KENNY WALLACE, No. 09 American Ethanol/Iowa Corn/G-Oil Toyota Camry, RAB Racing with Brad Maggard
Can you put into perspective what it means to you to make your 500th Nationwide Series start on Sunday? “Making my 500th start here at Iowa is coincidental and I’m very lucky. My brother (Rusty Wallace) owns part of this race track, helped design it and it could’ve easily been my 500th start a week before or a week after. It means a lot because my brother Rusty got me started in NASCAR racing. He invited me down from St. Louis and he said, ‘Herm, come on down. We’re going to put you in a Nationwide car.’ So, I owe Rusty everything that I’ve got. Of course, we’ve worked hard for it but it’s very coincidental and a lot of fun to make my 500th start here in Iowa.”
How did you get to this point in your racing career? “855 NASCAR starts -- that’s a lot of starts, a lot of years. Ten full-time in the Sprint Cup and 11 Truck races and 500 Nationwide races -- it’s been a long road. If my dad would’ve told me growing up in St. Louis, if he would’ve said, ‘Son, you’re going to make 855 NASCAR starts and you’re going to do it for a living,’ I would’ve said it would’ve been a fantasy. It would’ve been a dream -- there’s no way. So, here we are all these years later -- and let’s not forget that in 1984 I was a crew chief on the Levi Garrett team for driver Joe Ruttman. So, very seldom do I see people in the garage area that’s been here as long as me, and when I see them I give them a nod. Nine Nationwide wins, I sure would’ve liked to have made it a lot more, but I spent a lot of time trying to be a winning Cup driver. Got close three times -- obviously, three second-place finishes in the Cup Series. One at Talladega and the other one at Rockingham when Steve Park got hurt and the other one at New Hampshire. But, you know, it seems like the Nationwide Series has always been my home. Anytime I’ve run into trouble anywhere I’ve always been able to come back here -- the second biggest national touring series in the United States -- I would say that I’ve given it my all and I feel like I’m truly a comeback story this year. I called my shot after being embarrassed, humiliated for the last three or four years. I feel like people knew me as the ‘funny Wallace.’ They were making fun of me, ‘Oh, he’s so funny on TV.’ And, it really started bothering me because let’s face it, I’m a top- 10 driver. You don’t get to be 162 top-10s acting silly. So, I knew that, okay, people have wrote me off as a race car driver. They know me as a TV guy -- I make their day. I have people all of the time say, ‘Man, we love you on that TV. You make me laugh. That’s the only reason I watch.’ But, I didn’t want that. That’s not what I wanted. I was grateful for that, but I wanted to be known as a race car driver. Sometimes being in the back in the points has its privileges. Car owner Robby Benton, who was within a couple of spots of us in the points last year, he ended up winning the road course race with driver Boris Said, and Robby Benton said, ‘Hey Herm, let’s see if we can put something together. I’m struggling, you’re struggling.’ So, we put it together and I don’t know. I don’t know the last comeback in this sport. I claim I’m the only one so I want somebody to challenge me and tell me of a driver who was as low as I was and then called his shot like I called mine. Like Babe Ruth, I said, ‘I’m going to come back,’ and everybody laughed at me. They didn’t mean nothing bad by it, they just wanted to see it. So, I’m still far away. I still have got to win my 10th win. Like I said, I’ve got nine wins and I want my 10th win. So, we’ve got three top-10s and the fourth one could easily have been a top-five at Richmond. We’ve had a couple of rough finishes at the speedways getting wrecked out. I think that pretty much sums it up. I was tired of being known as the silly TV guy. It’s fun to make people happy, but I tend to take things more in the negative tone than I do a positive tone. I’m funny and I like to make people happy, but when people say he’s the funny Wallace I take that as a criticism. I don’t take that as funny. So, that’s what this comeback is all about.”
