Bubba Wallace was at home in North Carolina on Friday afternoon instead of sitting in a race car at Watkins Glen International.
That pretty much sucks. Although on a positive note, Wallace said he’s taking the opportunity to learn a new song on the drums.
But Wallace won’t be sitting still for long. In an effort to stay relevant, keep his face out there and maintain a good relationship with Nickelodeon, Wallace will fly to Chicago on Friday night to judge a NASCAR-related art contest on Saturday afternoon.
Local street artists have been painting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles murals, and whoever paints the best one will win the “A Good Day for Play” contest and get to design the trophy for September’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Is judging an art contest as good as racing? No, of course not. But Wallace is doing everything he can to try and get back to the track as a competitor.
“It’s tough for sure,” Wallace told me by phone. “Never thought the day would come where I’m kind of on the sidelines where I’m looking at what’s next.”
But Wallace said the opportunity to drive the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports and be successful in it — he finished 11th at Kentucky Speedway in just his fourth start — was “the next step to show I could do it.”
“I think I raised an eyebrow to fellow competitors and future sponsors and team owners,” he said. “We’ll just see what comes out of it, and I’m not giving up by any means. I’ve got a ton of people in my corner, just seeing what we could do next year. This (Nickelodeon partnership) is helping that process.”
That Wallace isn’t currently in a car is mystifying to many people, including Anthony DiCosmo, who is Nickelodeon’s senior vice president of sports marketing. DiCosmo works with athletes all the time and thinks particularly highly of Wallace, who he called a “marketer’s dream.”
“Are you kidding me? He’s one of the most marketable guys that I’ve seen in professional sports in a really long time,” DiCosmo told me. “The day I met him, I said, ‘Man, this guy is super personable, very well-spoken, good-looking gentleman.’ He’s got all of the youthful personality and a great amount of swag that’s appealing to young kids. It didn’t take us too long to think, ‘Hey, we’ve got to work with this guy.’”
And that’s been the case for a couple years. In addition to appearing on Nickelodeon’s Hammer Down show, Wallace was chosen to drive a SpongeBob SquarePants car in 2015 (SpongeBob is a Nickelodeon property) as well as the Turtles’ Shredder car last season.
Earlier this week, DiCosmo told SportsBusiness Journal that Nickelodeon would be interested in sponsoring Wallace in the Chicagoland Cup Series race if everything worked out. But there’s nothing to announce yet.
As for other upcoming opportunities for Wallace?
“I think we could get a couple races here and there,” Wallace said. “We’ve got some exciting news we could share with you guys in the next couple weeks. So we’ll have to keep plugging away.”
In the meantime, Wallace will be attending events like the one in Chicago — and hoping something he does will lead to another opportunity.