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Throughout the closing portion of the 2023 season, an ongoing conversation about star power in NASCAR has taken center stage. What will it take to raise overall awareness and elevate the profiles of drivers? How can the governing body grow the sport? Enter Bubba Wallace.

The 23XI Racing driver created buzz all over social media in the first week of November, and it wasn’t for anything he’d done on the race track. So why would a driver eliminated from the playoffs get so much attention? His sponsor. And it’s a great example of how the sport can grow in the future.   

Ongoing debate on NASCAR growth and star power

NASCAR, like any sport, is always trying to bring in new fans. Growth is key to its future success. How that’s achieved has become a hot topic of conversation over the last month. Naturally, elevating the status of the drivers and their star power has been one suggested method.

In early October, Hendrick Motorsports Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon offered his thoughts on drivers marketing the sport during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“Again, I want other guys in the sport to do stuff like that,” Gordon said. “If they come to Hendrick Motorsports — and you can call us stiff. You can call us whatever you want. But we’re running a business, and a business is to win races first, take care of your sponsors, and let the sponsors market you. Let the sport figure out how to market you. Build your brand through who you are on social media and be the best you that you can be.” 

Bubba Wallace driving Star Wars ‘X-wing’ car

Bubba Wallace knows a little something about sponsors. He’s had some of the biggest in the Cup Series garage, including Door Dash, McDonald’s, and Columbia Sportswear. This week, the outdoor clothing company announced an out-of-this-world partnership with the 23XI Racing driver and the popular Star Wars movie franchise. 

But this isn’t just slapping a movie logo or a couple of characters on the car. Instead, the 30-year-old driver will be driving a car that looks like an X-Wing Starfighter, including the paneling, the scoring, the red stripe, the patina, and the thrusters. 

And that’s not all. Wallace’s racing suit and helmet are also made to look like Luke Skywalker’s outfit. 

While the car will undoubtedly make a big splash in Sunday’s Championship 4 race in Phoenix, it’s already been a big hit on social media throughout the week, with Columbia, Star Wars, and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) himself talking about the partnership. The Star Wars website currently features the story of how it all came together. 

All of it combined is the perfect example of how drivers and sponsors can creatively expand the footprint of NASCAR by venturing into other galaxies/areas that aren’t necessarily viewed as a natural fit.

Wallace promoted sport in the past

Bubba Wallace recognizes his importance in the sport. As the only Black driver in the Cup Series, he’s got an opportunity to reach an audience that hasn’t necessarily been interested in the sport in the past. 

He’s done just that through various initiatives and his Live to Be Different Foundation, whose mission is to encourage the next generation to be better and more inclusive than every generation before it so they can achieve anything they put their mind to. 

In addition, he’s also expanded his and NASCAR’s reach with the Emmy Award-winning Netflix docuseries Race: Bubba Wallace, which was released in 2022 and followed the driver through the 2021 campaign as he used his voice and talent to change the sport.

Wallace has had his critics, who are biased for obvious reasons. But since his arrival in the Cup Series, it’s hard not to see how he’s been one of the sport’s biggest ambassadors and helped increase its reach to a more diverse audience. 

Now, teaming up with his sponsor, Columbia, and Star Wars, he’s taking his game to another level and a galaxy far, far away.

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