LOS ANGELES • National Basketball Association (NBA) icon Michael Jordan announced on Monday he has purchased a Nascar Cup series charter team and recruited trailblazing black driver Bubba Wallace to race for the new outfit next season.
Jordan, widely regarded to be the greatest player in NBA history with an estimated net worth of US$1.6 billion (S$2.2 billion), will be the majority owner in the new franchise with veteran racer Denny Hamlin as minority partner.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Jordan, who also owns the Charlotte Hornets NBA team, said he hoped his ownership could bring new audiences to the white-dominated world of Nascar and boost involvement of minorities.
“The timing seemed perfect as Nascar is evolving and embracing social change more and more,” the 57-year-old said. “In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for black people in racing.”
Wallace, the only black driver in Nascar, will spearhead the team behind the wheel. The 26-year-old had confirmed earlier this month that he would not race again for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Wallace has spoken out against racism this year in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, and in June called on Nascar chiefs to ban the Confederate flag from racetracks used on the circuit.
The flag has been a staple at Nascar tracks in the southern United States heartland, but it remains a symbol of slavery and racism for many. Nascar later banned displays of the flag at its races.
The driver was also involved in controversy in June, after his team reported that a noose had been found hanging in the team garage at Talladega Superspeedway. An investigation later by the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined he had not been the victim of a hate crime and that the noose was a rope on a garage door that had been there since last year.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS