E.A. Sports Today

First person, Day 2

Local NASCAR fan and aspiring reporter Gregory Kirby — and Bubba Wallace — get back to racing at Talladega

By Gregory Kirby

Special to East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Something special happened during the pre-race events for Monday’s rescheduled GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the most amazing moment I have seen in NASCAR or any sport. 

It started with Jimmie Johnson saying he was going to stand with Bubba Wallace during the national anthem. Then one of the other drivers told Bubba to drive and the whole garage pushed him down to the front of pit lane.

Every driver and pit crew member stood behind his car to show their support. Leading the choir was the 82-year-old Richard Petty. It was Perry’s first track appearance since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the NASCAR schedule, but “The King” said it was important he stand with his driver.

I was in tears at times knowing where we are as a country right now. Only post-911 and right before the Gulf War were there as big of a moment like that for my father, who is a veteran. This is big history and I was there.

It was all in response to the discovery of a noose in Wallace’s car stall the day before. Earlier Monday the FBI joined the investigation into the incident and NASCAR president Steve Phelps strongly said before the race if perpetrators are caught they would be banned from the sport for life.

To start the day with we were interviewed by a reporter from the New York Times. I am not sure if it will make the print because she was leading the questions to the left and both my brother and I recognized this and steered her back into our lane.

As you know 5,000 fans were allowed to the race due to COVID-19 but with the race being postponed to Monday because of the previous day’s weather there were maybe 3,000 there for the restart.

Everyone has a favorite driver … Chase Elliot … Ryan Blaney … Kevin Harvick … even Kyle Busch. But everyone was a Bubba Wallace fan today. Everyone was cheering for Bubba as he was making a move towards the front and hoping to win his first career Cup race on this day, the biggest day of his career. 

Fifty laps into the race you were watching Bubba making his way through the field. The caution flag came out at Lap 57 due to rain. Then it went to a red flag. The delay lasted about an hour as the drying crew worked extremely hard to prepare the track. 

There were thoughts of another rain delay happening after the race went green but the cell split around the track, one to the north and one to the south. 

We were just hoping to get to the halfway point at Lap 94 or the end of Stage 2 when the race would become official if stopped because of rain. It Was like God heard all the prayers of the race fans and the drivers to keep the race going. 

Then Bubba took the lead with 27 laps to go and led three laps. When he moved out front the crowd went crazy. He stayed in the top 10 until he started running low on fuel and fell behind in the draft.

Ryan Blaney, who stole my fries at the concert during last October’s race, dominated most of the race even though there were 56 lead changes among 19 drivers. He edged out Rickey Stenhouse for the win, by a margin of .007 seconds, another tight finish at NASCAR’s most competitive track.

Wallace finished 14th. After going to the finish line with Blaney as Blaney got the checkered flag, Wallace made his way to the tri-oval and high-fived fans without his mask on. 

In an interview with Jamie Little of Fox Sports he made the statement that summed up the day.

“This sport is changing,” he said. “The deal that happened yesterday … Sorry about not wearing my mask. I wanted to show whoever it was you’re not going to take away my smile.”

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