Denny Hamlin has teamed up with Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan to form a Nascar team with Bubba Wallace as the driver, a high profile pair of a majority black team owner and the only black driver at the highest level of Nascar.
The partnership was announced Monday night in coordinated social media posts by Jordan and Hamlin, with Wallace adding his own comment. The posts featured a photo of Jordan next to a matchstick-clad Hamlin in an RV on a race track.
“Historically, Nascar has struggled with diversity and there have been few black owners,” Jordan said in his statement. “The timing seemed perfect as Nascar is evolving and increasingly embracing social change.”
Jordan becomes the first major black owner of a full-time Cup team since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott drove his race car in 495 races from 1961 to 1973. Scott’s 1964 win at the 200 Jacksonville is the only victory of a black driver in the history Cup.
The big NBA, which earlier this year pledged $ 100 million over 10 years to tackle systemic racism, said the move to Nascar is another step towards racial equality.
“I see this as an opportunity to educate a new audience and open up more opportunities for blacks in racing,” Jordan said.
Jordan joins former NBA player Brad Daugherty, partner of JTG Daugherty Racing, as the only black owner at NASCAR’s Elite Cup level.
“Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not just in our sport, but far beyond,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin, a three-time winner of the Daytona 500 and a major contender for this year’s Cup title, will be part of a single-seater Toyota aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin ran his entire career for Gibbs, an NFL Hall of Fame coach.
“I met Michael Jordan at a then Charlotte Bobcats game eleven years ago and we became friends right away,” Hamlin wrote. “Not long after, I joined Jordan Brand as the first Nascar athlete. Our friendship has grown over the years and we are now ready to take it to the next level. Deciding the driver was easy, it had to be Bubba Wallace. “
Wallace is the only black rider in the Cup series and this season he has used his platform to push for racial equality. The 27-year-old has successfully urged Nascar to ban the display of the Confederate flag at its events.
Wallace is winless in 105 Cup starts in four seasons but has six career victories in the Truck Series. He was hampered by the mid-level gear driving number 43 for Hall of Famer Richard Petty and, until this summer, the team fought for sponsorship of the ground.
“Bubba has shown tremendous improvements since joining the Cup Series and we believe he is ready to take his career to the next level,” Hamlin said. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do so.
“Off the track, Bubba has been a strong voice for change in our sport and in our country. MJ and I fully support him in these endeavors and stand by him. “
In a statement, Nascar welcomed Jordan into the series. “His presence at the highest level of Nascar will further strengthen the competition, enthusiasm and momentum that grows around our sport,” said Nascar.
Jordan dabbled in racing first with Michael Jordan Motorsports. He owned an AMA Superbike team and had a win in 10 years. Jordan traveled to the Nascarseason finale twice to see Hamlin run for the championship. Hamlin, 39, is still looking for his first title.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents took me and my brothers and sisters to competitions, and I’ve been a Nascar fan all my life,” Jordan said. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in collaboration with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.”
Wallace, who has pooled roughly $ 18 million in sponsorship deals since he made racial equality his platform, had already announced he would split from Petty.
“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I believe is perfect for me at this point in my career,” wrote Wallace. “I’m grateful and honored that they believe in me and I’m super excited to start this adventure with them.”
Jordan and Hamlin have purchased a charter for their team from Germain Racing which guarantees Wallace a spot in the 40-car field every week.