An Interview with Rusty Wallace at Pocono About the Rest of the Season and Life after Racing RUSTY WALLACE, NO. 2 MILLER LITE DODGE CHARGER What do you think about your last race at Watkins Glen? "The Glen is a track that, well...
An Interview with Rusty Wallace at Pocono About the Rest of the Season and Life after Racing
RUSTY WALLACE, NO. 2 MILLER LITE DODGE CHARGER
What do you think about your last race at Watkins Glen?
"The Glen is a track that, well I love it up there. I like going there. Patti and I have a cool restaurant we go to in the evenings, up in the Finger Lakes. We turn that race into a little bit of a vacation. I've always run really good on the road courses. Every time I get to go to a road course I feel like I've got an ace in the hole. I went to Sears Point and felt like I had a good car. The last time I was a Watkins Glen I think I was qualified fifth, I can't remember, and I believe I was running fourth in the race when we broke second gear in the transmission. I was doing poorly in the points, and I thought that would be a good spot to pop me up there. I enjoy running there. I like road course racing. I'm looking really hard at the 24 hour stuff at Daytona next year. Max Crawford and I are looking at prototype cars. I'm really getting involved in the roadway stuff I enjoy. I'm looking forward to the Glen. I've had good success there -- I think I've won there twice. I've had a lot of great runs.
"But I haven't had the success of late that I'd like to have. I've had the performance of late that I want to have but haven't had the outcome because of mechanical problems. Last year I broke a transmission and the year before I lost brakes. Since then, we went out and bought all these million-dollar gears to fix the transmissions, and knock on wood, it's been OK so far. And the brake systems have come a long way so we've learned a lot about the things we screwed up on. And I've had great runs going only to go into turn 12 and the tires slide off in the kitty litter they have there. They told me that they paved turn one and took all that stuff out, but they didn't get the other area taken out. Turn one I haven't had a problem with, turn 12 is where a lot of guys went off and that's where the junk is still at. I wish they would have had that stuff cleared up. Once you get off in that it ruins your entire day. When they have to come get you with a wrecker the party is over."
Do you have a different driving style in your final season?
"My driving style, I don't think is any different at all. I feel like I've been driving just the way I'm doing now. If you look at my stats from last year, I have four engine failures, I lost three transmissions, I lost over a 1,000 points. I won Martinsville last year and had tons of great runs, but mechanically, it just killed me. This year, knock on wood, I'm not having mechanicals. My performance, if you look at the way the car is running, is real close to what it was last year. I'm knocking a lot of top-10 runs out week after week and that's real important. I guess the approach that I've got that's different this time is, since this is my last year, is in the past I've always looked a little farther down the road. 'Next year let's take a look at this body style. Next year let's .... 'Right now, I'm not thinking about that. I'm thinking every single race is the most important race and it's the last race. I've got to think that way. Roger Penske called me from Europe and told me that every race is the last race. I told him I know that."
Does NASCAR need a committee of drivers to oversee changes to tracks?
"I think they need a driver that they can trust, not a committee. The drivers disagree and they get too many things going on and it screws everything up. That's the reason NASCAR has worked the way it has. They make the decisions and it's not a committee decision. If you had a committee decision you'd never make the progress they have. I do like the dictatorship the way it is. I think they need to get a key guy who will look at these tracks and help them with changes. There's things that need to be addressed at the road courses, Sears Point, I'd like to help them with turn six so they can get a better passing zone. This thing here (Pocono) is a disaster. I don't know what is going on over there. Cheech and Chong designed that thing. Someone with more talent than they used needs to fix that thing.
"I'm having a good time with my track in Iowa because I'm able to do what I want with all the different things I've seen around the country. We've got about 28 bulldozers over there right now and the track is taking shape. It's fully funded, it's reality and it's going down the road rocking and rolling. We're in conversations now with sanctioning bodies. I think it's going to be the most beautiful track in the world. It's 7/8 mile with 12 degree banking at the bottom and 14 degree at the top. I've looked at all the pit lanes, I looked at the warm up lanes, I looked at the tunnel and how you get to the track. I looked at how you get people in and out, I looked at the hospitality areas, I looked at the most fan-friendly way to do it. Myself and Paxton Waters are working really close together. He designed Las Vegas and California Speedway, and did a lot of work doing a lot of racetracks. I've been really involved in that.
