Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rusty Wallace

Russell William "Rusty" Wallace was born on August 14, 1956 in Fenton, Missouri. Rusty and his two brothers, Kenny and Mike, were raised by their parents, Russ and Judy Wallace. His dad was a champion racer in Missouri and the boys weren't far behind, with all three making careers in motorsports.

Rusty Wallace made his stock car racing debut in 1973 at Lakehill Speedway near Valley Park, Missouri. Between 1974 and 1978 he won over 200 races around the Mid-West and was a budding star when he joined the USAC's (United States Auto Club) stock car division in 1979, and won the rookie of the year award.

Rusty Wallace began racing in a handful of NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup races by 1980, driving the #16 Chevrolet for Roger Penske.

In 1983 he won the American Speed Association (ASA) championship while competing against some of NASCAR's future stars like Mark Martin, 1992 NASCAR Champion Alan Kulwicki and Dick Trickle.

Wallace joined the Winston (Sprint) Cup circuit full-time in 1984 driving the #88 Gatorade Pontiac for Cliff Stewart, finishing 14th in the final point’s standings, with the best finish of 4th, 2 top 5’s, and 4 top 10’s in 30 races, helped him solidify his NASCAR rookie of the year bid.

Wallace stayed with Cliff Stewart for 1985, but this time in the #2 Alugard Pontiac. In 29 races, Rusty had 2 top 5's and 8 top 10's.

Rusty won his first Winston (Sprint) Cup race, driving the #27 Alugard Pontiac for Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max team, in 1986 at the Bristol Motor Speedway in the Valleydale 500. He also won at Martinsville on September 21st. He finished the year with 2 wins, 4 top 5's and 16 top 10's in 29 races. Wallace finished 6th in the points, his first top 10 finish in the standings.

For 1987 Wallace gained sponsorship from Kodiak, establishing the #27 Kodiak Pontiac which to some people his early career is most remembered for. He took victories at Watkins Glen and Riverside, as well first series pole at the Miller 400 at Michigan in June. These results were backed up with 9 top 5's and 16 top 10's in 29 races. He finished 5th in points.

He really began catching everyone's eye in the 1988 Winston (Sprint) Cup season, racking up 6 wins along with nineteen top 5s and twenty three top 10s. He finished second in total points to Bill Elliott.

After coming close to winning the championship, Rusty Wallace would come back with a bang for the 1989 Winston (Sprint) Cup season. He raced in all twenty nine races and added 6 more victories along with thirteen top 5’s and twenty top 10’s. This was enough to win him the NASCAR Winston (Sprint) cup championship, beating arch rival Dale Earnhardt by just 12 points for the honor. That year, he also started racing in the IROC series.

In 1990, Raymond Beadle switched sponsors to Miller Genuine Draft. The four-year sponsorship deal was specifically tied to Rusty Wallace, meaning it went where the he went. The 1989 championship year was reportedly marked with acrimony between Wallace and Beadle. However, Wallace was stuck with the team for 1990 due to his contract. Rusty overall had 18 wins for Raymond Beadle.

In 1991, Wallace helped form Penske Racing South with Roger Penske and Don Miller, finally the legendary Penske name returned to NASCAR after an 11-year absence. Rusty brought with him the sponsor Miller Genuine Draft. Another notable aspect about 1991 Rusty won the IROC series championship.

Throughout the 1990s, Rusty was a top performer in NASCAR's Winston (Sprint) Cup circuit winning 33 races, including a combined 18 in 1993 and 1994. Surprisingly, he did not win another Winston (Sprint) Cup championship, finishing second to Dale Earnhardt in 1993.

He won the 1993 Food City 500 at Bristol Speedway the same weekend that his good friend Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash. Rusty dedicated the emotional win to Alan by doing Kulwicki's trademark reverse "Polish Victory Lap" after his win.

Penske racing south switched to Ford in 1994 in the NASCAR Winston (Sprint) cup series.

In 1998, NASCAR named Rusty Wallace one of its 50 greatest drivers of all time.

Rusty had won at least one race every year since 1986; though this was broken in 2002 it was still the best among all active drivers.

In 2003, Penske Racing south switched car makes again, this time to a Dodge.

His last Nextel (Sprint) Cup victory came in 2004 as Rusty Wallace won the Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. On August 30, 2004 the then 47 year old Wallace announced that the 2005 NASCAR Nextel (Sprint) Cup season would be his last as a full-time driver though he would run in some races on a part-time basis.

Wallace, whose 706th career start ended his 2005 season-long “Last Call” tour in the No. 2 Dodge, fell just 28 laps short of leading 20,000 laps in his 25-year career. The 1984 Rookie of the Year ended his 22nd consecutive full-time Cup season eighth in the standings, the 17th time he finished among the top 10. At the time of his retirement, Wallace ranked as one of the top five money winners in NASCAR history, with nearly $50 million in career earnings. When he retired he also sold his interest in Penske racing south.

In 2006, Wallace returned to his General Motors roots when he raced a Crawford-Pontiac sports car, painted black and carrying the familiar stylized #2. The car was sponsored by Callaway Golf, in the Rolex 24 at Daytona motor speedway; he was teamed with IndyCar superstar-turn NASCAR superstar Danica Patrick, and Allan McNish. Rusty spent the rest of his 2006 season as an analyst for ESPN’s coverage of the IndyCar Series before moving to NASCAR to do Sprint and Nationwide series races in 2007. He also does NASCAR programs such as NASCAR countdown, NASCAR now, and is the co-host of ABC’s NASCAR angels.

Over his illustrious career Rusty Wallace raced for over 25 years, had 55 NASCAR Sprint cup wins, and is 8th on NASCAR’s all-time win list, so one could not just expect him to walk away from the sport after his retirement. And of course he didn’t, Rusty now owns and operated Rusty Wallace, Inc. (RWI) which fields 2 cars in the Nationwide series. The #62 South Point Chevrolet Impala SS driven by Brendan Gaughan in 2009 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series intentionally carries a black and gold paint scheme reminiscent of Wallace's legendary "Miller Genuine Draft” car.

Rusty also has a huge passion for flying. He's a jet-rated pilot who would have flown for a career had it not been for stock car racing. He owns several airplanes (including a Learjet 31A) and a Bell 427 helicopter.

Rusty is happily married to his wife Patti; together they have three kids, Greg, Katie, and Steve. They live in a ranch outside Charlotte, North Carolina. He also owns six car dealerships in Tennessee. In addition, he helped design Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.