The Musial Award for Extraordinary Character is one of two special honors bestowed at the Musial Awards. It recognizes an individual or team who demonstrates remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship, and whose approach and accomplishments reflect the character attributes of Stan The Man.
A self-proclaimed simple country guy who just likes to drive fast, Bubba Wallace had spent his career focused on speed, seldom on his position as the only Black driver on NASCAR’s top circuit. He never pictured himself leading the charge against the Confederate flag or promoting a national conversation about race and sports. But like any good driver, he saw an opening, he took it and pulled ahead, full gas.
His seminal moment occurred while watching a video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, shot while jogging, which “shook me to the core.” The subsequent choking death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis “was kind of like the final straw that broke the camel’s back.” He wasted no time. The following week, he appeared at the track in Martinsville, Va., wearing an American flag face mask and a T-shirt that read “I can’t breathe.” The next day, he called on NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at its races. NASCAR responded within 48 hours.
“One reason the Black community wouldn’t come (to races) was the Confederate flag. So, it was the perfect time to put our foot down,” Wallace told Rolling Stone. “They followed up right away. I thought that was pretty powerful.” In lieu of a sponsor’s logo that week, his car was painted black, adorned with #BLACKLIVESMATTER on the side and two fists − one white, the other black − clenched as one on the hood.
Bubba faced an even bigger challenge two weeks later, when a piece of rope that appeared to be a noose hung in his garage at Talladega. In a show of solidarity, every other driver and crew member closed ranks and gathered around his car during the National Anthem.
By standing strong, Wallace’s visibility and popularity have grown. In the 2021 season, he was scheduled to drive for a new team, owned by driver Denny Hamlin and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. The move could increase his visibility as one of the faces of NASCAR. “I’m new to all this. I’m still learning,” he wrote in The Players Tribune. “But I’ve never been the guy to follow the crowd because it’s safe or easy, and I’m not going to start now. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I’m ready for whatever.”