NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Rusty Wallace (Part 5/5)
February 8, 2013
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you. What an honor to be here at the Hall of Fame and to see all you guys and to get an applause. I really have no idea how I got invited to do this. It took me a while, but after talking to some of the guys backstage I figured out I might be the only one in this room without a Rusty story to tell, so I feel very lucky.
Before I won the championship this year and before I sat behind the wheel for the first time of any stock car, Rusty Wallace had already spent the last 15 seasons of his 25‑year career, from years 1991 to 2005, he is responsible for elevating Roger Penske and the Blue Deuce to his iconic status. In all he captured 55 checkered flags in the Premier Series and the Sprint Cup championship in 1989. Tonight I salute Rusty Wallace and the original Blue Deuce and Miller Lite in his honor. Congratulations, Rusty, and I encourage everyone here, cheers to Rusty. This one's for you, Rusty. Congratulations.
GREG WALLACE: I'll tell you what, Dad. When we moved to North Carolina in 1983 I don't think anyone could have ever dreamed that this kid in a nuclear hairdo would be standing right here today at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. You've told a story that we started in NASCAR and aspired to be a part of the club, guys like David Pearson and Richard Petty. I think it's safe to say, you've made it.
So with that said, it is now my honor on this the 8th day of February, 2013, to present the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee ring and officially induct you, Rusty Wallace, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
RUSTY WALLACE: I'll tell you, this is pretty emotional. I watched all these videos and it just blows me away. I'll tell you one thing, I look out in this crowd and I see some of the biggest stars in history. I look at Robert Yates, one of the best engine builders in the world, Ricky Rudd, Jack Roush, Michael Waltrip, big winner at Daytona, Darrell, everybody. It's something. I am humbled that I've made it here, I'm humbled that I'm standing up here, and I can't thank everybody enough for selecting me to be in the Hall of Fame.
Before I really continue on, I want to congratulate the other inductees. One of my buddies Leonard Wood, sitting right down there. I've got to tell a Leonard Wood story.
When I finally got out of those ASA cars, winning that championship and getting there and finally made it down to NASCAR land driving for my good buddy Raymond Beadle. I won that race in 1986 at Bristol and I won that thing and I was just completely blown away. I came down pit road, I'm like, I can't believe I just won this race, I can't believe it. But what I really couldn't believe is when I come down pit road, I look over and here's Leonard Wood running across the racetrack and he takes his right hand and he sticks in right in that window, and he said, kid, congratulations. I could hear his voice over the car running. He said, he you drove that race just perfect, you drove that line on that racetrack the way I wanted people to do it, and you did it. Congratulations.
And what I think is so incredible, Leonard was the first guy to congratulate me for winning at Bristol, and I'm going in the Hall of Fame with you, Buddy. That's pretty neat.
And Buck Baker, those stories are incredible, and Susan, the job you did was amazing up there. I'm still crying. Herb Thomas, Cotton Owens, I learned stories tonight I didn't know about those two and it was just incredible seeing what they've done.
To me, family is everything. These kids, my wife Patty has stood behind me through all this stuff, thick and thin, ups and downs, it's just been a fantastic ride. I can't thank them enough. Steven and Greg and Katie, what you guys did helping them get this Hall of Fame going, all the logistical stuff, our big party tonight, everything you've done is just really great.
Mom, I see you sitting down there, and Dad would have really loved to have been here tonight. This would have been so big for my father. He passed away last year and we miss him really, really bad, we do. But it would have been something really big for him.
There's a lot of people from all over the United States that have traveled here to see me get inducted here tonight, and I'm sure the other inductees have the same thing. I look around and I see big names, I look over here and see my buddy, world champion drag racer Donny "the Snake" Prudhomme and his wife came in from California. Thanks a lot, Buddy.
My friend Fred Wagenhals, he come from in Phoenix, he made me a lot of money. I'm glad you're here.
All my guys any the car dealership up in east Tennessee which I'm so proud of, they all came down from Tennessee and they're here supporting me tonight.
All my buddies from Iowa Speedway, Stan and Conrad are here tonight.
