Bubba Wallace Says Dealing with Racism as a Young Race Car Driver Motivated 'Me to Do Better’
"Whenever I was younger, I never would understand it, but my parents would always just be like, 'You know what, don't mind that BS that's going on over there. Let's come back next week and beat their tails,' " the NASCAR driver tells PEOPLE in this week's issue
As a teen, Bubba Wallace spent all of his free time competing at racetracks across the South.
He loved the speed and the camaraderie among drivers: "It's an adrenaline rush," he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.
But, in a sport not known for diversity, Wallace — the only Black driver in NASCAR's Cup Series — says he's dealt with some racism as an African-American racer.
"Whenever I was younger, I never would understand it, but my parents would always just be like, 'You know what, don't mind that BS that's going on over there. Let's come back next week and beat their tails,' " he says. "And that's what we did. We'd come back and eventually shut them up. So, it's been like that ever since."
Continues the 26-year-old, "And now that I do understand it, I look at it and laugh and just think of where we're at this world. Obviously it still goes on every day, but for people to use that as something to offend me, or affect me, or knock me off my block, that ain't going to happen. It only motivates me to do better."
Wallace — whose father, Darrell Wallace Sr., is white and his mother, Desiree Wallace, is African-American — says his parents always pushed him to speak up about what's right and wrong.
"Yeah, for us, my dad was an eye for an eye guy," the athlete explains. "He was all about being fair. ... But for me, it was always just doing the right thing."
He adds of his older sister Brittany Wallace: "We keep it straight up, we keep it 100 percent. 100 percent raw, 100 percent real, whatever on the plate is what you're going to get from me and my sister."
And that realness is what Wallace — who now drives the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports — is employing now after a noose was found hanging in the Talladega Superspeedway garage assigned to him for a Cup Series race.
NASCAR notified Wallace of the discovery and an FBI investigation followed. The FBI ultimately determined that months earlier someone had fashioned a noose out of the pull-down rope for the garage door, but the agency declined to describe it as an intentional racist act.
Now, Wallace — who also successfully lobbied for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at tracks — tells PEOPLE he's going to "just keep fighting the good fight for me and continue to stand up for what I believe in; it's probably the most positive thing I can do."