Mike Wallace, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, is coming off a career-best second place finish in last weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup race at Phoenix. Sunday's Pop Secret 400 will mark Wallace's fifth race with the team after replacing Jeremy...
Mike Wallace, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, is coming off a career-best second place finish in last weekend's NASCAR Winston Cup race at Phoenix. Sunday's Pop Secret 400 will mark Wallace's fifth race with the team after replacing Jeremy Mayfield at Charlotte. Wallace held a Q&A session earlier today in the North Carolina Infield Media Center to discuss his season and other issues.
MIKE WALLACE --12-- Mobil 1 Taurus
WHERE ARE THINGS RIGHT NOW? "Right now we're into our fifth week driving the Mobil 1 Ford Taurus for Penske Racing and we're just trying to continue the momentum. If you stop and look back at the performance we've had with the team over the four previous races, we've been basically a top-10 running car during the race and we were able to finish in the top 10 at Martinsville and Phoenix. There's been a lot of rumor and speculation about what's gonna happen with the 12 car -- where it's at and where it stands. We all hope after this weekend because Roger is out in California finishing up the CART season and trying to win a 500-miler, so if we keep running the way we are, we're trying to make it difficult for him to do anything but keep the team in existence the way it is."
KENNY SAID YESTERDAY YOU LIKE MONEY. "Everybody likes money. Let me say it this way, Rusty has more expensive toys of any individual that I know and somehow or another he pays for those things. Kenny and I are just thrilled to death to be here. I've said it this way to Kenny and Kenny's said it to me, 'As long as we have an opportunity to drive these race cars in the good equipment we're gonna be running in, and we can continue to run good, we'll make all the money we want to make -- but that's all kind of irrelevant right now."
WHAT ABOUT THE RULES CHANGE ON RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES? "I think they had to do something from the outside. I still contend that if the race would have finished without the big wreck on the back straightaway there would be no changes. I personally liked the rules the way they were because it did what a lot of guys don't like -- it equals all the cars out and it's a big chess match. I guess because I've run well at the plate races and hadn't been involved in one of the big wrecks until Talladega, it didn't bother me. But I understand the package they proposed was tested in August at Talladega and, from what I can tell, what NASCAR wants is instead of having them three and four-wide, seven or eight rows deep, they want them two-wide, 10 rows deep so everybody isn't on the edge of their seat every lap. They're sensitive to the race fans also. We've still got to put on a good race. I think you all remember about three or four years ago at Daytona everybody said it was the most boring race they'd ever seen. It was follow-the-leader, nobody passed, nobody did anything and the world won't let us do that anymore."
KENNY ALSO SAID YOU WERE MORE BUSINESS ORIENTED WHILE THEY RACED FOR TROPHIES. "I think Kenny gets carried away sometimes when he talks about me at times about money. I'm not different than anybody else here. You've only got so much money and you've got to make it go wherever you're gonna make it go. I think what Kenny is talking about is that many years ago back in the Midwest, there was kind of a trend that took place. Asphalt racing was the big deal there and then it trended toward dirt racing and dirt racing paid more money. When I say more money, you could go run a 100-lapper for $10,000 to win back in the early eighties and you'd run an asphalt race for $1,000 to win. Well, which one would you rather win? At that particular time, I'll be honest with you, everybody can say what they want about Kenny, Rusty and myself, but for us to ever believe that all three of us would be here today in the highest form of motorsports, we'd be lying to everybody. It was a dream, but we were just kids who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and had a good time quarter-mile dirt racing and half-mile dirt racing. I don't believe I ever raced for what you would call money or worried about the money aspect. I had to own my own cars, pay for them and everything else, so I could go down the road 20 miles and race for $10,000 to win or I could go 200 miles and race for $1,000 to win, and I still worked a job every day of the week. I was constricted as to what I could do. I could only go out on the weekends."
HE SAID YOU PAID FOR YOUR STUFF AND HE STOLE A LOT OF STUFF? "He did steal a lot of stuff. We helped him steal a lot of that stuff. It wasn't really stealing, it was just borrowing on a long-term basis."
KENNY AND RUSTY HAVE BOTH SAID YOU'RE THE BEST DRIVER OF THE THREE. WHY HAS IT TAKEN YOU SO LONG TO GET HERE? "I think there are a multitude of things that have developed. First of all, early on I was happy just racing on the weekends and having our business career. Our family owned a vacuum cleaner janitorial supply business. It was nothing fancy, but it paid a nice salary and we lived good, plus we got to play on the weekend. It all kind of catapulted when Rusty started racing professionally. It was like, 'Man, I know what he did to get there, so maybe we can do that too.' But it's a lot harder. Rusty dedicated himself from day one. He didn't want to work in a regular job and just wanted to race. He made a lot of sacrifices. He literally used to go to the bank and borrow money in the winter. He had my dad co-sign for him early on, and then pay it back in the summer. He lived like that for years. I remember with the ASA races, he used to go there and write them a check and tell them they couldn't cash it until Wednesday because there was no money in it, and if they did it was no good anyway. He was racing from week to week and he did that because that's what he wanted to do. That's how he was gonna race and you can't really say anything wrong about it now when you look back at it. We all just kind of grew up in a little bit of a different time frame. Even though we're not that far apart in age, circumstances were different. I'm trying to answer this right, but it was just a different time. Things were different and priorities were different at the time."