Walt Czarnecki has been one of my biggest supporters for a long time. When I was having problems with my ties, Walt would take his tie right off and give it to me and say, kid, this is the way you've got to look. I would say, Walt, I love your ties, dude. You always stuck up for me.
My Uncle Gary is here from St.Louis. Gary, I can't thank you enough because I used to work at a vacuum cleaner store, and Gary ran the vacuum cleaner store, and I wanted to go down to Springfield, Missouri, to go to a race so bad with my buddy Larry Phillips one time I couldn't see straight. And man, he said, you've go to stay late and I need you to deliver some materials to this place down the road, and I'm going, I can't do that, man, there's no way; I've got to get to Springfield, Missouri, to race. He said, no, you're going to do that or else I'm going to fire you. I'm like, what? He said, you asked for it. He loaded a 55‑gallon drum up in the back of a step van, and I pulled out of that vacuum cleaner store at 300 miles an hour and I drove 100 miles an hour over to Anheuser Busch to drop that thing off. I got there, I slammed that baby in reverse and I backed up and I said, here's a sign for this, and the guy said, a sign for what. I said, that drum. He said, there's no drum back there. I forgot to tie that drum down, and that drum flew out of the back of that car and it landed on Interstate 70, and when I was turned around going back I said my butt is going to get fired. I walked in there, and Monday morning Gary said, you're fired. Just like Donald Trump, you're fired. I said, thank you.
And my career started.
And it's all because of Gary. Gary, thank you for making the trip from St.Louis.
I want to give a shout‑out to my long‑time friend, a guy that's drove me all over the country for years and years and years safely, it's my pilot Billy Brooks. Everybody knows Billy Brooks. Amazing guy back there.
All the guys at RWI, Rob Williams, Joyce Gerland, Krista and Lynn Southern, they're here.
And all the guys from ESPN made it here tonight, really excited about that, Jed Drake and Rich Feinberg couldn't be here tonight because they're back in the Northeast because of the snowstorm, but our brand new producer for ESPN is here, Jimmy Gallardo. Thanks a lot. Kate Jackson is here, Jim Bowden I've work with a lot, and my great friends from NASCAR Countdown show, led by Nicole Briscoe. Nicole is here along with Ray Evernham. Ray, thanks a lot. And Brad Daugherty, he's out racing so he couldn't make it tonight, but he's watching, I know he is.
This whole thing for me started back in the '70s in St.Louis, Missouri. Out there running those tracks and just really wanting to be somebody. My dad said‑‑ Dad was just winning everything back there, and he wrecked a car really bad. He said, if you guys can put this car back together, if you can get this thing fixed, I'm going to let you race it. I said, all right, we can do that. We got that car put back together, and I made it into the semi‑feature event. If I won that event right there, it put me in the state race. I won that semi‑feature event, and I was so excited that I won that race, I got the big race, and Don knows what I'm about to say, don't you. I got about 15 laps into that 30 lap race and that baby run out of gas. I got so excited I forgot to put gas in the car.
But it was something. I always wanted to be like my dad. Dad just won everything. I think Dad even had a Bobby Allison car at one time.
But you know, there was a couple guys back there that I've really got to thank, and it had to be Charlie Case and John Childs, and John is in the room tonight, and those two guys gave me first break, got me going, and John paid all that money like a lot of young short track drivers around the country, he bought my tires, he bought my gas, paid for a hotel every now and then, got us going, and he's here tonight to support me.
But this thing really took off by accident. I was on that paper route, I was delivering papers and I'm delivering papers all over the place, and I keep riding by this guy's house, and he had this red trailer parked out front. I said, man, I wonder who that guy is; that's a cool looking trailer. It had Penske written down the side, Sunoco, it had all this stuff, and I said, we've got to find out who that guy is because that's a cool looking trailer. Come to find out it was Don Miller. He was operating Roger's show cars at that time out of St.Louis, Missouri. I said, we've got to meet him.
So Don started going to some of my races, and we started winning a lot of races, and he went to Roger and said, Roger, I've got this punk back in St.Louis that's really pretty good and he wants to drive really bad, and Roger says dust him off, give him a shot. He said, but I want to make sure you can do it right. Take him to Atlanta, let's test, so Rick Mears is down there running and I'm down there running these IROC cars, and in my very first race I finished second. I'm going, wow, this is something else. This can't be this hard. I mean, this NASCAR stuff, I jumped out of my ASA car, ran good, get in these cars and finish second. How about that?
