Bubba Wallace takes in the sights from Atlanta Motor Speedway pit road.
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Through the lens: Bubba Wallace finds focus in photography

HAMPTON, Ga. – Bubba Wallace took his dad’s old Nikon camera to Greenville-Pickens Speedway in 2010. He was there to test a K&N Series car with Rev Racing, but ended up gaining more than racing data in that visit.

Sitting on the precarious pit wall of the South Carolina speedway as cars whirled around the track, Wallace’s love for photography was ignited.

“In between changes and whatnot, I would go grab my camera,” Wallace told NASCAR.com from the No. 43 hauler at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday. “At Greenville … you can stand here and touch the race car if you wanted to. It’s pretty cool. Little sketchy.

“I would sit there right by the wall – I’d have to see if I have a picture of that test, I don’t know if I do still – but you’re inches away. Before that, I was like, man, it would be kind of fun – you see the professional photographers at the track taking photos. I’m like, that would be cool to do. …

“Instead of taking somebody else’s picture, I was like, I want that to be my picture, you know?”

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As Wallace began moving up through his NASCAR career, his camera came with him every weekend. He took a solid photo of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car a few years into his photography exploration and thought about printing it for Junior to sign. He never did; instead, he continued to work on his craft.

An image of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet, taken by Bubba Wallace.
Courtesy Bubba Wallace

The race tracks, series and teams changed and Wallace’s cameras changed as he continued to upgrade to better models – “it’s like golf; the more expensive the clubs, the better you’re going to play, right?” he said lightheartedly.

And he soaked up knowledge from NASCAR photographers such as Nigel Kinrade and Russell LaBounty at the race track.

“Nigel and Russell were huge helps,” he recalled. “… They kind of took me under for a little bit and they would tell me things to look at and things to adjust and going from shooting on automatic to now shooting manual, all manual stuff except for the focus button. …

“I’m turning dials and stuff. So, I kind of self-taught myself those things. That’s one cool thing about it, you can spend days, weeks learning new things and you’re like, ‘Aha! Got it.’ ”

That camera was a constant for about five years in Wallace’s young life; but when his career began picking up, his camera started picking up dust.

“Rewind a year, year and a half, didn’t touch it … I bought one and used it for a little bit and I’m like I gotta pick up my camera, I got pick up my camera, I gotta pick it up,” he said. “And something just hit me – it was right before we went to Hawaii in the offseason. I started messing around with it again.”

Wallace’s offseason trip to Hawaii – which he did with a group that included fellow driver and friend Ryan Blaney – was the sight of his photography resurgence. His Instagram flooded with landscape photos of picturesque scenery. He would make the group stop for the ideal photo or – his personal favorite – time-lapse opportunities that he couldn’t pass up. He set up his tripod for Christmas photos with girlfriend Amanda Carter.

“I did feel like the dad, sitting there with my tripod,” he joked.

And when the racing calendar rolled back around in 2019 for the season-opening Daytona 500, the camera – this time, an upgraded Sony A7R3 – was back by his side.

“I’ve been trying to pick it back up … I’ve got a ton of equipment, a ton of lenses and some dollys and stuff. But it’s really time-consuming, so I do mostly time-lapse stuff,” he said.

Wallace won’t call himself a photographer, but he’s eager to continue learning; during NASCAR photoshoots, he’ll study the camera that the photographer is using. The 25-year-old driver’s passion is evident as he talks with his hands flying about his favorite aspects to shoot – stars and clouds – and his next photography goal; “A holy grail time-lapse, which is day, night, day or night, day, night. You get to go through all the clouds rolling and the stars come in at night … and you just get awesome colors.”

“… You’re like, man, if they can take that shot, I can take that shot,” he continued. “It might not be as good, but it might be better. You never know. So, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Beyond anything else, Wallace enjoys the challenge with photography. Fellow racer and friend Chase Elliott received a camera of his own for Christmas and texted Wallace. The No. 43 driver spent time tinkering with Elliott’s gift later, just trying to figure it out.

“I’ve been facing challenges all my life, so why not add it to the camera world?” he said. “Cameras, that’s all on me … If it turns out bad, they make delete buttons. Get rid of it and try again. So, I think it’s all trial and error. You can spend all the time in the world, you’re not on anybody’s schedule but your own.”

Down the road, photography could turn into more than a hobby for Wallace – he certainly thought about it when he was searching for a full-time NASCAR ride in 2017. And maybe someday, his photo will end up in a glossy magazine, like the ones he admires in National Geographic.

For now, he’ll continue shooting whatever inspires him – and will wait as long as it takes to get just the right time-lapse.

“I told Amanda if we go out to Iceland or whatever, you’re going to be sitting … for hours because you have to wait for those perfect moments,” he said.