Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Racing, Making Gains & Oh, Hail!

Richmond was a big disappointment for me. We went there with high hopes. We had leased a Hendrick motor and we had qualified the best we qualified this year, in 21st. I think that was a big improvement for our Jay Robinson Racing team. When we started the race we were way, way too tight. I have no idea how the car got so tight. It was tight in practice; I just don’t think we got it quite as good as we needed to.

Then we had a drive shaft that broke. I don’t know what happened, but the weights flew off it. We had to go behind the wall because it was vibrating so badly. We got back out and actually got the car freed up and running a lot better. Still, it was a huge disappointment because we had a lot of high hopes. That’s the car we ran in the top 20 in at Phoenix, and we’d figured that we’d put a Hendrick motor in it and get better.

Darlington went the same exact way as Richmond did. I couldn’t wait to get to Darlington. I knew what I had to do and I was excited about running there. It just seemed like we were slow the entire time. We never could get the speed out of the car and then it just got worse from there. The car pushed horribly again.

At this point, at Darlington, I’m realizing that we need to get these cars freed up. I’ve got to start that way, even if it means I qualify bad, I’ve got to make sure I’m a lot freer – and I’m a dirt racer so I try to drive it as sideways as I can. We got lucky; everybody wrecked and we finished 17th when we deserved about 28th. So we finished 17th at Darlington, and I knew that we really had to make some drastic changes as far as making sure I had the car really loose.

I went to Charlotte with it in the back of my mind that I’d totally forget about qualifying. Qualifying is two laps; it doesn’t mean a hill of beans. We had a two-day test before the race and the first day, we arrived in the evening. That track changes so drastically. You can run at six o’clock in the evening at Charlotte and by eight o’clock the car is totally different. So we ended up getting the car ready for the race. We never made a mock qualifying run – never even attempted to practice a qualifying lap. The only time I made a qualifying run was for the race and I about wrecked it was so loose.

So I was really embarrassed, I qualified 40th. I was really ashamed of myself. As a matter of fact, my crew chief, Rick Gay, came to my motorhome and made sure I was OK. I said sure, I was OK; it was just embarrassing. We took our chins up off the floor and then what happened in the race was what I thought was going to happen. The first 10 laps we were loose and then it came in. I was really happy with the car at Charlotte. It handled really good; it’s just that we were slow. We had legitimately a 25th-place car. I fell one lap down and a few cars fell out and I finished 23rd.

We’re still building and working on a lot of things. These three races were important. I joined JRR at the sixth race of the year, so we’ve got a plan of attack. I agree with Greg Biffle. He said the one thing that’s really hard about stock car racing is that something you’re working on now might not show up until six months down the road. We’re working really hard on some things right now, and I want to see results next week. That’s unrealistic. We have a new car that we’ve put a lot of effort into that we’re going to run at Dover.

That’s going to breathe some more knowledge into the team. The body on it is the latest in aerodynamics. Now, we didn’t go to the wind tunnel or anything because we can’t afford it, but it’s got what we think is our best body aerodynamically to date. We’re trying to find some guys to help us have better pit stops. Right now, if I came in 10th, I’d go out 30th. So it’s all starting to come together.

It’s not just one thing that’s going to make us run good right now. So we know exactly where we need to work, it’s not like we don’t know what’s wrong. We’re working on new cars. We’re working on better pit stops. We’re working on better motors. We’re working on getting me more testing time. You’ve got to know how to adjust, and Rick and I are working on that. We’re gonna do that, it just doesn’t happen overnight.

We have to survive this incredible economic downturn right now. We could really use some associate sponsors. We have a great primary sponsor, U.S. Border Patrol, but we could use a little more money to spend. So this is probably the first time that I can really pinpoint what I need. In the past, I’ve had cars where I’ve just said, OK, we were pushing or we were loose, and we were in the top 15 every week and worried about winning. Right now, we just need to get to where we can compete. I know exactly what we need to do right now, everybody’s on the same page at JRR right now.

On Mother’s Day, we had just gotten home – we had taken my Mom and Dad and Kim’s Mom and Dad out to eat and then we went to see a movie. After that I got in the house and turned on the TV and had on the local news, which I almost never do; I’m always watching the national news. And what happened was they said there were 60-mph winds and tornado warnings. I hadn’t heard anything about hail. All of a sudden I looked outside and I could see it coming.

Right over my house came the tornado and an incredible, the most mind-boggling hailstorm I’ve ever been through in my life. We actually tried to run out and rescue our cars and run them down to the garage, but the hail was bigger than golf balls, literally, and we were getting knocked out. It was breaking the windows on the cars and destroying the shingles on the house, and we’ve got pictures of our swimming pool, it looked like an ocean.

We got pictures right away, but we couldn’t get out to our cars because the hail was so big, we’d have had to have had a helmet on. It literally destroyed all my girls’ cars, which was three cars; it destroyed my pickup truck, and it destroyed our Tahoe. My family is a real active family, so we don’t always put our cars right in garages all the time. We don’t have a five-car garage. We have like a 40-car garage down back, but we never park down there. So the girls are without a car for about a month right now because they have to rebuild the whole cars.

The insurance company was real good, they rented the girls some Toyota 4-runners, so Brandy and Brooke are all excited. They didn’t like their cars being damaged, but they kind of like driving the rental cars. Brittany’s being left out. She had a really nice BMW, which was her original car and on top of it, she’s only 17, so the rental company won’t rent her a car. So she came out on the bad end of this deal. She’s driving the Tahoe, but it’s dented up too. Kim’s car ended up OK because it was parked in the garage. Kim’s the queen, so she gets the good parking spot all the time.

That hailstorm was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my 44 years. There’s an 80-year-old man who lives across the street, and he says he’s never seen hail that big. After it was over, we went outside and took pictures for insurance purposes. Not just that, but we grabbed the hail real quick and put some in the freezer. They were literally the size of golf balls. I’ve heard people exaggerate and say, “oh, it was the size of golf balls,” but it really wasn’t. These were literally the size of golf balls. So then afterwards we watched the replay of the storm.

Channel nine, the local channel, has a camera set up above Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and it showed the tornado come right over our home. Luckily it never touched down. Later they said that our house was the epicenter of the storm. I never dreamed in a million years that I would ever see a tornado – I had never seen one – now I was involved in one, but it never touched down on us. It’s got our family scrambling now – we’ve got five cars in the body shop. I’m still driving my truck around and if I pull up to a drive-thru or something, they’ll ask if that’s a new look. My hood looks like a golf ball.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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