Well, I got in a second race, an ARCA race up in Michigan, the drive shaft flies out. I go to another race in Charlotte and I just run terrible. Roger called me up and said, kid, you need more experience, and he said, right now this is kind of affecting my IndyCar team, because he was running his stock car out of a shop in Reading, Pennsylvania, and he said, you know, you get some more experience and our paths will cross down the road. And I went, man, you've got to be kidding me. I tried so hard and finally it didn't work out.
I said, well, let me take that advice. I'm going to try to get some more experience. So back in '83, I said I'm going to got for a title, I'm going to try to get a title. I'm racing my buddy Mark Martin over there with Alan Kulwicki, and who else did we have, Davey Allison and all of them. And I was racing against them, and I won that championship in 1983. I beat a guy named Dick Trickle by 10 points I think it was, and he got me going, and it got me noticed. Cliff Stewart gave me a call, owner of the Gatorade car back there in High Point, North Carolina. Richard knows him real good. He gave me that break and got me going, and I won my rookie year in '84 but I hit everything on the racetrack.
Cliff Stewart will tell you I was the only guy that's ever seen Martinsville, Virginia, burn the brakes off so fast that that he'd go down there in Turn 1 and listen to me and I was the only driver downshifting trying to slow my car down. Finally tore the car up. I go to Darlington, South Carolina, the 500. I went in the corner so deep I couldn't get the baby stopped, I went up over the top of (inaudible) car and I landed on his roof, and he drove in. I tore everything up I possibly could, but I learned a lot.
In '85 things didn't get any better. I was running better but we were blowing a lot of motors up, and all of a sudden this guy named Barry Dodson was looking at me and saying I think this guy has got some talent and can get it done, and he had just the right car owner for me right then. I was pretty wide open. Raymond Beadle is sitting right here, and Raymond, thanks a lot for coming from Dallas tonight. Raymond gave me my first break, and I actually won that big race over there at Bristol.
But I said, you know what, I want to be in the club, and I got this sense that me living in St.Louis is not the right place to be when I want to be in the club. So we go out there winning one race, I don't think it was enough to convince these veterans and the Dale Inmans and these people like that that I deserved down there. I felt like I had to do it twice.
Four races later I go to Martinsville, Virginia, we win. That puts me at two wins. I stand in the mirror and I looked at myself, and I said, Self, I think you're in the club.
And man, it just felt so good to win that second win, and then all of a sudden we took off. Won the last two races in Riverside, California, before they shut the place down, won all kind of road course races and short tracks and this and that.
But one thing I was doing along the way, I was running Raymond completely out of money. I said we've got to have this, we've got to have this and we've got to have this, and what Raymond kept saying is no problem, no problem, no problem.
And there's a story that a lot of people don't know in this room, and it's a really cool story. We started running out of money at the end of '89, and Rick Hendrick said, hey, I'm going loan y'all some money to keep you going, because Raymond and Rick were big buddies. So Rick Hendrick right now will tell you that he's got I don't know how many championships and a half of one. Rick paid for that last part of that to keep us going, and so I really have kind of drove for Rick Hendrick a little bit, too, and a lot for Raymond, and he we just had a blast.
Raymond worked so hard and put everything he had into the championship in '89, and in 1990 we were able to win the Coca‑Cola 600, go up to Sears Point, win that one, too. I picked up the phone and called Roger, and I said, Roger, you told me a long time ago to get me some more experience, and you know I want to drive for you. I want that Penske name, I want it bad and I want to drive for you. He said, okay, you've got enough experience let's get this thing started. We had a little meeting, and he said, Don Miller, you're going to own 25 percent of this team or 24, Rusty, you're going to own 24, Roger said, I'm going to own the rest. Let's get racing.
Man, we took off and we won a lot of stuff, I thought, for the first couple years, won a couple races, pretty aggressive. But then the '92 season I was kind of up and down. I did a lot of wrecking and messed a lot of stuff, and I wasn't nearly as polished as Roger thought I needed to be I don't think. And we go to Daytona to test, and all of a sudden I get a phone call. And Don is down there with me. I said, Don, Roger just called us up hotel over there, and he wants to have a meeting.
