Last night, ESPN debuted its latest E:60, titled Fistful of Steel– The Rise of Bubba Wallace. The opening of the documentary features Bubba Wallace in discussion with reporter Ryan McGee. Wallace recounts a story in which he was pulled over by four armed police officers in an unmarked vehicle. They questioned Wallace about the quality of his car and if he could afford it.
Wallace noted he had made enough money from his NASCAR career by that point that he could buy each of the officers in question a car exactly like the one he was driving, but that didn't matter. In that moment, Wallace was just a Black man in America. The officers ticketed Wallace and left, but he nor any other member of the Black community needs reminding that it could have ended much differently. Even for someone famous like Wallace.
That story sets the tone for the documentary's runtime. It is a deep-cut examination of NASCAR culture and the ground Wallace has broken as its most successful Black driver. It delves into Wallace's upbringing and how he developed both his edge and his passionate love for his family that is on display after every race. More than anything, it's an in-depth profile of a man who found himself at the center of America's culture war in 2020.
It's important to understand Wallace because the history books will not be able to tell the story of the year that was 2020 without him. He lost his livelihood when the pandemic hit, and his return to the racetrack was a symbol of hope for millions. But as NASCAR's only Black driver, he was responsible for far more than that. Wallace was the only person who could be the vehicle of change for the organization, the motivating force to ban Confederate flags at races. It was a mantle loaded onto Wallace's shoulders that was not light, nor was it particularly fair that it fell to him. Yet Wallace stepped up and fought for what he thought was right.
He continued to do so even when he fell into the crosshairs of a certain president and a group of people looking to manipulate Wallace for their own ends. The E:60 dives into the noose that NASCAR found in Wallace's garage at Talladega, the subsequent involvement of the FBI and their findings, and the heel turn of millions who thought Wallace was trying to capitalize on the racially-charged state of the country. He went from a symbol to a target overnight. Yet, as the documentary shows, Wallace remains undeterred.
Wallace's is an important story. He will go down as one of NASCAR's most important figures, even if he never wins another race. His path to this point is surprisingly emotional and tugs unexpectedly at the heart strings. Fistful of Steel– The Rise of Bubba Wallace weaves a fascinating tapestry of a man who has already made a significant mark on history-- and still has a long way to go.
Fistful of Steel-- The Rise of Bubba Wallace can be found on ESPN+ and the ESPN app.