During his legendary career, Richard Petty won 200 NASCAR races behind the wheel of the famous No. 43 car. He made history time and time again and now his team is doing it again with one of the most important decisions in Richard Petty Motorsports history.
Starting next season, 24-year-old Darrell “Bubba” Wallace will be behind the wheel of RPM’s No. 43 car and becomes the first African-American driver to compete full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since Wendell Scott in 1973.
“This is a dream come true,” said Wallace. “I believe in what Richard Petty Motorsports is doing and their desire to win races. I think this team, its partners, and fans are ready to see some great things again.”
It’s certainly an exciting time for the team and majority owner Andrew Murstein who continues to leave no stone unturned in transforming Richard Petty Motorsports back into one of the top teams in NASCAR. The signing of Wallace has brought smiles to everyone at RPM as well as plenty of collective high-fives.
“It’s very exciting,” said Murstein. “I feel this could be the turning point, not just for RPM, but for the entire sport. We have never had such a young driver with so much potential.”
How badly does Murstein want to win with RPM? Well, all you have to do is look at the Murstein family dog whose name is “Chase”. The question had to be asked if that name was given to the dog because Murstein’s goal is to be in “The Chase” with RPM every year?
The answer is yes and no.
“Actually it is true,” said Murstein who is also the owner of the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse. “My dog’s name is Chase. Many people think that’s why we named him that but the truth is my kids actually picked that name because of a TV character that they liked. But with Bubba now in the 43, I think making ‘The Chase’ is definitely in our future.”
Chatter about RPM’s courting and eventual signing of Wallace had an impact on RPM’s business even before Wednesday’s historic announcement. It can be challenging at times for a race team to line up sponsors, but with the rumors that Wallace was joining RPM, Murstein’s Blackberry hasn’t stopped ringing. (Yes, he still uses a Blackberry).
“Usually we are pursuing sponsors,” said Murstein. “As soon as word got out about Bubba’s signing, I already had three calls from company CEO’s inquiring about him. He’s a real game-changer, not only for us but for NASCAR.”
Murstein and Wallace were able to forge a strong relationship during Bubba’s time this season as RPM’s fill-in driver. It was during that time that Murstein did something he has never done before and hasn’t done since and that’s take a selfie. He did so with Wallace at Pocono Raceway a few months ago.
“This is the first and only selfie I ever took,” said Murstein.
The 24-year-old Wallace graduated from NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” and “Next” programs and has been driving in the NASCAR XFINITY Series for Roush Fenway Racing from 2015 through this current season. His big break came earlier this season when he filled for the injured Aric Almirola and made a big impression on the entire RPM team, including “The King” himself.
“RP always liked him,” said Murstein. “But as soon as we put him in the car we knew he was our guy. He went from about 25th to 20th to 15th to 11th in his four races for us. That’s a remarkable accomplishment for any substitute with little time to prepare, let alone a rookie.”
At the age of 16, Wallace competed in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series where he was the Rookie of the Year and a six-time winner. From there, Bubba advanced to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Over the course of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Wallace took the checkered flag five times and that earned him an opportunity to move up to the XFINITY Series.
Now, he has reached the pinnacle of NASCAR and does so with an iconic brand that is primed to restore its place at the top of the sport.
“I’m humbled that they have chosen me to take that next step with them,” said Wallace. “I’m ready for next season to begin and to prove to people that we can compete at the next level we all expect to be at.”
The signing of Wallace by RPM is significant for a number of reasons. Wallace is a young and talented driver that will have an impact on the team and the sport both on and off the track in terms of results, sponsorships, and diversity. With a successful business background, Murstein, who is also the largest shareholder and President of Medallion Financial Corporation, believes that this is a groundbreaking moment for RPM and NASCAR.
His financial company was originally a lender solely to women and minority-owned companies.
“Through the 1970s, until the time we went public, we actually only lent and invested in women and minority-owned business exclusively,” said Murstein. “We were one of the largest investors in the United States under the SBA’s programs. I personally think it is wonderful to be able to work with Bubba and not only give him the opportunity to drive but to drive the most famous number in the history of the sport and be mentored by the most famous driver in the history of the sport.”
It’s been a long time since there has been a full-time African-American driver at the highest level of NASCAR, but Bubba Wallace has earned this opportunity while Murstein and the entire RPM team should be extremely proud and excited about this landmark decision. Winning races is good for business but so is diversity and rewarding those who have earned it and giving them the chance to succeed.
Andrew Murstein has made a living of doing that in the business world and now he’s doing it with Richard Petty Motorsports.