And I'm thinking to myself, I don't know what I've done wrong, and maybe he's going to do something nice for me, I don't know.
We walk into that meeting, in that old beat up hotel room across the street from Daytona International Speedway, and sits me down and looks me right in the eye, and he goes, son, this NASCAR thing is not working like I thought it would. I want to give all my interest to you and Don and you guys take off and you go have fun and do it. I paused and I looked and I said, I feel like I'm in some time warp. I can't believe this is happening.
And he said, no, I just want to get out. I want to go focus back on my IndyCar stuff. But I love NASCAR and I'm going to be in NASCAR but this isn't working right now. And I got mad. I got mad. I just got in disbelief. I was like, what. I took my right hand ‑‑ and Roger knows exactly what I'm about to say. I took my right hand and I shook it at him like this and I pointed, and I said, I want to be a Penske driver. Dammit, I want to be a Penske driver. Don't spin out on me now.
He said, damn, kid, you're pretty convincing. I'm going to give you another shot. Well, we took off in 1993, we won 10 races. We got that baby right in there, we got everything back on track, and Kathy and Roger, I want to thank you so much for not spinning out. And I want to thank you so much for hanging in there with me.
You know, I don't know if Brad Keselowski is around here yet or not, I don't know if he's left or sitting out here or something, but I want to congratulate him so much on winning that championship. The way he drove that car with such poise and calculation and not tearing nothing up, it's unreal. So I congratulate you for winning that. But I really think you thought to come out and congratulate Roger on not spinning out because I don't know if you would have had that ride if Roger had spun out on us.
I want to thank all my team members. I see a lot of the Blue Max guys here, I see a lot of the Penske guys here. And you guys are fantastic. What you done, I really appreciate what you done for my career.
One of the longest running sponsorships besides STP, Miller Brewing Company, been behind us for a long, long time. The folks at Mobil Oil, we've seen them around tonight, stayed with me from Raymond's car right into Roger's car, and they're just fantastic. Without these sponsors we couldn't get this done, there's no doubt about that.
But you've got to have a good crew chief, you've got to have good crew chiefs, and I've had a lot of good ones. My very first crew chief in 1983 in my American Speed Association car, which we won a lot races with, almost 200 races before I got down South, and that crew chief was Paul Andrews, and Paul is here tonight and I want to thank him. Darrell Bryant, crew chief or the No.88 car when I drove for Cliff Stewart. Barry Dodson, Barry is in the room tonight, one of the best crew chiefs I've ever had. I won the championship with Barry back in '89, a fantastic guy. Jimmy Makar now with Gibbs, Jimmy was my car chief back then. We had Eddie Dickerson as a crew chief for us.
But probably one of the most fun crew chiefs I've ever had in my life, this guy taught us all how to have fun, he taught the pit crew how to rock and roll, he taught everybody what to do, and that's Buddy Perry, and I think Buddy is around tonight and I want to thank Buddy Perry.
But one of the most calculating crew chiefs, calculated, smart, aerodynamic smart, really on it and really working hard crew chief for me and a guy that I won a ton of races with is Robin Pemberton. He still believes in me, we're still good friends, and we won a bunch of races, and then Robin went on to be successful with Ford Motor Company and is now one of the chief guys at NASCAR.
Billy Wilbur worked with me for a while. But my last win was with one of my best friends, and I'm really proud to say he was my last crew chief, that was Larry Carter. Larry was really something.
Well, I've told some stories and thanked some people and stuff like that but I think big wrecks do some crazy things on the racetrack. I did a crazy thing and I learned a big lesson from one of the best people in the world, and I'm about to tell a story about a major wreck that I had in Bristol, Tennessee, where I flipped end over end and the car landed upside down and was torn in a million pieces and all this, but the problem started kind of before I got in the car. Dale Inman, you know where I'm going with this story, don't you.