"People asked me how in the world I got involved in building a speedway. Here's how it happens. You've got a guy with money and wants to start a deal. He asks who designs the track, what driver designs the track, he thought it was like golf. Well, he wants to build a short track and he asks which driver has won more short track races. Well, it's Rusty Wallace, so he says let's call him up. And it's that simple, that's how it happened. I'm really hopped up about that deal. You've got to have some rhyme or reason about how you design things. You've got to know that when you approach something at 200 miles an hour it looks different, coming at it at 200 versus coming at it at 20 miles an hour in a street car. You've got to have some talent. You've got to have a driver to tell these guys how to do this. I think that where they could use some help on. But, that's a small thing, I'm not sure why we're talking so much at that."
Do you feel like because of who you are that, when you complain, NASCAR pays attention?
"Well, yes, whoever complains because NASCAR pays attention to everybody. I think they are understanding who they can listen to and can't. They going 'OK, yeah, I hear you man. Thank you very much. Next.' You'll have some guys going 'Hey man, we have a problem' and they're like 'Really, what is it? Really, OK.' I love the way they operate. I would hate if we had this big roundtable with everyone making decisions. It would kill this sport I think. I love the way that Bill France has done it. And, I've had all kinds of negative thoughts about it, but I think it's all positive. If we need to make a decision, it doesn't take a long time. We're going to do this and that's the way it's going to be and we'll deal with it."
Would you be interested in taking a role like that? Have you had any conversations with NASCAR about doing that?
"No, I haven't had any conversations with them. But, I would definitely be interested in doing it. I want to help this sport grow. I see a lot of negative things that I can help on. So, we'll see what happens. But yes I would definitely be interested. There are several racetracks that I feel like I could go to and help these guys make these things better."
How else would you want to help NASCAR grow?
"I don't have a whole laundry list right now in my head, but there are a lot of things. I think they like me and they trust me and they know when I say something I'm not lying."
What else do you plan to do next year?
"For Team Penske, Roger (Penske) wants me to handle the sponsors. Wally McCarty and those guys are the guys that work with the sponsors putting the programs together. I want to be the guy who maintains the sponsors. I'll be doing the national sales meetings, I'll be doing the meet-and-greets, I'll be going out of town servicing our guys. I'm going to have an active role with our sponsors and maintain the relationships that I've built for so long. I don't want them to get out of my grip and get somewhere else. So, I'll be doing that. I see my role as like Rick Mears, sort of a guy to bounce things off of. Larry Carter said to me 'Please don't leave. There are so many things we need want you to help us with.' We'll have our new driver on the team. I see myself doing that, I see myself going to some test sessions, whether I drive the car or not, I don't know. Let's call that number one -- that's one thing I want to do.
"Second thing I'm going to do is get more active in my car dealerships in East Tennessee. I've got five car dealerships and I sell 10 brands. We sell about 10,000 cars a year and I love that business. I really enjoy it. I just opened up a brand new Honda dealership in Knoxville, Tennessee and that's going well. I want to get more actively involved in that.
"Number three, my son Steven is really rocking and rolling. I'm really excited because this week at Kentucky will be the first time Steven has gotten in a Cup car. Roger Penske is running Steven at Michigan in the ARCA race in a No. 77 Kodak car. What we're doing is going to Kentucky, and it's a Dodge, and I'm going to drive the car to make sure it's good, then I'm going to put Steven in it for the rest of the day. On August 3, he's going to go for the official ARCA test at MIS and Steven's going to do that test. I'll do the same thing with Steve there. And then, Steven's going to run the ARCA race on August 19 and then he's going to run Chicago. And then he's going to run Memphis, Tennessee in my Busch car. So number three, really heavily involved with Steve.
"Number four, and these are in no special order, is actively get involved in my Busch team. It's growing. Top-Flite has re-signed with us.
"Number five -- television. I love doing television. I love the Trackside stuff. I have no idea what the TV contract is or who's going to get the TV contract for 2007, but when that gets more defined than I can define what direction I can start hunting around in.
"So those are five things I'm doing. There will be 50 more, and I don't know what they are. Those five I know. The other ones I don't know. These opportunities keep popping up. I do have personal services contracts with several companies. I have a personal services contract with Miller Brewing Company good to age 55, that's another seven years, and right now they're defining how they're going to use me. I was at a St. Louis Cardinals game the other day with Bob Uecker. Hanging out with him watching a baseball game with the Brewers vs. the Cardinals. I've got a contract to the year 2008 with Kodak. I'm speaking on behalf of Kodak to 2008. I've still got my relationship with Carnival Cruise Lines. I've got 3,100 people coming now on my cruise in December, the first week of December. I'll sign 3,100 autographs and take 3,100 pictures. Those are some of the things.
