NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Rusty Wallace
February 8, 2013
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: Rusty, I know in your acceptance speech up there tonight you thanked a lot of people, but maybe sum up what it means for you to be recognized at the top of your sport.
RUSTY WALLACE: I feel different. I feel so happy, I feel like my career has finally got at the right‑‑ it's got a period on the end of it. I feel like the career has got a legitimized feeling, and I said something about being in the club, and boy, talk about being in the club, when I looked at who I was standing with up there, Leonard Wood and Junior Johnson, all of them, it just blew me away. I couldn't believe I was standing with these guys.
Every day I go to work and I do my ESPN stuff or wake up in the morning, do whatever. But to sit there and be with that crowd of people blew me away.
People are already acting different. They're acting kinder. They are. People are calling me Mr.Wallace and they're doing things like that. They're just treating me different. And Ned Jarrett came up to me last night, we were leaving, him and his wife, and he was in front of me, grabbed my by the shoulder and he said, Rusty, your life is about ready to change tomorrow night. They're going to treat you different because they treated me different. I said, is that good or bad. He said, they're going to treat you nicer. They're going to be nicer to you. And just right off the bat that's what I noticed. Everybody just acted different.
It was an incredible feeling. I'm still kind of in shock and so happy, it's unreal. So it was an incredible, incredible night. It's not over yet.
Q. Rusty, you talked a lot about your friendships with drivers tonight. I'd just like to know, what was your friendship like with Dale Earnhardt Sr. and what do you think he would have been able to tell you if he was here tonight?
RUSTY WALLACE: He would have said something really good. It would have been something good, and he'd have slapped me around and said let's go get something to drink, and been rough and tough like he always is. But bottom line, he'd have been real happy for me.
I've had two of my wildest encounters with Dale Earnhardt Sr., and I told that story tonight, when I wrecked that car at Bristol, and I look up and he's standing on the hood ripping the windshield out. He's the guy that named me Rubber Head, because he said anybody can survive a wreck like that, his head must be built out of rubber. And that was Dale Earnhardt. And then to have that thing I encountered at Talladega and have him involved in that, too, was just ‑‑ he'd be really proud for me. There's no doubt about that, he would.
Q. Rusty, Roger came in the sport, hung around for a while, didn't really get what he wanted done and then came back. What was it about the Penske situation that made you want to hook up with him despite the fact he hadn't really got to the goals he wanted?
RUSTY WALLACE: I just wanted to stay with him because I knew what kind of operation he ran. The operation was just so first class and so polished, and he had a real defined mission. He wanted to be the best. He wanted to have the best equipment. He wanted to have all that. And right‑‑ when he brought me in that hotel room that day at Daytona and said, hey, I want to quit, it made me mad because I turned down Junior Johnson. I was going to drive Junior's car, the Budweiser 11 car, in the '90 season, and I said, no, I'm going to go with Penske. I want to go with Penske.
And so we ran one more year with Raymond and we knew he was running out of dough, but he kept going, and so I was so mad because when he said, hey, I want to back out of this thing, Roger did, and I just already was so disappointed because we had to shut down after the '80 season, then he wanted to stop again. That's when I jumped up and held up my finger and said, don't you spin out on me now. And boy, I think it shocked him. He just said, okay, I'm not going to spin out. He'll tell that story right now. We'll be sitting around having something to drink or just talking, and he'll tell that story all the time, Roger will, about don't spin out on me now.
Yeah, I was going to drive that 11 car. That's the car I was going to drive, and I turned that ride down because I wanted to be with Roger just because if a guy has won that many Indy 500s and does that well in that many forms of motorsports, I wanted to drive for that guy.
KERRY THARP: Greg, congratulations to the entire Wallace family. What was it like up there? You work very, very closely with your dad, but what was it like to present him with the Hall of Fame ring?
GREG WALLACE: It was a really big honor. I was kind of worried I was going to get emotional. I was watching him during Leonard Wood, everybody is starting to tear up, so I was doing everything I could not to look at him when he was doing it so I could keep my composure. But it was a really big honor to see him alongside all the great legends of the sport like David Pearson, Richard Petty and whatnot, and just really proud of him.
Q. Rusty, when you talk about Roger wanting to pull out at one point, you talked about needing financial help from Rick to finish the '89 season and the Bristol wreck, the Talladega wreck. There were so many instances where you might not have ended up here.
RUSTY WALLACE: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's a‑‑ I was winning some races and running up front and hoping I had enough credentials to stay up in there. It was tough financially back then, too. That's the one thing, I meant what I said about Raymond. He just kept saying yes to everything. We even said, hey, we don't know if this Pontiac is good enough, we want to build a Ford. He said, go do it. He spent all the money building motors and building a Ford; we never did race the thing, but he just wanted to satisfy us by letting us do what we wanted to do.
It was incredible, it really was. But there was a couple close calls there.
But they all hung in there, and Rick Hendrick is a great friend of mine and obviously Roger and that whole gang and they all stuck together. I think my friendship with Rick stayed strong because of that half championship we call it. We were talking this morning, Rick grabbed a hold of me and said, I wonder if they still know in this room that I won a half a championship with you, and I said, I don't think anybody knows that, that I did.
