Behind the scenes as Bubba Wallace keeps his Richard Petty tattoo promise: ‘I didn’t want to be that guy’
CONCORD, N.C. – On the surface, the story of Bubba Wallace’s one and only tattoo is simple. Richard Petty, a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion and the owner of the No. 43 Camaro that Wallace currently races in the sport’s top series, autographed the 25-year-old’s arm last month. Wallace tweeted a photo of The King’s signature: “43000 RTs and I’ll get it tattooed.” The tweet received roughly 44,500 retweets. Boom. Tattoo.
Yet the story runs a little deeper.
In 2016, Wallace’s grandmother died. Ever since that loss, he had been pondering the possibility of getting a tattoo. But it had to be meaningful. He wanted to honor his grandmother, but how? With what? He has a deep passion for music, too. But what kind of tattoo could properly convey that part of his life? What about the racing career, fueled by the support of NASCAR’s most accomplished driver, that has shaped his celebrity?
Then Petty jokingly signed his arm with a silver marker during a Victory Junction event on July 25th.
“It all came together,” Wallace told Sporting News on Monday, minutes after he delivered on his promise and had Petty’s signature tattooed on the back of his upper right leg.
Thus, this isn’t just an example of social media notching a win as a result of a dare. This is a tattoo Wallace wanted.
“(Fellow NASCAR driver) Ryan Truex posted a picture of his head shaved. ‘400,000 followers and I’ll totally shave my head.’ And he has 42,000 followers. So it’s not really obtainable,” Wallace said when asked why he took to Twitter, using Truex’s experiment as an example of what not to do. “Not many times you get The King to sign your arm. And something (in me) was like, ‘Let’s see if we can get 43,000 retweets.’
“I should have done like 430,000 retweets, but again, that’s not obtainable.”
Wallace said he was surprised when his tweet generated roughly 11,000 retweets in its first couple hours. At that point, he said, friends started texting him with a message: “You’re screwed.”
He orginially had a timeline of 24 hours in mind for the 43,000 retweets, but at that point, the tweet had generated only 38,000. Public pressure from big NASCAR names like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin allowed meant a deadline was out of the question. Bowyer went as far as texting Wallace and calling him out.
“I don’t want to back out,” Wallace recalled thinking. “I didn’t want to be that guy.”
So Wallace immediately reached out to London Reese, an Orange County, California-based tattoo artist who he knows through a mutual friend. Reese had done some work for Ryan Blaney, one of Wallace’s closest friends among fellow NASCAR Cup Series drivers. They had all recently attended a concert together in Los Angeles.
Reese was scheduled to be on the East Coast in a few weeks. The Monday after the Aug. 11 Michigan race fit both their schedules. So Wallace booked his buddy for a quick session at the driver’s house just outside of Charlotte.
Wallace admitted he thought about getting a henna tattoo, which would disappear after a few weeks, rather than the real deal. His PR person reminded him that “tattoos are forever.” Which is part of the reason Wallace chose to get the tattoo on the back of his thigh rather than his arm. For multiple reasons, he doesn’t want any tattoo he gets to be easily visable. “That’s not my thing,” Wallace allowed.
While shaving the back of Wallace’s leg in preparation for his work, Reese reminded the driver of the downside to getting inked on such a sensitive part of the body. The tattoo would take hardly any time – roughly 15 minutes – but it would be relatively painful.
Wallace said bits and pieces of the process hurt, but for the most part, the pain wasn’t bad. He likened the feeling to a minor bee sting.
The result was glorious.
“I can’t believe I have a tattoo,” Wallace said with a laugh while walking around his kitchen, the right leg of his athletic shorts still rolled up revealing the freshly tattooed and wrapped Petty signature.
He thanked Reese. He seemed equally surprised by and proud of himself for following through on the Twitter promise.
Even though, given the backstory, it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
Wallace finally found a reason to get a naturally devised (and appropraitely concealed) tattoo.
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