“RACE: Bubba Wallace” is truly centered around 2021, a year of COVID and controversy. Wallace has already gone from someone who doesn’t talk much about race or injustice to a major voice on the subject. Flashbacks reveal that trip, including his statement on CNN that Confederate flags should be banned from all NASCAR events and the noose incident, which still makes Wallace emotional. If you think the noose was just a misunderstanding or, worse, a plant, because NASCAR determined it was a doorway and not a threat, at least watch this segment of this episode. You may have a new version.
In 2021, Wallace joined the 23XI race, co-owned by Michael Jordan, who is absent and could have been a major voice here as an interview subject given that he avoided discussing racial issues in his role as influential athlete, and fellow pilot Denny Hamlin, who is a prominent interview subject. The producers keep the interviews tight, letting Wallace tell the bulk of his own story with a few insights from collaborators, and then more general commentary from people like Jemele Hill, Michael Strahan, and Kamau Bell, which I could have used more. There are times when ‘RACE’ feels a little too stuck in Wallace’s own clubhouse — his lovely mother is a major interview topic — when he could have been stronger with the opinions of strangers. to give a different perspective.
I also found the story segments very informative but too brief. Episode three unfolds the story of Wendell Scott, who became the first black driver to win a Cup Series race in 1963 but couldn’t stand on the podium and celebrate the win because organizers feared a riot. I would watch a whole documentary about his story. However, “RACE” sometimes seems more interested in what happens on the actual speedway than in the role Wallace plays as the fourth black driver in the history of the sport. While I’m not sure spending so much time on real-life racing benefits the overall project, I have to admit that I now understand certain aspects of NASCAR better than before and have more respect for the art. The producers here very expertly reveal how quick major and minor decisions, as well as lots of good/bad luck, can impact a race.