Michael Jordan's Bringing the Jumpman and Sneaker Culture to NASCAR's Victory Lane

Tyler Reddick's win at Talladega in an Air Jordan car just brought more attention to the sport.

Tyler Reddick Air Jordan Car
Tyler Reddick took the checkered flag at Talladega in a Jumpman car. Via Getty
Tyler Reddick Air Jordan Car

Michael Jordan, the ultimate winner in sport and the game of life, had never been to Victory Lane before. That all changed this past Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway when his 23XI Racing car, no.45 driven by Tyler Reddick, took the checkered flag at the Geico 500 in a chaotic finish that saw Reddick jump from fourth to first with a lot of luck and a bit of skill. And he did so in a Toyota Camry with the Jumpman logo emblazoned across the hood.

The sneaker-inspired car, which takes cues from Air Jordan retros, is the latest in a long line of Jordan race cars that pair sneaker designs from the past and present with some of the fastest cars on the track.

This isn’t the first time a 23XI car has won a race. Jordan’s co-owned the team with driver Denny Hamlin, who’s been a Jordan Brand athlete since 2011, since the start of the 2021 season. And this was the sixth victory for the racing outfit. But it was the first one where Jordan himself was present. 

“Denny kept saying I was bad luck,” Jordan said in a post race interview. “And today we proved him wrong.”

The win almost didn’t happen. It took a miracle. Michael McDowell had the lead on the final lap as Brad Keswelowski tried to make a move for the pass. McDowell spun out trying to block him. And Reddick, who was behind the cars, slingshotted past them for the win at the finish line. 

It was more than a moment for 23XI racing. Reddick hopped out of his car and climbed the fence to celebrate while Jordan was seen ecstatic in the pits with Reddick’s family, full of jubilee and sheer excitement, wearing his elephant print headset. 

The car was a tribute to both Jordan’s history in racing and sneakers, as it looks like it took inspiration from the Air Jordan 6 “Motorsports,” a limited release from 2010.

Of course, it’s not the first time that a race car has been made to look like an Air Jordan. Former 23XI driver Kurt Busch drove cars decked out in cement print and even one car that was made to resemble the Air Jordan 11 “Concord.”

Reddick himself has driven cars made to look like the Air Jordan 5 “Grape,” a paint job that was a tribute to longtime Nike and Jordan Brand executive Howard “H” White, and a car paying tribute to J. Balvin’s Air Jordan 3 collaboration. 

Grape Air Jordan 5 race car Tyler Reddick

The Jordan-themed car was pioneered by Hamlin when he drove a truck for a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race in October 2013 that was made to resemble the Air Jordan 3Lab5.

Jordan and Hamlin’s friendship started at a Charlotte Bobcats game in 2008.

“I was a season-ticket holder at the time, and I remember walking to the back area and he was sitting there,” Hamlin told me in 2016.  “He actually got my attention. He said, ‘Hey man, good race over the weekend.’ I said to him, ‘You watch racing?’ He said, ‘Yeah, my dad used to take me to races way back when. I’ve always watched racing, I watch it every weekend. Here’s my cell phone number, give me a text, and we’ll get up.’”

Jordan’s 23XI Racing team isn’t even Jordan’s first foray into racing. He previously outfitted a motorcycle team, which got its own player exclusive Air Jordan 4s in 2006 that were a white and blue flip on the “Mars” Air Jordan 4 from the same year. Neymar famously bought a pair on Sneaker Shopping. They were released to the public in 2017 as a general release retro.

A NASCAR vehicle with the number 45 and sponsor logos races on a track

Before Reddick's win on Sunday, Hamlin and Bubba Wallace, Jordan’s other driver, both crashed out of the race in the same wreck. Wallace was Jordan’s first driver, and drives the no.23 car, but doesn’t get in on the Air Jordan fun as he has a footwear sponsor in Columbia.

There’s been talk in the past about whether Michael Jordan can “make NASCAR cool.” I think that’s dumb—NASCAR has always been cool. The high speed, gas it and smash it, rubbing is racing mentalities that were exhibited by the sport’s greats—it’s something that Jordan himself has always possessed. He’s not an outsider coming into the sport trying to bring his cultural cachet. But rather, he fits right in.

Michael Jordan With Bubba Wallace

He’s personified what Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, and the lists of greats all have. They live life by the seat of their pants. All or nothing. It’s fitting that Jordan’s first time in Victory Lane this weekend occurred on the anniversary of his eighth NBA scoring title.

“You know, this is the NBA Playoffs right now. And to me this is like an NBA Playoff game,” Jordan said. “I’m all in. I love it. It replaces a lot of competitiveness I had in basketball. But this is even worse, because I have no control.”