Darrell Wallace Jr. isn't a typical 19-year-old NASCAR prospect trying to climb the ladder. He is a pioneer of sorts as only the fourth black driver with a full-time ride in a NASCAR series. When he takes the wheel for the Truck Series race Friday at Daytona International Speedway, he'll become a slice of NASCAR history in a race that ignites his goal of serving as a role model for a generation of potential future black drivers.
"It's kind of up to me," Wallace said. "It's kind of a huge weight."
Busting down racial barriers in a sport long reserved for whites is pretty heavy stuff for a teenager and all eyes are on him. Yet Wallace, the son of a white father and black mother, openly talks of becoming the Tiger Woods of NASCAR - the great black star who can transcend the sport and prove people of all colors can race. "You don't have a role model. That's why you don't see anybody in it," Wallace said.
"They can't look up and be like, 'I want to be like him because he's the same color as me.' There's no one there to do that. I'm the top one right now and I'm only 19." Wallace joins Wendell Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester as the only full-time black drivers in the 65-year history of NASCAR.
Scott is the only black driver to win a race, way back in 1964. Wallace, raised in Concord, N.C., has the full support of the black drivers before him.
At lower levels of racing, though, Wallace would hear racial insults or encounter ignorant views. "We used to take it from fans," his father, Darrell, said. "We've had it from other drivers. We've had it from officials. We've had it from promoters. We've had it from track owners. We've pretty much had it from everybody."
Wallace said the heckles and hurtful words from his formative years in the sport have been left on the side of the road and he can continue to focus on racing - just this time on his biggest stage so far. "We've had a lot of other African-American drivers get in the sport, but they got in late," Gibbs said.
He can win. But can he lead? The next generation of black golfers never followed Woods for much of the same reasons it's hard to crack NASCAR. The sport is expensive and opportunities are few.
And, it's unfair to place the burden of a revolution on one athlete. But it's time for a change. "It's not about the color of your skin or your gender, it's about your abilities," four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon said after Danica Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole. d: "I won't mess up."