By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – Even for a driver used to pushing the 200-mph barrier on the track, Bubba Wallace’s ride to work on Thursday afternoon was one of a kind.
With a sponsor like the United States Air Force, Wallace has had the opportunity to experience some extraordinary activities and this time around it came in the form of a 10,000 foot skydive out of the back of a C-17 Globemaster into the infield of Daytona International Speedway.
Amid gusty winds and sunny skies, Wallace floated from high above the 2.5-mile superspeedway to a soft landing in the track’s infield, letting out screams and yells of joy on the way down and throwing his arms up in triumph after a soft landing with his jump partner.
“That’s one of the coolest things I’ve done,” Wallace said after getting back to solid ground. “I’ve been able to go up with the United States Air Force a couple of times in a fighter jet, an F-16 and F-15. I didn’t think that could be beat.
“Jumping with the Wings of Blue was incredible. I wasn’t nervous at all, which was surprising, because I’m about to jump out of a perfectly good C-17. That was cool. That thing was awesome. I didn’t get nervous, but I went straight to scared crapless when he just walked off the back of the plane. I wanted to back out and not do it right then.
“The adrenaline rush I got at that moment, I don’t know another feeling that can describe it or another moment in my life that can describe it. Just incredible.”
Now that Wallace has had the ride of a lifetime to kick of the day at Daytona, he will buckle into his No. 43 Chevrolet in the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duels as he looks to better his 32nd best qualifying time from last weekend. In two previous Daytona 500 starts, Wallace best start came with a seventh-place effort in 2018, which he parlayed into a runner-up finish at the end of the day.
Wallace enters the 2020 season hoping a change atop the pit box will yield better results for him and the No. 43 team, with Jerry Baxter taking over as crew chief at Richard Petty Motorsports.
Being a crew chief for Wallace is a familiar spot for Baxter as he served as Wallace’s crew chief when he drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series in 2013 and 2014. Wallace won five Truck Series races with Baxter at the helm, finishing eighth and third in the points standings in their two years together.
“It gives you a piece of mind, for sure,” Wallace said. “One thing that we were lacking last year was just the leadership role. Everything else, Derek (Stamets) did a great job, a tremendous job, stepping up to the plate; because that was kind of thrown on Derek last year.
“He’s been in the sport for a really long time, so we always got our cars super good to race with and maybe a handful of races that we didn’t. But when it came to just hey man, go out there and deliver and do the best that we can, he missed that aspect from Derek. And, so I wanted to bring Jerry in to bring that leadership role to the team.”