Q. Following up on that, how much did Rick Hendrick spend? Do you have an estimate of what he put into the team?
RUSTY WALLACE: Back then I remember running ‑‑ there was 28 races I believe we ran back then. I might be off a little bit, but we were spending like back then about a million dollars to do it, so I'd say Rick probably put in probably close to ‑‑ back in those numbers, probably $300,000, $400,000 to pay some tire bills and keep the employees going. Probably about 400 grand I'm guessing.
Q. Kyle Petty said in the introduction on the video that he had rarely seen anybody come into the sport with as much confidence as you had. What gave you that confidence coming into a sport down here in the South from St.Louis and why were you so confident you could run well?
RUSTY WALLACE: Well, sometimes on our TV shows I mention the word snapshot of greatness, and I saw snapshots of different drivers do different things, and my snapshot is when I went to Atlanta and finished second right off the bat. I said, man, if I can get my car right and if I can get the right people around me, I think I can do this. And another thing that gave me a lot of confidence was all those short tracks back in the Midwest. When I won all these ASA races and that championship and was just doing all that winning, I really felt as though I understood the car.
And I loved hearing the Cotton Owens story. I loved hearing about a guy that drove his heart out, that could fix that car, that could build that motor and all that. Well, I'm no Cotton Owens, there's no doubt about that, but I was that same type of guy. I wanted to understand every component about that car. And to this day I still think that if you see a driver that's consistently winning and consistent, he knows a lot more about that car than a guy that doesn't. He's going to run better. If he knows something about that car, knows the direction, instead of saying man, I know nothing, this stuff is so hard, they let the computers do it, let all the engineers do it, he removes himself totally, he's going to be very, very inconsistent, versus a driver that knows a lot about the car and wants to stay engaged.
So that confidence that I got on those short tracks and that one snapshot that I saw myself do in Atlanta made me think, hey, I can do this, I really think I can do this.
Q. Rusty, what did you imagine the moment would be like when you were inducted, and what was it like then? How different was it or was it what you imagined?
RUSTY WALLACE: Yeah, I was really having a tough time there because I was getting‑‑ I'm not a real emotional guy, but I was getting emotional watching everybody. I was really emotional watching Susan Baker do such a fantastic job. I was getting emotional listening to David Pearson's commentary about Cotton Owens. I was just looking at all the stuff and how hard these guys worked, and it was really moving to me to listen to all the stories because, man, I wanted to run this NASCAR so thing so bad it was unreal, and I saw how hard everybody worked, and you know without a shadow of a doubt, if you don't I'm going to tell you again, how much damned respect I've got for this sport, how much I love it and how much of an ambassador I continue to want to be for it and talking about it. I was having a tough time.
When you're already having a tough time, you get up and your own son is going to induct you, and I'm like, don't crash land right now. I'm in my aviation school and all hell is breaking loose and the right motor is on fire and the wiring is burning up, you say, just keep flying the damned airplane, don't wreck, keep going, keep going, and I kept telling myself, keep talking, keep flying the airplane, don't crash.
And then the story telling took over and the story telling was something I've wanted to tell, because‑‑ and one of the reasons I wanted to do it, because Richard Petty taught me a lot, and then I looked over, and one thing that really hit me is when I looked out in the room for the very first time and saw all the big names. I saw Ricky Rudd sitting there, and I haven't seen Ricky in forever. Last time I saw Ricky was in a Dallas movie a couple days ago I was looking forward to watching. And then I saw Robert Yates sitting there and I saw all these big names, and my brain kicked in and I had to go recognize them because it was so cool to see them sitting there. There was nothing scripted, it was just coming out of the heart and saying that.
I'm incredibly humbled. I feel relieved, I feel weak right now, I feel tired, but I'm dying to head over to the party and fire it up.
Q. Rusty, in the past, particularly in the last year and again tonight, you have gone out of your way to talk about kind of sending a message about the privilege it is to race in NASCAR. Just curious, did you come to a realization at that point? Why do you feel it necessary to continue to share that message? Why is it so important to you?
RUSTY WALLACE: Because I think there are some people that don't appreciate it enough. I think some people take it for granted, and I think some people really need to know that there's so many people out there that don't have a proper education like I don't have, and you go out there and you get in these damned race cars and you drive and they pay you millions and millions of dollars, and that's a hell of a privilege to do something like that. And I get it, I understand it, and I know unless there's people packed in them grandstands that the popularity of the sport is going to go down and we're all going to be looking for different work. But I'm just really grateful that I was able as a young kid out of St.Louis to be able to do this, and it pisses me off when I see some of these people that don't appreciate it enough, and I want all the drivers to appreciate NASCAR like I appreciated it. You don't have to think like I think, but you'd better damned think like I think on that issue.
Q. You've been an ambassador for the sport, you were here when they broke ground for the Hall of Fame. What's your take on the status of the Hall of Fame today?
