NASCAR, Bubba Wallace bring block party to Washington Park

Bubba's Block Party
Bubba Wallace, right, addresses the crowd during Bubba’s Block Party, a NASCAR initiative to make the sport more accessible to the Black community. (Erez Ben-Akiva/MEDILL)

By Erez Ben-Akiva
Medill Reports

On a hot, hazy Wednesday evening, the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center served as the stage for Bubba’s Block Party, an event hosted by NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace.

Wallace is the only full-time Black driver in the NASCAR Cup Series, the highest division of the sport. The block party, held just outside the museum in Washington Park, is part of a NASCAR initiative to engage with the Black community and make the sport more accessible and welcoming.

“To start doing events like this, going back to 2020, showing that we’re not messing around and we want to change for the better and allow all ages and races and disabilities and whatnot be a part of our sport with no boundaries, no hindrance there,” Wallace said. “I think that’s showing that we care and that we’re inclusive.”

Attendees patronized food stalls, watched pit crew demonstrations and drove virtual racing simulators, among several other entertainment amenities. Guests could even receive screenings and vaccinations at health and wellness booths.

Chatham resident Paula White said she went to the block party because she “wanted to be of support” to Wallace, specifically referring to a 2020 incident in which a rope tied into a noose was found hanging in his team’s garage at Talladega Superspeedway. An FBI investigation found the incident was not a hate crime.

“The event is fantastic. I think Bubba is doing a great job, and all I can say is ‘keep it up,’” White said.

Block partygoers also received ticket vouchers for Chicago Street Race Weekend. Bronzeville resident LaTanya Berry said she’s watched NASCAR likely since before Wallace was born but couldn’t afford a ticket. With the vouchers, her “wish came true.”

“I just think it’s wonderful that he’s brought something back to our community,” Berry, 68, said.

During a news conference Friday before the event, Wallace said there are many people who want to attend NASCAR races but don’t feel safe or comfortable. The block party is a place for fans to “feel welcome and feel wanted.”

“I know a lot of people in Chicago love fast cars and like to drive really fast,” Wallace said Friday. “And so it’s a perfect connection, that we’re able to bring and teach a little bit about our sport.”

White, 51, said she started to pay more attention to NASCAR when Wallace started racing. For her, NASCAR coming to Chicago is “very, very exciting.”

“Hometown representation is very, very important,” White said.

Wallace drives the No. 23 car for 23XI Racing, which is co-owned by Michael Jordan. About an hour into the event, Wallace walked through the party grounds, trailed by a swarm of attendees seeking autographs and photographs.

“We never were closing the door on our current fanbase. We’re opening the doors to much newer ones,” Wallace said Wednesday.

Near a tent where visitors could receive free haircuts stood an exhibit showcasing Black figures throughout NASCAR. A performance by Lupe Fiasco capped off the night.

“I just think it’s wonderful that NASCAR is here in Chicago, but even greater that we have the block party here at the DuSable Museum. It’s history for us,” Berry, 68, said.

Erez Ben-Akiva is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @ebenakiva.