Darrell Wallace Jr. used to steel himself against racial insults spewed at him in the lower levels of racing and he survived sponsorship woes that slowed his advancement through NASCAR.
Wallace persevered in a sport that seemed long reserved for whites.
This weekend at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania, he will take the wheel of the No. 43 Ford — the same number made famous by Hall of Famer Richard Petty — and make history as just the fourth black driver to race in NASCAR's top Cup series.
"This is a huge step for NASCAR, the whole sport in general, for bringing diversity to its top tier level of NASCAR," Wallace said Tuesday. "I'm glad to be leading the forefront of that right now. It just shows that we're trying to bring in a new demographic.
"We're trying to bring in a new face, get a younger generation, no matter what color, what age."
The 23-year-old Wallace, the son of a white father and black mother, has been comfortable in his role as de facto trailblazer in a sport that took decades to fully open up to minorities and women.
"Everybody should deserve the same opportunity, the same challenge," Wallace said.
Wallace, more commonly referred to by his nickname "Bubba," got his shot when Aric Almirola was injured in a wreck at Kansas. Regan Smith served as substitute for two races. Wallace, who raced in the Xfinity Series for Jack Roush, has the ride until Almirola returns.
"This is the perfect opportunity," Wallace said.
Wallace's father sparked a love of the sport when Bubba was 9, putting him in go-karts, and always scouting the next series as his son grew up in Concord, North Carolina. Darrell Wallace even bought a Legends car from Mark Martin.
The elder Wallace owned an industrial cleaning business and pumped at least $1 million into his son's fledgling career. He spent as much $250,000 in 2008. Darrell Wallace paid bills late and borrowed money to keep his son's career alive.
His family also told the youngster to brush off heckles and hurtful words from his formative years in the sport — and do his talking in the car.
"I would get the gestures and everything thrown out," Wallace, Jr. said. "We'd show up the next weekend and win. That's how I was taught. That's how I was raised, to ignore the stupidity, continue on and do what I need to do."
Wallace, Jr. will join Wendell Scott, Willy T. Ribbs and Bill Lester as the only full-time black drivers in the 69-year history of NASCAR. Scott is the only one to win a Cup race, way back on Dec. 1, 1963. Scott raced from 1961-73 in Cup, Ribbs did three Cup races in 1986 and Lester raced sporadically from 1999 until 2007 at all three national levels.
Wallace, Jr. won the Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in 2013 to become the first black driver to win at a national NASCAR series event since Scott.
He has heard from the black drivers before him. Lester has sent him encouraging tweets . Wallace, Jr. talked with Scott's son on the phone Monday night.
Wallace, Jr. has become one of NASCAR's hot social media stars, he has a strong friendship with Ryan Blaney (who drives the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers), and Wallace, Jr. will voice Bubba Wheelhouse in the upcoming "Cars 3" movie.
Wallace, Jr. has five years of experience in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, and has five wins and 20 top-five finishes. He's 0 for 83 in Xfinity — one reason why he said he hadn't yet made the jump to Cup.
NASCAR has initiated several pushes toward boosting the number of minorities in the sport. There's a "Drive for Diversity" program that has paid meager dividends with Wallace, and fellow Cup drivers Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez all graduates of the development system. The program started in 2004 and was designed to attract minorities and women to the sport in all fields, from the track to the front office.