DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Darrell Wallace Jr. knew it could get ugly -- that some people would talk behind his back in the pits, say rotten things about him.
Wallace was warned by his mother it wouldn't be easy as a young African-American race driver attempting to make it on the short tracks around North Carolina and Virginia.
But Wallace, whose father is white, kept winning, took the high road and is now about to start his career in NASCAR's big leagues as Kyle Busch's Camping World Truck Series driver.
At just 19, Wallace, who was born in Mobile, Ala., has arrived in stock car racing and is a success story in NASCAR's efforts to attract minorities to the sport.
Not without a fight, however.
Wallace, who will drive the No. 54 DefyDiabetes.com Toyota Tundra in Friday's truck race at Daytona International Speedway for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, recalls confrontations at tracks because of his color.
"Mom warned me there was always going to be that, and there was," said Wallace, who dominated feeder series like Bandolero and Legends on his way up the ladder. "You're going to get it, she would say."
When he did, Wallace chose to do the best thing he thought possible. He ignored the taunts, pulled on his helmet and dusted off the instigators on the track.
"I gave the thumbs up, walked away and beat them to the checkered flag," said Wallace, also a development driver for Joe Gibbs, the former coach of the Washington Redskins. "They'd either leave me alone or respect me after that. I remember going over and shaking their hand. I think it surprised them."
Wallace, who ran a few Nationwide Series races in 2012, caught the eye of Gibbs when he was around 15.
On Wednesday, Gibbs sat with Wallace as Busch/Gibbs announced sponsorship from BrightSky, a supplier of diabetes testing equipment, for Wallace at Daytona.
Gibbs, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes more than 20 years ago, believes Wallace can do well in NASCAR's top levels and open the way to more minorities entering the sport.
"I think Darrell came up the right way, raced in the right places," Gibbs said. "He's done some exciting things. I just want to say a big thanks to NASCAR and Toyota. They've been extremely supportive of the diversity program."
Wallace knows he is unknown in racing and to the majority of African Americans. He is only one of four African-Americans to ever get a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.
"For sure," he said. "You can ask any African American that watches football and say, 'Do you know who Darrell Wallace Jr. is?' They will say, 'Nope.'
"That's the problem -- they don't have anybody in the top ranks to look at. That's where I am trying to break through and get to the top, get some races under my belt and hopefully some wins under my belt. "
Wallace understands he still has a battle ahead to get to Sprint Cup, his ultimate goal, in what has been a challenging journey.
"This is my foot in the door right now," Wallace said. "The door is not (completely) open yet, I'm just holding it open now with my foot, and I have to keep pushing through."
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