On Monday evening, news broke that basketball legend Michael Jordan has teamed up with current NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin to start a one-car race team beginning in 2021. The driver you ask? None other than Bubba Wallace.
For starters, it was reported earlier in September that Bubba Wallace was not returning to Richard Petty Motorsports after being with the team since his four-race audition in the #43 car back in 2017. It certainly wasn’t an easy move for Wallace, considering he has “The King’s” signature tattooed on his right leg.
Nonetheless, Wallace and RPM decided to part ways after 2020, and now we are seeing Wallace’s new opportunity present itself when the sport is in the heart of its postseason.
As for the co-owners, Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin have been friends for years now after meeting at a then-Charlotte Bobcats game, Jordan’s NBA team. The two became close and made Hamlin the first Jordan NASCAR athlete for the brand. Now, the two are taking another huge step in partnership with their own race team.
Hamlin took to Twitter to share the announcement with the NASCAR — and really entire sports — community. It didn’t take long for Wallace to follow up on the news and share his excitement regarding the announcement.
A portion of the news that doesn’t grab the headlines is the charter purchase from Germain Racing by the newly forming team. Germain Racing currently runs the #13 car, driven by Ty Dillon, and will fold after the 2020 season. We saw another team share their plan to fold after the season when the Leavine Family Racing team shut its doors and sold off their assets just a few weeks ago.
It’s worth noting that although they bought the #13 car in theory, there hasn’t been an announcement about the car that Wallace will actually be driving. Since the #23 isn’t currently run on the Cup Series circuit, it’s safe to think that it would be the number you see on their team car in 2021. Not only that, if this team decides to expand to a second car, it would be safe to imagine this team grabbing the #45, which is also not run on the circuit.
We will never see a #9 Jordan car, at least not any time soon, since #9 is currently owned and run by Hendrick Motorsports for driver Chase Elliott. That said, the importance of buying the charter isn’t for acquiring the #13 car.
What it means is a guaranteed spot on the NASCAR starting grid. However, before we dive into the business and social impact this has on the sport, let’s continue with some of the facts.
For starters, Denny Hamlin is one of the best drivers currently in NASCAR, and based on his numbers, is considered one of the greatest of all-time in the sport. We have previously seen drivers take ownership in a team and keep that stake after they retire, as Tony Stewart is one example of a former driver turned owner.
Bubba Wallace has taken the sport by storm over the last ten years. In 2013, he became the first African American driver to win a race in one of NASCAR’s three top running series, securing his first of six career NASCAR Truck Series victories. Wallace also holds a runner-up finish as his best outing in the Cup Series when he finished second at the Daytona 500 in 2018.
Wallace was also the first-ever African American driver to be full-time at the NASCAR Cup Series level when earning the full-time gig in the #43 car beginning in 2018.
With both drivers excited for their new roles in this team, Michael Jordan is a major part of this equation as well.
Although he did not take to Twitter to share his thoughts, Micheal Jordan has been quoted historically explaining his enjoyment and fandom for NASCAR.
“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life… The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me. Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more.”– Michael Jordan on joining the NASCAR ownership group with Denny Hamlin
Jordan is 100% correct on this statement. In a time where social injustice awareness is at an all-time high in 2020, this move really allows NASCAR to continue to evolve and appeal to a new generation of racing fans. A face such as the basketball GOAT joining NASCAR is huge in itself, but there are so many larger impacts this announcement could have on the sport besides seeing Jordan’s name on a NASCAR team.
That said, there is so much more to this announcement than meets the eye. In this article, we’re going to dive into both the business and social impacts that the Jordan/Hamlin/Wallace alliance creates in the world of NASCAR.
As an author, the world of NASCAR business intrigues me. There is so much that goes into sponsorships, contracts, and other various negotiations that take place behind closed doors. Having strong partnerships with sponsors means sufficient funds to improve the equipment being run, let alone adding cash to the pockets of drivers, pit crews, and owners alike.
Just like any form of marketing or sales, a lot of times it helps to know people, and having a strong personal brand to attract additional sponsors is key. In this case, especially with a new team, having sponsors as large as the one that Wallace carries makes the partnership great from a business standpoint. Any new team is searching for capital to build a quality race car and Wallace’s sponsorship loyalty, along with Hamlin’s appeal and Jordan’s connections, could make this new arrival a quick success in the Cup Series.
Wallace has partnered with numerous major sponsors throughout his career, notably adding DoorDash, Cash App, and Columbia in 2020 alone. Wallace’s ability to bring these players in, which also includes the likes of McDonald’s, Beats by Dre, and Coca-Cola, sets the new Jordan/Hamlin team up for early success.
Another intriguing business headline that will be interesting to see from afar is the introduction of the Jordan brand to NASCAR as an entire sport. Hamlin, as mentioned, was the first Jordan athlete in NASCAR, meaning Wallace will likely be the second. However, Jordan may want his brand to become more synonymous with the sport, potentially opening the door for quite a few additional Jordan athletes in NASCAR.
Aside from NASCAR athletes under the Jordan umbrella, the Jordan brand could begin producing NASCAR streetwear that would trend NASCAR apparel in a direction potentially similar to NBA, NCAA, and MLB teams. Imagine seeing a pair of Jordan 1 sneakers with a Bubba Wallace paint scheme on them. The possibility of this alone could probably be an entire article. Also, if this team successfully runs the #23 car, there are so many merchandising opportunities with that number and Jordan’s legacy.
The business implications of this alliance are truly large, but the social aspect of the move may be even more impressive.
The social implications of this move could arguably far outweigh the business implications. For starters, Wallace is the only African American driver in the sport, and Jordan is now one of a few African Americans ever involved in the sport. There have been four drivers, including Wallace, to ever run in NASCAR. Throw in Jordan’s affiliation with the sport and you have a headline that certainly garners a lot of attention.
The attention Jordan brings to the sport will open up the sport to a new demographic of fans. According to research conducted by Scarborough Research, only 8% of NASCAR fans are African Americans and 20% total are minorities. The numbers show that it is a sport that historically has been majority white fans. Geography certainly helps since 65% of fans are from the midwest or the south, with 40% of all NASCAR fans being from the southern part of the United States.
With Jordan and Wallace aligning, along with Hamlin’s reputation in the sport, the new team could bring a lot of attention to the sport that has historically been absent. Jordan’s self-brand is so strongly recognized that it alone could bring new fans to the sport, further resulting in those demographic numbers to potentially climb when referring to minorities.
This is also a huge step in aiding the Drive for Diversity program, which helps assist minorities in developing their skills for the NASCAR circuit. Thanks to the influence Michael Jordan has and that Bubba Wallace is beginning to create, the Drive for Diversity program could boom in a whole new way, meaning the entrance of more minorities into the sport.
In the end, the alliance between Jordan and Hamlin, in addition to choosing Wallace, is significant for NASCAR on so many different levels. From business implications to social impacts, the new race team coming in 2021 could be the beginning of an evolution in the sport of NASCAR.