I was there and I grabbed a ham sandwich. I made it up real quick and I wolfed that baby down and I took it and Richard Petty comes over to me, hey, kid, what are you doing. I said, I'm having a sandwich. He said, you can't do that before that you practice. Any smart race car driver knows you can't have a sandwich and jump right out on the racetrack and go practice. If you wreck, that thing could get clogged up in your esophagus and you could choke and die. I said, ah, whatever.
I go out on the racetrack and I blow a right front tire in practice. That baby hits the wall end over end, I'm tore all to pieces and I'm knocked out. I'm starting to come in and out of consciousness, and I look up, and I see this guy pulling the windshield out of my car, and I'm going, what the world, that's Dale Earnhardt Sr. Earnhardt is up there on the hood ripping the windshield out going, don't die, kid, keep talking to me, don't die. And I've got this guy with his hand around my neck, and he's pushing my neck back. I'm going, what is this. Well, what I didn't know I was unconscious and not breathing, there's Dr.Jerry Punch holding my neck up, and Dr.Jerry Punch that day in Bristol saved my life. I was dead, not breathing, and he got me going. Didn't you, Doc? That's right.
Man, they loved me after that. We were driving over to the hospital, I go to the hospital and I get there and I'm in an ambulance going over there and Barry Dodson is there, Jimmy Makar is there, they're talking to me, and I'm saying, hey, take that gurney off me, take that strap off me, it hurts so bad, and I heard Jimmy Makar car telling Barry, there's no strap, man, his ribs must be broken all to heck. His ribs must be all tore up because it's loose, it's loose.
So they take me to the hospital load me in there and they lean me up, they stand me up, and I just puked right over the nurse, and that doggone ham sandwich was jammed up in my esophagus, and I get to the racetrack the very next day, and Richard Petty says, kid, you don't listen too good, do you?
So Carl, next time you're out there on the track and you're jumping out of the car and flexing those muscles, just make sure you don't wreck.
I learned that story.
Then I had this other bad one at Talladega. Went 25 times down the front straightaway, motor flew up, body flew off it, and I woke up in a helicopter. All I heard was thump thump thump thump, and I'm going, what is this? Where am I? I was in a helicopter; I was tore up. But at least one thing happened out of that wreck. That was the wreck that invented the roof flap. Bill France Jr. said, we're going to fix this baby up and they took that car and put it on top of a flatbed truck with a big jet behind it blowing wind on it, and we developed the roof flap, Don Miller and Jack Roush and all the guys, and that was one of the neatest inventions we ever done.
Well, that's some story telling, that's some thank‑yous. But I want to thank NASCAR. I want to thank NASCAR really, really bad. Because without NASCAR and that vision of me wanting to drive NASCAR so bad and you guys making it possible, I would never be here.
I want to thank the entire France family. I know everybody thanks the France family, but these are some really special people that love life and they love NASCAR. And Mike Helton, you've been one of my biggest supporters. You've guided me through a lot of things, and I really consider you one of my best friends, I really do, and I appreciate it, buddy.
I love telling stories about NASCAR as you can tell, I love helping build this sport, I love educating people that don't know about NASCAR. I love telling a lot, a lot of stories, and I feel like I'm going to continue doing that through ESPN, my friends over there and all our NASCAR Countdown show and just story telling, just talking in general. I love being an ambassador for the sport, I love talking to people and telling them how fun it is and how great it is and how happy it makes people feel on Sundays.
And I will tell you, Winston Kelly, the job that your team did here at the Hall of Fame is just amazing, and I want to thank the voting panel for getting me in the Hall of Fame. It means everything in the world to me.
But before I close, I want to say one thing: There's one thing I learned about the sport. It's that‑‑ the thing I learned, and I said it earlier and I said it at a driver's meeting in 2005 I day I retired and walked out, I said, this is a privilege, this is a privilege to race in NASCAR. You don't have to do it. We're not making you do it. It's a privilege to race in NASCAR, and this has been a blessing for me to be able to be in this sport and do what I've done, and I really, really appreciate it. And I just hope that all the young drivers and the current drivers respect NASCAR as much as I respect it and go out there and say the good things about NASCAR and help build the sport because I'm telling you what, with this brand‑new Generation 6 car coming up next year, I think this sport is going to take off climbing. I think that team did an incredible job.
And with that said, thank you very, very much for putting me in the Hall of Fame.
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