because one could assume that Bubba Wallace and Richard Petty probably don’t see eye to eye on a lot of these issues. Despite this, Petty allowed Wallace to run a Black Lives Matter scheme during this year’s Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500. The scheme only became possible after Blue-Emu dropped Wallace and RPM when Wallace quit during a Pro Invitational Series event during the height of the pandemic. Sponsorship losses hurt every team but those losses are magnified for a smaller team like RPM.
Many people have forgotten Wallace has been under fire for behavior in the past. The most noteworthy being his now-infamous encounter with Alex Bowman after last year’s Bank of America ROVAL 400. Despite plenty of public outcries, RPM stayed quiet and supported their driver. There are several other incidents I could list to show that Wallace hasn’t always been the easiest to support, I’m not here to put Wallace down, though. Richard Petty, and company and have always done their best to publicly support Wallace. That became abundantly clear when Petty flew to Talladega this summer to support Wallace after a noose was found in his garage stall the week prior. Luckily it was a garage pull down that had been there for at least a year prior. The NASCAR community was thankful for the false alarm in terms of meaning any harm towards Wallace. Richard Petty’s track prescience though was significant. He hadn’t been to a racetrack since before the pandemic and to my knowledge hasn’t been back since. While the social climate in NASCAR must be incredibly difficult for Wallace to navigate through, it also likely hasn’t been easy for Petty, who no doubt has lost some fans because of his support of Wallace this season.
Combine all of this with the fact that the momentum felt like it was finally starting to turn for Wallace and RPM this season, at the time of this article, the team is 23rd in standings and they spent most of the 2020 summer right around the “playoff bubble”.
This was a great improvement for a team that finished 28th in the standings in 2019. Darrell has added plenty of personal sponsorship in recent months; companies like DoorDash, Cash App, Columbia, have all signed on to sponsor RPM via Wallace. I can’t help but feel that Wallace is doing the wrong thing by leaving RPM at this time. I understand he has to do what is best for his career as we all do...but to leave after all that has taken place this season just leaves a bitter taste in a lot of fan’s mouths. To leave during this time feels like he lacks loyalty towards Petty and the team. They went out of the way for him during a time when it wasn’t easy to do so.