COULD YOU SAY YOUR DESIRE TO GO BIG-TIME CAME LATER THAN RUSTY? "Yes, that's the biggest thing. I had the best of both worlds, I thought, for a period of time. I've got a wonderful wife, Carla, and great kids now. I was living the family life, the business life and the racing life and the racing life at that time was fun. Me and my buddies would hop in the truck on Friday night and we'd come back home Sunday night because we'd race Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but we'd be away from home and we'd just do our deal. Then I think it just amplified when Rusty was having the success he had and Kenny was having some success. It was like, 'I really want to race. That's all I really want to do.' This working stuff isn't what we all really like to do, but this working that we're doing today is harder than what we were doing back them, but we just enjoy it. It was probably 1989 when I really said, 'Hey, I want to race for a living if I can.' Then I won the Winston Racing Series back in '90 and kind of progressed from there."
WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU'LL REALLY KNOW ABOUT THE 12 TEAM'S FUTURE? "All I can hope for is that it will be possibly next week. I just judge next week after talking to Roger on Monday and Walt two days ago. I just think there's a big focus in their life right now with the CART championship. They're trying to get that out of the way. They've got a lot of sponsor commitments out of California this weekend and Roger is waiting for a reason. I realize he's a very smart businessman and he's very educated in the way he's doing it. I hope I'm getting the right feeling from a lot of people that have talked to him that they've turned around from this team being a problem to them that it's now a success, it's easy and the guys are having fun. I guess early on this year the team was pretty mentally beat up internally and throwing stones at each other. I'll say it that way, but they claim it's not that way anymore, so, hopefully, this week."
DO YOU GET INVOLVED IN THE POLITICS OF THIS DECISION? "I'm not involved in the politics. I learned a long time ago, I used to stick my nose in places it didn't belong and it probably hurt me. I got the call on Sunday night after the Kansas City race to ask if I'd be interested in driving the 12 car and my agreement was to drive the car through the remainder of the year. The contract that was drawn up was until December 31, 2001. All of it is Roger's decision. I don't know what the grand scheme of things are and I'm not even trying to second-guess him. First of all, no matter what happens with this whole program, I'm just completely honored at this time to be a Penske driver. It's pretty big to me personally and to my career that Roger Penske wanted me to drive his race car.
"We definitely would like to continue driving the car, but let's say hypothetically that something came up and they said, 'No, we're gonna close this team down.' Well, this has done more for my career in the last month than I've done for it the last few years. I'll take it as an honor anyway it is or whatever happens."
HOW DO YOU AND ROGER GET ALONG AND HOW HAVE YOU AND RUSTY DONE AS TEAMMATES? "Yesterday when qualified we were about as dead-on with the exact same setups as you could possibly be. As far as Rusty and I being teammates, I don't think we'd have one bit of problem at all. I think I could be an asset to him and I explained that to him a couple of weeks ago. It was real simple. I said, 'Look, I need a job. I love the one I'm in right now and I can be an asset to you as well as you could be to me if we could just make it happen. I think the first example of being a real teammate was last week at Phoenix. We were leading the race and Rusty, unfortunately, was very fast but he got a right-front tire flat. I came off of turn two and the caution flag was out. My first words were, 'Where is the 2 car?' And by the time he got off of four he had his lap back. Those are some of the things that you've got to pay attention on the race track that happens as teammates. When we looked at the final finish that ended up being 14 positions because if we would have just raced back and not gotten his lap back, he would have been the first car a lap down. We'll get along fine there. As far as Roger and I go, I think there's a standard that most of you know. When you hear the name Penske, at least I do, there's a standard that's accepted and it's a pretty high standard. You know that going into it. As far as the business side of things, I just want to drive race cars. I want to do the things right on the race track and do the things off the race track right for our sponsors. As far as dealing with Roger and Walt Czarnecki -- Walt and I get along wonderful. He calls every other day to just talk. He's one of the biggest cheerleaders. I found a whole new side to Walt Czarnecki that I didn't know. He always seemed like the real straight, stringent, really business, corporate guy and, heck, he's the biggest cheerleader on our team. I think we've got a great program personally."
CAN YOU COMPARE YOUR DRIVING STYLE WITH YOUR BROTHERS? "In comparison of our driving styles, I think our driving styles are characteristically the same. There's been a progression growing up in regards to how we got to certain points. Rusty has been the one that has had his cars perfect when he runs good. He's very chassis knowledgeable and knows what he wants in a car. Kenny is a little bit more free-spirited. He understands the chassis a little bit more. I'm taking this as we came up because I've learned a lot here lately. Kenny is the conservative driver, but he's the aggressive driver. If you've noticed, he's a heck of a qualifier. He can lay that lap out when it's time to come out and he knows how to take care of the car. For myself, I think all the dirt racing I did early on means I don't mind a car being a little loose or pushing a little. I don't care what springs are in it or what shocks are on it as long as it drives good. I don't have a fixed number in my head that I can only have a certain spring there and a certain spring there. I told the guys that they can have the fronts in the back and the backs in the front if they want just as long as it drives good. I don't dig on the car being as perfect. I'll try to drive through it a little bit. It probably hurts me at times, but sometimes I think it helps. That's probably the best way I can describe it. I think we all drive down into the corner as hard as each other. A lot of times in this race everybody says, 'You've got to learn how to slow down to go fast.' Well, the straightaways are long and it doesn't seem like you're supposed to slow down until they start turning, so we try to make our cars do that."