NASCAR legend Richard Petty – The King - turns 80 on July 2.
The pairing of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team Richard Petty Motorsports and driver Darrell Wallace Jr., a work-in-progress for weeks, is a reality.
The team announced Wednesday that Wallace, 24, will drive for RPM full-time in the series next season.
Wallace, who goes by the nickname Bubba, will be the Cup Series’ first full-time African-American driver since NASCAR Hall of Fame member Wendell Scott raced in 1971.
Wallace filled in for injured RPM driver Aric Almirola for four races this season after Almirola fractured his back in a crash at Kansas Speedway. Almirola later announced that he wouldn’t return to the Petty team next season.
A graduate of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Wallace, who made his Cup debut at Pocono Raceway in June, said there is social significance in joining NASCAR’s premier series full time and following in Scott’s footsteps.
“It’s big,” he said. “There have been a lot of people [that have] come up through the ranks and try to carry the legacy that Wendell Scott had laid down for us. For me to step into that realm and step into that role brings a lot of pressure. I want to represent the brand of myself and Richard Petty and his image the best way I can and continue to grow together.”
NASCAR says there have been at least seven African American drivers in its series priort to Wallace, including Scott, who raced from 1961-73 in Cup, Willy T. Ribbs, who ran three Cup races in 1986, and Bill Lester, who raced sporadically from 1999 until 2007 at all three national levels (Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks).
In choosing Wallace to drive the iconic No. 43, the legendary Petty said race was not a factor.
“That was the least of my considerations,” the seven-time series champion said. “We looked at talent, how we thought he would handle the fans, how he handles the press, how he handles sponsor deals. I didn’t care what color he was or where he came from, any of that.”
RPM has not announced a sponsor for next season, and Petty said Wednesday he could not comment on which manufacturer RPM will ride in 2018. The team currently races Fords.
‘We have a bunch of irons in the fire,” Petty said. “When we show up at Daytona (for the season opener in February), it will be a completely different RPM than what it’s been in the past.”
Wallace had a top finish of 11th — at Kentucky Speedway — while driving the No. 43 in place of Almirola.
Wallace has extensive experience in the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck series. He has won six Truck races but has no Xfinity wins. In 2013 at Martinsville Speedway, Wallace scored his first Truck Series win to become the first African American driver to win a NASCAR national series event since Scott in 1963.
PHOTOS: DARRELL WALLACE JR. THROUGH THE YEARS