It has always been known that Talladega is different, and not just for the racing. It’s a different feeling when the fans walk into the venue, then an even more erratic and chaotic feeling when in the infield. The fans at Talladega are the most passionate in the sport, beyond those in North Carolina or Florida, where NASCAR seems to always be top-tier when the fans come to town.
But at the same time, Talladega fans and perception has a two-face vision.
Just driving into the facility this weekend, as was seen by videos around the track, the fans had no problem flying both the American Flag and the Confederate or “Rebel” flag on the back of their trucks. NASCAR wanted that flag removed from the track, but Alabama faithful sure are proud of their heritage. NASCAR banning the flag from track property is one thing, but them enforcing it is another.
Trying to get rid of the flag from every tailgate was outright impossible, and it became almost a protest to what NASCAR wanted.
So be it, the fans weren’t happy with that decision, but trying to enforce it at Talladega is a losing effort.
Fans made their voices heard in a different way long before Bubba Wallace took the win. They did so on Saturday when another first-time winner suddenly got drowned out by a stance on the country.
It’s sad when a young kid like Brandon Brown, who showed how hard he worked to get to the place he was in his career, have a crowd react not to his victory but to a stance on the country, it takes away the wholesomeness of the win. Fans at that point didn’t care who won, it was as though they had planned the chant well in advance knowing that was where the post-race interview was happening.
A preplanned chant by passionate fans is nothing unheard of in the sport, but hearing it and taking away the focus of the winner seemed to be too much.
When the interview for the winner has to be stopped because of the chant, and the reporter has to outright lie to try and patch up the situation, it’s clearly a distraction. Brown broke down in excitement and happiness, but the fans had a stance of not caring about the winner. They wanted their voices heard, even if it meant taking away attention from a first-time winner.
And then, there was Monday.
Some have already called the race a fixed ending, that NASCAR got what it wanted at a track that a year ago had so much focus on Bubba and the surrounding story that came with it. We have all read the news about the rope tied in a hangman’s noose in the garage, and then saw the entire field push Bubba’s then-No. 43 to the head of the pack before the race began.
NASCAR has brought together so many different backgrounds over the years, and it didn’t start with skin color. The typical NASCAR driver has changed over the years from being on the farm and fishing on the water to swimming with the sharks, or flying in the clouds.
Why must diversity only be about skin tone or where one was born? Diversity is among all of us; just look in the grandstands. The fans alone show diversity in who they root for and the souvenirs they purchase. They are diverse in what they eat, drink, and the vehicle they drive.
Diversity is part of the sport, in different ways. But it’s always skin color, ethnicity and anything that is outside the normal perception of what a driver should look like that gets attention.
So Wallace doesn’t look like the usual driver one would expect to be in the car, but he’s become a different voice for a new generation of drivers, and anyone who wants involved in the sport. Criticizing Wallace for being up front when it counted is a moot point, because 39 others can’t say they wouldn’t want to be in that same position, out front when it started raining. Many drivers have been out front when a race was called due to rain.
Jeff Gordon had it happen a few times, as has Michael Waltrip, it’s just a matter of timing when the rain hits and who’s out front.
People looked at Gordon as the atypical NASCAR driver back in the day because he’d rather swim with fish instead of reeling them in. He ended up as a popular driver and is a Hall of Fame inductee.
People will realize that Wallace is here and will continue to be part of the Cup Series going forward. Next season he will have a veteran teammate at his side. He’s got leadership from his owner, and competitor, a driver who he once criticized and now calls his boss.
For those that don’t like that he won…move on. There’s people that don’t like when Kyle Busch wins, and he’s still doing just fine. Not one person can change the results now, so just move on.
Bubba won, and that is how it will read in the record books.