What do the locals like Michael Annett and Brett Moffitt go through racing at their home tracks? “With the Iowa guys racing in their home state, they’re really excited to be here and they feel like they want to win in front of their home crowd. Michael Annett, Brett Moffit, these are good young race car drivers and what I’ve learned every time I go to St. Louis is you just really focus in. You try to, for that so many hours, just forget about your high school friends, your family and pretend that you’re at another NASCAR track. I’m excited that Michael Annett and Brett Moffitt are here in their hometowns and I’m very aware of how good they are. They are very talented drivers, but they’ve just got to focus in and get the tickets they can get for their family, but focus in on what’s at hand and that’s trying to win this race.”
Don’t quit when people want you to quit.
Do you have in mind a retirement date or are you just riding this wave? “Here is what I say -- I heard Mark Martin say it and now I know what they’re talking about. As long as it’s easy for me to acquire sponsorship and as long as I have a competitive team I will race, but I’ll never forget my brother Rusty (Wallace) last year. I was bummed out and he said something and when Rusty talks to me that means a lot, and when my brother Mike (Wallace) talks to me it means a lot. But, Rusty says, ‘Herm, I don’t want to hear you talking like that. Damn it, you’re a good driver.’ And he said, ‘Listen to me, I quit two years too early and don’t do that.’ He says, ‘You close your ears and don’t listen to nobody.’ He says, ‘You start getting up in your upper 40s and they want to write you off and they want to tell you when it’s time to quit.’ He said, ‘You get it out of your system. Don’t quit when people want you to quit. Quit on your own terms.’ I watched Brett Favre do it. I believe he’s quit on his own terms. He stretched it out. I’ve watched Mark Martin say I’m quitting and then come back because it was too hard on him. So, I think I’ve learned my lesson watching these guys. There was a time when I thought I’m going to be done at 45. When the world was beautiful, I thought, ‘Man, 45. That’s it.’ But, now I’ve watched all of these guys quit and then come back and it seems like everybody’s health is better nowadays. There’s better medicine. You’ve got John Force winning his 16th or whatever championship. He’s 61 years old. I think the society and medicine is better. I know that I’m in shape and I get a good NASCAR physical every year. I’m not old. So, I think as long as it’s easy to acquire sponsorship -- that’s the key to it all -- getting the money to be competitive. I had a great text yesterday that I can share with you. I don’t think he’ll care. It was from Jason Keller. He’s got 519 starts and he said, ‘Congratulations on 500 starts.’ And I said, ‘I’ve been thinking of you lately. It means a lot.’ And, then he texted me back a second time and he said, ‘I’m still trying? But you’ve proved what it’s like when you get in a good car. I just can’t find a good car.’ So, even Jason Keller would be back if he could find a good car. To answer your question, if I could get in a good car and be competitive I’ll continue racing, but I will not -- I will never again do what I’ve done the last three years, which is run mediocre. I don’t need to do that because I’ve tried it and it’s horrible. It’s miserable. I’d rather do a good job on TV and embrace TV wholeheartedly, which I do plan on doing. Just not right now.”
Do any of the younger drivers ask you for advice? “More so this year have I got respect because of my comeback. Last year it was more of ‘Ha ha.’ We’re in a generation gap now. There’s a lot of these drivers -- my last win was in 2001. Of course my third-place two years ago at Memphis just didn’t count because that was a fluke. We’re in a generation gap. My 31-year-old car owner Robby Benton brought me a picture of him as a kid getting my autograph. So, I think I’m respected but I really think these young kids hardly remember me. You can be 21 years old and you might have been 12 the last time I won. So, we’re in the generation gap and a lot of drivers now have come up because they hear and they know. When they do get bored they sit down and sit down at my stats and say, ‘Damn, he’s been around a while. He’s raced at all of these tracks.’ It’s fun and I’m very honest with them and I always tell them the same thing. Race the race track. Don’t do more than what your car will do. You’ll end up wrecking. You’ll make yourself look worse. So, it’s fun to give the younger generation advice that I’ve learned.”
-source: toyota motorsports