Brand partnerships and sports go hand in hand. This is especially true with a sport like NASCAR. Each car typically has dozens of sponsor labels on it, repping everything from sportswear like Columbia to sodas to power tools. While most fans don’t seem to mind, the driver partnerships can be another story.
Bubba Wallace, one of the most polarizing drivers in the sport, recently announced a partnership with a beloved brand, even if he admittedly isn’t a fan. 23XI Racing used this past weekend’s NASCAR Cup series finale at Phoenix Raceway to unveil its new Star Wars-themed promotion with brand partner Columbia.
Andy Nordhoff, communications director for Columbia Sportswear, said: “We’ve been working with Disney, Lucasfilm since 2016. Every winter we’ve done a collaboration with them taking inspiration from a movie or one of their shows and building outdoor products that can be worn in all the elements.”
Specifically, this year’s iteration is a Luke Skywalker-themed fire suit that resembles the outfit Luke Skywalker wore in Star Wars as he ended the Death Star. Nordhoff continued: “So taking a look at the fire suit, it looks a lot like a fire suit that Bubba would wear., that really inspired this collaboration with NASCAR.”
Columbia has been working with Disney to develop the suit, and considering the wokeness of both companies, Bubba Wallace was a natural selection. Columbia and Wallace began their collaboration in 2020, and he has helped launch several collections.
However, in terms of his latest, and perhaps much to Columbia and Disney’s chagrin, Bubba isn’t exactly a fan of The Force. When talking about the new collection, Wallace said: “Like I’m late to the game, right. I’ve never really had much interest in Star Wars. When we heard rumblings about it, I was like, ‘all right, well I guess I need to study up on my history here’. And, actually Amanda (his wife) wanted to as wells so I watched the first one a couple weeks ago and we watched it again with Amanda yesterday and you could start to appreciate…this was like the first big franchise back then.”
Considering Star Wars premiered in 1978, a little late is a bit of an understatement. Despite watching the movie, Wallace was barely able to muster any enthusiasm for the beloved classic. He continued: “You’re wondering what all the hype is, so you get to watch it and there’s a lot of cool things, a lot of things that it’s like, you got to remember when this was shot.”
He also offered this “luke” warm take: “It’s amazing how many Star Wars fans there are around the world. Even walking the track yesterday, I saw people wearing Star Wars t-shirts.” Wallace wore the Star Wars-themed fire suit, and his Camry was painted to resemble the iconic X-Wing fighter flown by Skywalker.
As part of the promotion, Bubba went to California and filmed a video spot with fellow wokester Mark Hamill, but despite their similar social leanings, Wallace wasn’t impressed. He related: “Look, my boss is MJ (NBA legend Michael Jordan). I didn’t geek out over him. I didn’t geek out over Mark Hamill. I don’t get starstruck. But when he did say, ‘may the force be with you, always’, that was pretty cool. I heard that line, everybody and their mother says it, and when you hear it from him it was pretty special.”
Thankfully, Hamill was able to get some reaction from Wallace with the iconic line, but beyond that, it seemed to be just another sponsorship for the middling race car driver. Despite being a lightning rod for controversy, Wallace has gained more sponsorships and notoriety than wins. A partnership with woke Disney just seems to make perfect sense.
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