Veteran Kenny Wallace is not your typical Busch Series racer.
First, he's racing on NASCAR's developmental series at age 42. Second, he is one of three drivers in the series' top-10 who don't race full-time on the Nextel Cup circuit.
In fact, Wallace has finished in the Busch Series' top-10 in each of his nine full seasons on the circuit.
Wallace heads into this weekend's Silver Celebration 250 10th in the points standings after finishing seventh last year. The race will be held in St. Louis, not far from where he and his famous racing brothers - Mike and Rusty - grew up.
Wallace talked about his place in racing in a national teleconference earlier this week. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: What exactly can you attribute such consistency to over the long haul?
Wallace: I would say a mixture of things. The very first thing when I started was Dick Trickle told me one day - and it hit me like a ton of bricks - was you must first finish to finish first. So in other words, if it's a 250-lap race at Martinsville, you can't be tearing your fenders off because you're going to need those at the end of the race. I've wrecked plenty of times on lap 50 and looked up and the guy I was racing earlier is leading the race. So that's biggest thing that has helped me. The other thing I've learned is that if your car is not good that day, take the best finish you can get; and I learned that from the late, great Dale Earnhardt. The reason Earnhardt was a seven-time champ was when his car was good, he would race you, and when his car was bad, he took the best finish he could get. I'm the same way. If I've got a really good car, I'm going to fight you for the lead. If I've got a really bad car, I'm going to get the best finish I can get without tearing my race car up.
Question: You are one of three Busch Series regulars in the top-10. What will it take to finish there.
Wallace: The Busch Series is really exciting right now. It's the biggest and the best it's ever been. We go to Kentucky on a stand-alone event and sell out 70,000 people. So that's really inspiring. But then we just went to Bristol and there wasn't that many people there, so that was kind of confusing. I don't know what that was all about, but I do know that everywhere we go, we've got a hell of a crowd. Of course, I've got as many Cup starts as do I Busch starts, so I consider myself just an overall race-car driver, and the Busch Series is where everybody wants to be right now. If they don't want to be there, I don't know why, but there's so many Cup teams. It's not about the drivers. You know you've got (Cup owners) Roger Penske and Richard Childress and Robert Yates and Rick Hendrick, every top notch Cup team, running the Busch Series now. I just basically think that pretty much says it all.
Question: There's been a lot of talk lately about a lack of give and take among drivers, particularly on the Cup side. Is it the same way in the Busch Series?
Wallace: There is, but the difference is that in the Busch Series, everybody is just trying to be a hero. I would say once you get from 15th, 18th on back, you've got guys trying to fight for superiority, trying to get recognized. And then in the Cup series you've got guys that are really hard-headed and they want their space and they want respect. And that's the difference. In the Cup series, everybody wants respect because they are big time. And the Busch Series, everybody just wants to be noticed because their careers are starting out.
Question: Is your job as a driver stressful to you?
Wallace: It's always stressful when you go through that pit bay. It's all business. I have a couple different faces I put on. You've got Kenny Wallace, who is the personality, the TV guy. And then you have Herminator, my nickname my whole life and the racing end of me. We built all our own race cars our whole careers and I think the most stressful thing about racing is - and I learned it from my brother Rusty, and he's right - making sure you have the setup right so the car will handle. As we've seen with Dale Earnhardt Jr., if the car doesn't handle, you can look like a hobo. Anybody can drive a fast race car.
Question: Can you talk about your family's racing heritage from your dad, Russ, to you and your brothers, Rusty and Mike?
Wallace: There is a lot of pride and tradition in the Wallace family as far as auto racing goes. We grew up watching my dad win every week and that set the tone for this type of auto racing life. You look at Dale Earnhardt, where his dad won all the time, and you know, then the Big E went on to do it. We follow that same pattern. My dad won a lot of championships and over 500 races in the Midwest around the Missouri, Illinois area. Rusty and Mike and myself, we worked on Dad's cars. Of course I did the smaller jobs because I was the youngest and Rusty and Mike did the fabricating and the welding. It was a family affair, and it was truly racing all the time. And if we didn't do good, we were all quiet on the way home after the races. We were all bummed out. So that's the type of atmosphere we grew up in. We grew up in an atmosphere where if we ran second or third it was very devastating. I think that's the drive that gave my brother Rusty to go out and start this whole Wallace legacy in a lot bigger manner. If it weren't for Rusty, I would have never gone NASCAR, and Mike wouldn't have.
Question: You consider Gateway your home track. Does that make running here different than any other place you run?
Wallace: St. Louis is definitely our home track - as Rusty would say, No doubt about that.' We were born and raised in the city and we're St. Louis boys. I think that what I try to do is act like it's not our home track, just so I don't feel the pressure. I enjoy, but I enjoy going and racing there. I know Kenny Schrader doesn't like the pressure of coming to the home track, but I do. I just dream one day of winning here, just in front of all my high school buddies. That's pretty cool.
- compiled by Adam Van Brimmer
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