RUSTY WALLACE: I was just so impressed with the style of drivers in there. Remove myself for a second. You see some of the biggest names in the world that I've always read about and watched forever and ever and ever and saw those guys tonight that I was with and see how big and beautiful this place was and see that room packed solid tonight and see all the enthusiasm and electricity going on, I'm just so proud to be involved, it's unreal. I really am, and I think the Hall of Fame is stronger than ever.
Q. What would it have meant to Russ to have lived this night because he was just an old short tracker, and that's where you started out, Lake Hill Speedway. Y'all have to think that he would have been real proud.
RUSTY WALLACE: I really appreciate you asking that question, because my dad was everything in the world to me. Dad got us going. He was a hell of a short tracker. The most fun dad had was going to Iowa Speedway with me sitting in the Midtown Cafe and having coffee, talking to those guys and watching us doing our thing, supporting all of us. And my mother sitting right in the front row, I'm like, man, just wish he could have witnessed this, wish he could have saw this, and he didn't get to see it. But it would have been so emotional for him. And he'd have said, hey, that's my boy.
Everybody liked dad. They all loved hanging out with him, so I'm really sad that he couldn't be here, and I'll think about it tonight when I go to bed, I really will.
Q. You won 55 races, the championship, and I know you wanted to win every race, but is there something you did not get done when you were driving that you really wanted?
RUSTY WALLACE: Yeah, I just desperately wanted to win a Daytona 500. I wanted to win that race so bad, and I got so close so many times and never could close the deal. There's a lot of people talk about me finishing second three times at the Brickyard 400 and leading with 10 laps to go in almost every single one of them. That's a big race, but there's nothing like the Daytona 500, and that's the one I really wanted. I'll say, okay, I wanted a road course, I wanted the mile and a halfs, I did this, I did that. I wanted to win Daytona.
I don't feel like I was a failure because I couldn't do it, but I just never did get the right situation. I tried and tried and tried and tried and come close. I remember my very last race there at Daytona. I led a ton of laps early in that race, and that car just ran so good, and then the track all of a sudden cooled off, and my car was‑‑ early when it was slick, my car was better than most, and then when the track cooled off, everybody's car got good because everybody got handling better, and I think I finished 10th. And I'm like, damn, I don't have another chance. It's over, it's done. That was it.
Q. We all know how important the ASA was to you when you were developing your career. Speak to the importance of short tracks in general in the country and how much you think fans need to be involved at the short track level to keep the sport alive from the grass‑roots up.
RUSTY WALLACE: I love the short tracks. Everybody knows that. It felt so good for everybody to keep ‑‑ if anybody gets a nickname, I love it when they call me the short track king. Rusty is the short track king. They called me up and said, design Iowa Speedway, and I said why in the hell do you want me to design Iowa Speedway; how'd that happen? They said, our investor said, who won the most short tracks in NASCAR, they said, that's Rusty Wallace. They said, hire him. It was that simple. And I like having that name, but the short track done a ton for me.
That's one of the reasons that I'm pretty damned excited about that truck race going to a dirt track over at Tony Stewart's place, because I think that's going to bring some of the grass‑roots back that NASCAR needed. I'm glad NASCAR is doing that. I'm not saying they've got to go to a doggone dirt track, but I'm glad they're going back to some of them shorter tracks.
Q. What was your favorite win of all time out of your wins?
RUSTY WALLACE: We were talking about it the other day, weren't we. I've had a bunch of them. My favorite win had to be my very first win because I wanted it so bad, and I won it, and it just blew me away. Probably one of the most fun wins I've ever had, and you guys can fact check this a little bit, when they repaved the Michigan International Speedway and I led almost every lap, and with 12 laps to go the car starts running out of gas. As soon as it runs out of gas, the caution flag comes out. I come down pit road, the car is not running, Buddy Parrott, my crew chief, jumps over and they're squirting ether down the carburetor, and his belt buckle hangs on the hood hinge. I take off, that baby lights, I drug him down pit road. I've got a picture of him with his glasses broke in half, hat on backwards and tumbling down there, and every lap I passed a car.
And this is the part that I'm fuzzy on: It was really late in the race, like three or four, maybe five laps to go, I caught Dale Earnhardt going into Turn 3 and I passed him and went on and won that race, and nobody would have ever believed that I won that race being that far back, but that was the most dramatic race I think I can ever remember, with Buddy tumbling down pit road, me plastering Earnhardt late, the racetrack tearing up, hunks of asphalt pouring out of the track, Roger Penske and Walt Czarnecki out there at midnight with hoses watering the track down trying to cool it down.
I lived all that stuff. That was a dramatic win right there.
KERRY THARP: Rusty, congratulations on being in the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class. Greg, congratulations to you and the entire Wallace family. Rusty, I don't think‑‑ like you said, this is just the beginning for you, and enjoy it, and thank you for all you do for the sport, and see you in Daytona.
RUSTY WALLACE: Thank you very much, and I want to thank all you guys for what you do for the sport because you've been writing a lot of cool things, and I appreciate it.
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