Going into the 2021 season there are going to be many fans who will be rooting for Bubba Wallace and his new team. At the same time, there will be a number of fans rooting against Bubba Wallace and his new team as well. While numerous columns could be written regarding why both of the above statements will almost certainly prove to be true, this piece is only going to graze the fringes of race and other societal issues so if the reader is looking for facts or opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement, nooses, Confederate flags, or otherwise, this is probably not the piece for you.
The real purpose of this piece is to discuss why NASCAR needs the 27-year-old native of Mobile, AL and his team to succeed going forward for business purposes.
While, yes, the fact that Bubba Wallace is a young African-American man could certainly open doors to an entirely new fan base at least to some small degree in the same way Tiger Woods opened the doors to an entirely new fanbase for professional golf. But the real reason NASCAR would benefit from Wallace having a successful season in 2021 has more to do with the thing that truly drives racing, and of course, that is money. Perhaps a sidebar note to that is there could be a whole new level of notoriety to come from the partners who will be working with and paying attention to the driver whose given name is Darrell Wallace.
Indeed, one of the world’s most recognizable sports figures, or personalities in general, has joined in the NASCAR Cup Series fray as a team owner for the organization Wallace will drive for this season. Last year it was announced that NBA legend Michael Jordan would partner with current NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin to form a team known as 23XI Racing with Wallace serving as the occupant of that operation’s driver’s seat.
The new team will field Toyota cars with technical support being offered by powerful Joe Gibbs Racing. And that partnership provides an example of the importance of 23XI Racing to NASCAR.
Joe Gibbs is the only person to have been elected to both the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Even still today, there are probably as many or more sports fans who know him as a Super Bowl winning football coach for the Washington Redskins as know him for his ownership of a NASCAR organization. With that said, the fact that he involved himself in NASCAR drew eyes to the sport in the forms of fans and media coverage that had not previously been there. And perhaps more importantly, it is also likely that dollars in the form of sponsorship from corporate America have been lured because of a name they recognized from another arena.
Jordan’s entry into racing comes with even greater possibilities. The basketball star’s endorsement of products such as Nike and Gatorade sent the values of those companies soaring. He is somewhat of a King Midas in the realm of endorsements as attaching his name to almost anything turns it to gold.
It should be noted here that the Money Racing Team owned by professional boxing champion Floyd Mayweather appears to be planning an on-track debut in 2022, perhaps in partnership with current NASCAR team Spire Motorsports. And it was recently announced by the Trackhouse Racing Team has added Grammy Award-winning music artist Pitbull as an ownership partner.
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That is not to say that NASCAR’s television ratings are suddenly going to go through the roof because Michael Jordan is now involved. It is to say that new companies(and their money) who want to be associated with him may very well be drawn to the sport because he is there.
An example of this already exists. A brand new team with a driver who has won six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races but never a NASCAR Xfinity Series or NASCAR Cup Series race is fully funded with sponsorship for the 2021 season as some companies followed the driver from Richard Petty Motorsports and others just joined up with the new operation. DoorDash, McDonald’s, Columbia Sportswear, Dr. Pepper, and Root Insurance are all onboard with the No. 23 Toyota for the coming season.
There are more than a few established Cup Series teams who would like to be able to say that their sponsorship for 2021 is already sold out.
The fact that a new team has entered the sport is absolutely noteworthy when one considers that several who competed last year have either sold out, gone away, or reduced their involvement. Leavine Family Racing, Germain Racing, and Go Fas Racing are among those who fit this description.
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Of course, there are some who will not be able see anything regarding this team beyond skin color, and that’s too bad. The real benefit here for NASCAR could come from the fact that someone so prominent from outside of racing with considerable means as well as influence in the corporate world has decided to play a major role in the sport. The fact that 23XI Racing has a black driver is important, but more so, the fact that a new, fully funded team is entered the NASCAR Cup Series fray at a time when new, fully funded teams could have dwindled due to the difficulties presented by last season.
NASCAR needs this driver and team to succeed to show that it can be done and that sponsorship of a race car can be a valuable marketing tool.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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