I was invited the other day to an appearance Bubba Wallace did at Magna Vista High School in Rigeway, VA, which is just a few miles from Martinsville Speedway. I decided to go just to see how the 24-year-old Monster Energy Cup Series rookie related to the students and they to him. Turns out they liked each other a lot and connected almost immediately. 

He was greeted at the entrance of the school by cheerleaders holding up a big banner and walked into the auditorium with their band pounding out the "Warriors" fight song, the same "tomahawk chop" song made famous by the Florida State Seminoles. There was a ton of energy and Bubba was clearly fueled by it, even at one point jumping behind a drum set and playing with the band.

 When he faced this big crowd, looking up he saw a large number of African-American kids and when he was introduced as NASCAR's only African-American driver they cheered enthusiastically.  Later Bubba would tell me, "That shows you how big the moment in time is right now for me to be here at the pinnacle of our sport and trying to elevate it to new levels and reach new audiences and new crowds. I think we're knocking on those doors each and every day, each and every weekend. The African-American side of it is going to be talked about for years to come and I just need to do the best job every weekend and just have fun with it at the same time."

On this day, he was clearly having fun talking about video games he played and music he listened to. The students listened intently as well as clapping their hands and hooting loudly as he gave them insight into who Bubba really is.  "Honestly, I try to be a funny guy, a guy you all can get along with. I Just try to be myself and that's to have the most fun at any and all times. I love everything I do, hanging out with you guys and creating new fans to the sport. Away from the racing stuff we can relate on so many things whether its music or sports related.  I just love being myself, this is who I am. I'm that guy that plays the drums horribly but happens to be a decent race car driver so I just live by that."

"I really love all music, I love all types of music," he explained. "I'm really into the heavy metal stuff which you wouldn't really think. I love rap music. I grew up on rap and R&B. I'm a little old school and a little new school. I like it all."

He told them how he watched the TV show "This is us" and cried over some of the episodes. It was a hit when he admitted becoming a horror movie fan when he was a teenager. "I grew up on all the "Halloween" flicks. I love those," he said. "So, if anyone of those are on TV, even if there's only 10 minutes left or they are rolling through the credits, I'll turn it on and watch that."

He also drew laughter when he poked fun at himself when asked if he preferred vacationing in the mountains or at the beach. He said he like the mountains because there were more things to do like skiing and snowmobiling, but he added with a chuckle and a smile, "I'm not really one to go lay out on the beach and get a tan. I think I already have a pretty nice tan if you ask me so I don't need that." Everyone was in on the joke and the place erupted.

They were amused when he divulged there are times when he's had a hard time driving the speed limit, admitting he had gotten out of 15-20 tickets, and he confessed, "Yeah I have trouble with slow people. I hate slow drivers who don't at least do the speed limit.  Everybody has some days where they drive too fast and get caught but it's alright. You just try your best to get out of it."

"The hardest part is landing after a race and when you go 215 for four hours and we have an hour flight or so and you drive home.  I don't do 215 but I do well over the speed limit for a split second until you realize "whoa" I could get in trouble for this," he laughed.

While Bubba enjoyed the role of comedian, he also had a serious message to deliver when telling his audience how they might better handle the pressures of life. "The biggest thing is the people you surround yourself with and having that boost of confidence each and every move you make, knowing there are people there to support you."

"You've got to be focused and stay focused," he also said. "You have to have a lot of patience and you have to have a lot of focus and be able to deal with all that comes with you. So, you guys are young and you'll have to deal with the real world stuff soon just be ready for it, just try to stay focused no matter what comes at you."

Interestingly a number of the students kept making references to the Will Ferrell movie "Talladega Nights".  They clearly liked it, but Bubba didn't.  Finally, one kid asked him why not?  "If you're passionate about something, and you know what the ins and outs are, and you have a comedy or a movie come about and portray it all the wrong way and make us look like…..I can't say it….that's just what it is. There are some funny parts but it's not what NASCAR is about."

As he was heading for the door, Bubba had one last thing to say, "The real world it doesn't wait up on you, it's here as soon as you're done with school so you have to be prepped for that, you need to be ready for it, and the kids need to realize that. Seemed like a lively bunch. They were fired up as soon as I walked in and had a great entrance, great audience, great questions, great visit."

I bet all the students and faculty at Magna Vista High School will not soon forget the day Bubba Wallace walked through their doors and now consider him a star in the making and will follow his future exploits as a growing group of new, younger fans NASCAR craves.

My little visit to southern Virginia left me believing on the track or off, Bubba's the real deal and a breath of fresh air the sport truly needs even if he cries over a TV show??