Chris Graythen | Getty Images
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

Founding partners lend support to 23XI Racing’s on-track efforts and its greater goals

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on December 14, 2020.

23XI Racing, the newest supergroup in the NASCAR garage, announced its strong supporting cast Monday morning. The distinction in the new organization’s press release made it clear that the companies that have joined forces with the Michael Jordan-Denny Hamlin-Bubba Wallace triumvirate aren’t merely primary sponsors, but “founding partners.”

Another prime point made crystal-clear: These companies aren’t tiptoeing around 23XI’s goals for breaking barriers and promoting social justice. Instead, they’re embracing it.

DoorDash, McDonald’s, Columbia Sportswear, Dr Pepper and Root Insurance have signed on as those founding partners for the No. 23 Toyota that Wallace will drive in the NASCAR Cup Series next season. The veteran Hamlin and the NBA legend announced their joint venture Sept. 21 ahead of an on-track debut at Daytona next February.

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One by one Monday, spokespersons for each company noted how their missions aligned with the team’s — not just for on-track performance, but also for changing perspectives and working together for the greater good.

“What they want to do off the race track is bigger than what they want to do on the race track,” Wallace said. “That’s important. With everything that’s going on right now, we’re basically just being a billboard for the races, but we’re doing the — I wouldn’t necessarily call it dirty work — but doing the hands-on work to making sure we’re making this a better impact and a better place for the next generation coming up through, and just making it a better place for all of us right now because we know there’s so much division going on in the world.

“So talking with DoorDash, talking with McDonald’s, Root, we’ve seen how powerful those companies are of advertising me and getting their name out there. So it’s going to be a lot of fun to see, it’s going to be a lot of work, too, off the race track, but I think that’s what we all need. We need to be pushed and motivated to do the right thing and live by that.”

Hamlin, who noted that his offseason this year is occupied more with 23XI preparations than tee times, confirmed that the full-season inventory of sponsorship opportunities had been sold. Hamlin said that having those partnerships in place relieves some of the burden for next year, while allowing the team a head-start on further sponsorship and a potential expansion to a multicar operation in years to come.

“A lot of these partners have stepped up, bigger than what’s maybe anticipated to fill the season up,” Hamlin says, “I can’t tell you the load it takes off of the management side to now start to work on 2022, 2023, not just more cars but also an extended partnership with Bubba as well. It allows us to start those conversations early, and it’s certainly a gasp of fresh air for us, knowing that we know when we’re starting the season, we know what we’ve got and certainly can plan out our future now.”

Dr Pepper is the latest backer to join 23XI, and the only brand that was not previously associated with Wallace. It was last a primary sponsor in the Cup Series in 2017, during the latter years of BK Racing’s operation.

McDonald’s goes back the furthest with Wallace, having supported his efforts at Richard Petty Motorsports as a primary sponsor as early as 2019. DoorDash, Columbia and Root Insurance came aboard with Wallace last season, not long after Wallace’s emergence as an outspoken figure during the racial tension that gripped the country after George Floyd’s death in May. Those companies expressed their support for Wallace’s message as the series’ only Black driver, and Root leaned into the controversy with a powerful online ad.

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Wallace said he’s always strived to be different, even if his words sometimes stirred the pot. That philosophy lended its name to his philanthropic initiative, the Live to be Different Foundation.

“That shows trying to be a leader and not a follower and not do the same old thing, because that’s not fun for me,” Wallace said. “But just standing out, and that’s what the partners wanted to be a part of. … It just shows where we need to go as a generation, where we need to go as a nation to not make it where it’s like, ‘ooh, I don’t want to touch that.’ These conversations need to be had.”

Wallace called the full-sponsorship boon “a huge weight” that had been lifted, allowing him to focus more on his driving duties than scrambling and pitching potential sponsors. It’s also allowed him to develop a new rallying cry for when 23XI Racing’s components all fall into place.

“It’s definitely a breath of fresh air for sure, having the opportunity in front of me,” Wallace said. “… It’s December 14th right now, so 17 more days until January 1, and that’s when my new motto of ‘no more excuses’ starts. So for 17 days, I’m going to have every excuse in the book, but after that, there’s no more excuses why we can’t run up front and compete for wins and show the true talents that I believe I have and this team moving forward.”