"And things like the racetrack design. If this track in Iowa turns out the way I want it to turn out, that could be another business I could be involved in. That leads to what I said earlier. I would like to be involved in going to some of these racetracks and fixing some of the problems they've got and making racing better."
It doesn't sound like you'll have much time for driving?
"I talked with Don Prudhomme and he told me 'What are you thinking? You can't do all that. Are you crazy? You'll be too busy. You don't want to do that. You'll have to get up at 6 a.m. to do that.' So he's a little bit my sounding board. And Penske, he just loves that. He loves going out on top of the game when you retire. He doesn't like teasing the fans with maybe I'll come back, maybe I won't. He likes what we're doing. Down the road, I foresee Roger and I getting involved in the car business more often. He wants to do that.
Are you going to do any more Last Call events?
"I've got two more. My first appearance was Philadelphia and it turned out pretty good. I went to Nashville and that went pretty good, and I went to St. Paul/Minnesota, and then Tampa, Florida and that was huge. I went to Hershey Park this past weekend and I had about 1,500 people in line standing in a torrential thunderstorm and rain like you wouldn't believe. There are seven total. The next one is in California and the very last one is in Houston with the Charlie Daniels Band, which I expect will be a big one. CNN has been with me all week -- I took them there -- and NASCAR Nation is going to cover it. CNN is doing a big special on me on September 23, my lifestyle and the schedule that I lead, which is a little more hectic than most."
What will you miss about this job you have today?
"What I'll miss most is the travel. I enjoy traveling, but I don't like too much travel. I like to see people in little joints I frequent. Going to some of those places. I'll miss some of the folks and the attention and stuff like that. I'll miss that. The one thing I won't miss is the schedule. That's for sure. I think that there's common everyday things that no one would expect people to miss. Am I going to miss getting in the car and driving 500 miles on a 103-degree day? No. This whole tour has been about thanking the fans. I'm not making any money on it. We'll sell some t-shirts and hats, but the amount of merchandise I'm selling at these events I could sell in two hours at the track here. All I'm doing is lining them up for miles and signing autographs and say 'thank you'. I've looked every person in the eyeball and said 'thank you'. The whole thing is thank you for supporting me and pulling for me as long as you've been supporting me. That's the whole reason I'm doing this. I wanted to do more of the Last Call events but the brewery couldn't afford it. It was costing them millions. I think they're close to $10 million right now with what they're spending on all the bands, all the stuff they're doing. They're great. I wanted to do more of them. I wanted to go to remote areas. I went to South Dakota and did an appearance for Mid-West Communications. I got up there and I bet there were 4,000 people in town and 3,000 of them were at my autograph session. There are a lot of race fans in all different parts of the country that we don't know about."
As you count down the races to the Chase for the Championship, do you change your strategy for each race?
"I've got the same strategy. There is no thing such as 'close is OK', 'close is good enough,' or 'car feels pretty good'. It's the last, it's the most important. My strategy is don't overwork yourself, but man, give it all the focus that your brain has possibly got. This weekend, we worked on the car at Pocono and it was a little loose, I didn't like that, and it was a little tight, and I didn't like that. When it was all said and done we had a pretty good balanced race car. It's all the talent I had and all the time I had to get everything. I changed every spring and every shock in that car and got it feeling pretty good. But, drivers come by and asked 'what do you think' and I said I just don't have that total grip like you used to a long time ago. They said 'Me, too'. You just kind of tiptoe around. The spoiler and tires are a little different and the track is bumpy and all that stuff, but I'm not changing my strategy. My strategy each race is the most important, and that's the way I'm going into it."
What would it mean to you to go out as a champion?
"I think it would be perfect. I know I've got the capability to do that. People don't think that because I haven't been there in so long. If you look at my stats, I've been in the top 10 for 16 straight years until I lost Robin Pemberton as my crew chief. Then I had to start rebuilding this whole relationship with Billy Wilburn and we just couldn't get the rhythm going. So then Billy was gone. Those two years I fell from the top 10 to 16th or 17th. It wasn't nothing to do with Billy, we just didn't have the time to rebuild all that rhythm that Robin and I had. So now I've had three things happen this year. This is the second year with Larry Carter. That's got me more rhythm. The softer tires are better for my driving style and the shorter spoiler is better for my driving style. And, we're not breaking parts. That's all helped me and that's what is making it better."