The rumour had been going around for some time, but the news was confirmed late Monday that Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in history, is going to own a racing team in NASCAR's biggest series.
He will in fact be the majority shareholder of a team also co-owned by Denny Hamlin, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing team’s number 11 car. Hamlin will continue his activities with his current team.
And who will drive the new car? Bubba Wallace. Recall that the driver had been plunged into a controversy last spring when a noose was discovered in his garage at the Talladega circuit. In the end, the presence of the noose was purely accidental and it’s not believed to have been a racist gesture. The incident occurred in the midst of the well-publicized crisis over race relations in the United States after the murder of George Floyd.
The new team is acquiring an ownership charter from the Germain Racing team, which simultaneously confirmed on Monday that it would cease its activities at the end of this year.
Michael Jordan will become the first black majority owner of a NASCAR team since owner-driver Wendell Scott raced with his own team in the 1960s and 1970s.
Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan have been close friends for more than a decade.
Said Michael Jordan in a statement:
"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.”
- Michael Jordan
The basketball legend also didn’t back away from addressing the issue of race relations in the domain he’s entering into:
"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. 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."
For his part, Denny Hamlin said that "Starting a race team has been something that Michael and I have talked about while playing golf together over the years, but the timing or circumstances were never really right. It just makes sense now to… help an up-and-coming driver like Bubba take his career to a higher level. Plus, Michael and Bubba can be a powerful voice together, not only in our sport, but also well beyond it."
Bubba Wallace confirmed last month that he is leaving Richard Petty Motorsports, for which he’s driving since the 2017 season.
“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career”, he said. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”
The team name, car number, manufacturer, sponsors and other details will be announced at a later date.
As for the number, we don't know the new team's plans but if 23 is available, that would just be perfect. It is, of course, the number Michael Jordan wore for the majority of his career.