Corporate interest in Bubba Wallace has grown, and NASCAR’s only full-time black driver has signed a new sponsor that includes funding for his team Richard Petty Motorports.
Columbia Sportswear Co. announced a multi-year sponsorship on Wednesday with Wallace as a brand ambassador that will also place the company on the No.43 in Dover later this month and one to two other races not yet announced.
“It’s just an incredible momentum that we have right now,” Wallace told The Associated Press. “These are the types of deals we’ve always talked about and needed to be successful on and off the race track.”
Wallace, in his third full season at the top of the NASCAR Cup Series, has gained national attention in recent months as an activist. He was successful in pushing NASCAR to ban the Confederate Flag at its events, promotes a message of “compassion, love, understanding” in its quest for inclusion, and led the conversation among his peers on racial equality.
Joe Boyle, president of the Columbia brand, told the AP the company noticed Wallace during the coronavirus pandemic when NASCAR was one of the first sports to return to competition in May. This put Wallace in the spotlight during the national unrest over racial inequalities.
“With COVID, there weren’t a lot of sports that were played, and with popular culture and everything Bubba stood for, we had really watched him as he garnered national attention,” said Boyle. “Everything he stood for, in terms of strength, courage, conviction for what he stands for, is also what Columbia has stood for all these years.”
Wallace is an avid outdoorsman and a budding photographer. As the sponsorship talks began, Wallace sent the company photographs of him wearing a prized bright yellow ski jacket that was his first purchase of Columbia clothing.
“It was not the [activism] what stood out for us was that he grew up outdoors, ”Boyle said. “His favorite things to do off the track are photography, hiking, biking, golf. It’s just a natural fit. “
Columbia is an established brand of outdoor clothing, footwear, accessories and gear. He plans to use the deal with Wallace – his first NASCAR driver and team sponsorship deal – to promote his product lines.
Finding sponsorship has been difficult during Wallace’s career. He joined RPM, co-owned by Hall of Famer Richard Petty, in 2017, but a lack of proper funding has long slowed the team on the track. Wallace started this season with just 16 of 36 races sold to corporate sponsors.
It’s taken a while for deals to be made in the months since Wallace found his voice. He signed a personal sponsorship deal with Beats by Dre in July, an agreement announced earlier than expected when the company responded to President Donald Trump targeting Wallace in a tweet.
A week later, Cash App signed on to sponsor Wallace for five races.
The deals come slowly as Wallace, a free agent, prepares for his future in NASCAR. He received a contract extension offer from RPM co-owner Andrew Murstein, which promises a bigger stake in team ownership – Wallace already owns part of the team – and he has options elsewhere.
Six-time NASCAR Truck Series winner Wallace appreciated the deal with Columbia because it is a genuine partnership that represents his interests.
“We’re trying to find ways to incorporate photography while being outside,” Wallace said. “But it’s also about getting people outside who don’t have the same access to the outdoors as we do, so maybe the kids downtown it’s a bit of a hike for them to go to a state park just to be able to go hiking or fishing.
“We’re trying to find creative and elaborate ways to give them access and give back to communities, which are all tied to what’s going on in the world where we dive deep into communities and create a bigger footprint and impact.”
If Wallace doesn’t return to RPM next season, Columbia sponsorship would follow him to a new team in 2021.