In a sport dominated by white men, NASCAR has moved to become more inclusive amid widespread calls for racial equality. This month it announced a ban on Confederate flags, which, until now, were often seen waving in the stands and infields. The move came after the league's only Black driver, Darrell 'Bubba' Wallace Jr. called for the change and held a solo on-track protest calling for racial equality.
"It meant a lot actually," Wallace told Cheddar. "All my guys were super supportive of the movement and the message we were trying to put out."
Just before his June 10 race at Virginia's Martinsville Speedway, Wallace debuted his race car's new 'Black Lives Matter' paint job while he wore a shirt with the words 'I can't breathe' printed across the front. The move was criticized by some fans, but Wallace said support from the league has been genuine.
In this June 10, 2020, file photo, driver Bubba Wallace waits for the start of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Martinsville, Va. Bubba Wallace now counts Spike Lee and Demi Lovato - his admitted celebrity crush - as those loudly in his corner since he's become the leader of NASCAR's push for change. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
"It's good to see your drivers stand up and represent what they believe in and support me throughout all this," he said.
Just days before the race at Martinsville, the league banned confederate flags from its events at the request of Wallace. The ban faced harsh criticism from some fans and led NASCAR truck driver Ray Ciccarelli to consider quitting the sport. Still, Wallace said the change was necessary.
"I think there's a lot that goes into learning and educating yourselves," said Wallace, who also stressed that it's important for athletes to use their high-profile platforms to educate and create change in their communities and throughout the country.
The video showing the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger who was chased down and killed by two white men near his home in Georgia, sparked a change in Wallace "to step away from just being an athlete to being a human being, that just so happens to be an athlete" and use that platform to make an impact.
With the league's support, Wallace said, there is now an opportunity for change from within NASCAR.
"The conversation we're having now is, 'How do we create actual, real change in our community, in our sport, and in our environment? And how can we help move the needle and push the envelope,'" he said.
For Wallace, though, the fight for racial equality is much larger than NASCAR.
"When you step away from that and look at the bigger picture, and how we can make an impact on a global level, that's when we'll really come together," he explained.