Intensity is the name of the...
Intensity is the name of the game for Wallace. With helmet and game face on, he prepares to roll out for the Daytona 500.
Rusty Wallace, 43, host for Scrapbook this month, is one of NASCAR Winston Cup's most accomplished drivers. Driver of the Miller Lite/Penske South Ford, Wallace is a 15-year big-league veteran with 49 victories, 10th on the all-time win list, in almost 480 starts at this writing. The St. Louis native won the '89 championship, has finished second in points twice, and in the top 10 12 times in the past 13 years. Wallace and his wife Patti reside at Lake Norman, North Carolina, north of Charlotte. They have a daughter, Katie, 15, and two sons, Greg, 19, and Stephen, 12, who is following his dad's groove in racing.
Wallace Meets WallOne of the funniest-and most embarrassing-things I ever remember happening to me was at Fairgrounds Speedway in Springfield, Missouri, in the mid-'70s. I won the feature race in a Camaro built by champion short-track driver Larry Phillips. The win was among the first of my career. I was so excited, I took an extra lap, stuck my arm out the window, and waved at the fans all the way down the front straightaway. The instant I turned my head to see where I was going, I crashed head-on into the first-turn wall, damaging the car extensively. We worked all night making repairs so we could get to a race at Fort Smith, Arkansas, the next day.
Case of Nerves The '89 season-ending race at Atlanta was one of the most nerve-wracking I've ever run. I had a 78-point lead on Earnhardt and needed to finish 18th or better to win the championship, even if he won the race. Typically, things don't go right for the points leader when the title is at stake. In the race, I felt a vibration and pitted under green to find that lug nuts had eaten into the left-rear wheel, so I lost a lap.
We were all freaking out at that point. I couldn't get the lap back because Earnhardt was so strong and dominant. I had to pit again for loose lug nuts and lost two more laps, falling as far back as 33rd in the order. I couldn't bear the thought of leading the points most of the year and losing the title in the final race. Finally and fortunately, two, maybe three cars in front of me fell or crashed out. I finished 15th three laps down and nailed the championship by 12 points, the closest margin since Richard Petty edged Darrell Waltrip by 11 points in 1979.
Paying in PenniesI was leading a race at Martinsville, and with 10-12 laps to go, NASCAR black-flagged me, ruling that I had jumped a restart. After the race I was pretty well devastated. A Motor Racing Network (MRN) reporter came up to me and asked how I felt. I said something to the effect that I personally didn't care, but that I really felt sorry for my team because we had the race won. Not only did I lose the race but was fined $5,000 for saying an expletive on the radio. That really got me hot.
For some consolation, I decided to pay the fine in pennies at the next race, at Charlotte. I called First Union Bank and they put half a million pennies on an armored truck and sent it to the speedway. I've never seen so many pennies in my life. I had told (NASCAR president) Bill France what I was going to do and he said he would play my game. We posed for photos with the sacks of pennies, got media exposure, and everybody got a laugh out of it. France told me the gimmick was funny. I thought that was the end of it. Then France called me aside and told me to get those damned pennies out of there or he was going to fine me $10,000. The pennies went back to the bank and I sent NASCAR a check.