It’s defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization”
For Andrew Murstein, most of his professional career has been all about diversity and helping minority business owners. Today as President and COO of Medallion Financial Corp, a business his grandfather started in the 1930’s he is taking things to a higher gear… literally. His family ran one of the largest Small Business Administration (SBA) lenders in the United States. 100% of their loans were given to women and minority owned businesses at low rates so that they could start their own business or help them grow. When Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron joined the Board of Murstein’s Company, the groundwork was set to change the sports world.
Diversity was something that Murstein learned about at a young age from what he was taught by his parents and the environment of the public schools that he attended in New York. The Board of Directors at Medallion was always a diverse group that included among others…
–Ben Ward, the first African-American police commissioner in the history of New York City.
–Former New York State Governor Mario Cuomo, a champion for equal rights.
–And Aaron, the legendary home run champion who faced racism and death threats during and after his successful journey of breaking Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record.
Murstein would apply what he learned in the business world and he would eventually bring ground breaking diversity to NASCAR with the purchase of Richard Petty Motorsports.
(Andrew Murstein and Richard Petty)
In 2017, RPM turned to Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. to take the reins of the iconic number 43, made famous by legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty. Wallace became the first full-time African-American driver at the highest level of NASCAR since Wendell Scott in 1971. Bubba Wallace and RPM have taken center stage in that nationwide outrage over the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers during an arrest in Minnesota a few weeks ago.
“From the moment that Richard Petty and I bought the team, we were focused on diversity and inclusiveness,” said Murstein who also owns the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse. “I have learned so much from Hank Aaron over the years and have been inspired by him. I thought of him when we had an opening a few years ago for a new driver and we immediately choose Bubba. I always thought Bubba had the potential in his own way to be a game-changer for NASCAR and break barriers like the great Hank Aaron did in baseball”
The 26-year-old Wallace is a product of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program that was developed to attract minorities and females to the sport. He totaled six Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series win and became the first African-American since Wendell Scott to win a NASCAR race when he reached Victory Lane at Martinsville in 2013. In his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season back in 2018, Wallace finished second in the Daytona 500 and racked up a pair of top-ten finishes.
Wallace has been at the forefront in terms of change in NASCAR as well as throughout the country over the last couple of weeks. Things moved quickly behind the scenes at RPM following the public outcry and that included teamwork and a quick response from NASCAR.
Before the NASCAR Cup Series race in Atlanta on June 7th, Wallace was seen wearing a black t-shirt with the words “I CAN’T BREATHE” and, the words that Floyd delivered to the police officers as they were caught on video applying a hold that ultimately took his life. Also on the shirt were the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER” which has become the nationwide rallying cry for the denouncing of systemic racism and the demand to end racial injustice.
Wallace would also make a request to NASCAR during a live prime-time CNN interview that the Confederate Flag be banned from all races, tracks and.
“No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race,” Wallace told CNN on June 8th. “It starts with confederate flags. Get them out of here.”
On Wednesday June 10th, NASCAR agreed as they took Wallace’s request and put pen to paper on a new rule prohibiting the flag from being displayed at related events and properties. That night, at the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville, Wallace received nationwide attention for driving RPM’s famous 43 car that was painted black and on the car in bold letters was the hashtag #BLACKLIVESMATTER.
Wallace had a strong showing in the race that night finishing 11th and that day has certainly changed his life with plenty of new fans, national notoriety, and lots of inquiries from celebrities and star athletes. New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who had never been to a NASCAR raced, reached out to Bubba on social media to extend his support. NASCAR then invited Kamara to this past Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami and the running back attended wearing Wallace 43 apparel.
(Richard Petty and Bubba Wallace)
“Even Hank Aaron reached out to congratulate us on all that we accomplished,” said Murstein. “Through the years I have been with Hank when an untold number of people approached him for his autograph or just to say how much they admire him, including everyone from Alex Rodriquez to President Bush to President Clinton. For Hank to reach out on his own, and tell you that he’s impressed, well then you know it’s a pretty big deal.”
Aaron and Wallace have a couple of things in common. One is that they both hail from Mobile, Alabama and the other is that they have both looked racism straight in the face. Aaron went through a tough time in 1974 when he approached Babe Ruth’s all-time home run mark and subsequently broke The Bambino’s” record.
“Hank played with great poise and class during such a difficult period int the United States,” said Murstein. “He had death threats and hate mail constantly because of his skin color. Hank understands on a different scale what Bubba has been going through as NASCAR’s only full-time African-American driver in nearly fifty years.”
Aaron and Wallace will extend their common bond into this weekend when the NASCAR Cup Series race will be at Talledega in Alabama, the home state of both gentlemen.
“Hank will be cheering from home and cheering (Bubba) on,” said Murstein.
Wallace’s request to have the Confederate Flag removed from NASCAR events certainly opened up some eyes around the country, but when he raced around the track at Martinsville in that black car, it was a defining moment in NASCAR history and could also serve as a turning point for Bubba’s career and for the success of Richard Petty Motorsports. While Bubba has gained well-deserved acclaim for the courage and conviction to drive that car, the idea to have #BLACKLIVESMATTER on the Chevrolet was not just Wallace’s.
It came from within the RPM family and then Wallace took it to another level.
“Bubba immediately loved it,” said Murstein. “The team then worked with him to design what I feel is one of the best cars ever designed in NASCAR.”
“From Richard Petty to Andy Murstein, everybody at RPM is standing behind me and believing in me on track and also following me through this journey off track and letting me find my way and find my voice in standing up for what’s right”, said Wallace.
Bubba has enjoyed some terrific performances this season including a fifth-place finish in the Duel 1, sixth place at Las Vegas, tenth place at Bristol, eleventh-place last week at Martinsville and a 13th place finish this past Sunday at Homestead. Murstein and Petty rolled the dice when they signed Wallace three years ago and now, they are starting to see progress and perhaps a true star in the making.
Success can take some time, but now Wallace is showing improvement and he’s gaining momentum in terms of new fans.
“He’s been getting better and better,” said Murstein. “That’s what you want to see from a star, learning and progression. He also seems to rise to the occasion much like the great athletes do like Reggie Jackson, who Richard and I spent time with before the Daytona race. Bubba seems to step it up and perform at another level in big moments.”
Bubba’s success, coupled with speaking out against racial injustice and continuing to “steer” towards diversity, has also had a tremendous impact on the team. Sponsors are the lifeblood of any racing team as more revenue can lead to better equipment and resources and that can eventually lead to winning races. It seems as if Wallace and RPM are gaining more attention, much of it this past week with Bubba’s many media appearances, and that has led to inquiries from potentials sponsors.
Over the last week, Murstein’s phone has been blowing up.
“The outpouring of support from both fans and potential sponsors has been unlike anything I have ever seen,” said Murstein. “Many Fortune 500 companies and companies of all sizes want to be a part of what he is creating. It’s very rare when an athlete can make such a difference not just while performing, but outside of his or her sport as well and have such a major positive change in the world. Bubba has not only been doing that, but I feel the best is yet to come.”
These are certainly interesting times in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the sports world but NASCAR was the first major sport to return from suspension, albeit with no fans in attendance. However, when fans are eventually permitted to return to the racetracks, expect to see more Bubba Wallace 43 gear in the crowd. He is a future star in NASCAR but he is also gaining popularity for the change he is trying to help create when it comes to diversity.
Between “The King” Richard Petty, who is loved and embraced by motorsports fans the world over, and Murstein who has the passion and know how to make it all happen, Bubba has the perfect support staff to help him accomplish that. The world can’t wait to see what sponsors will also support this cause, and what lies ahead for this budding superstar and this legendary team.