Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Birthdays, the Fans & 800 NASCAR Races Down the Road

Watkins Glen was the first road race of the year. I always get excited about road courses – I love running them. Our team does the best we can. We don’t go and test, it’s just not in the budget, so I really have to call on my road-racing skills from my early Cup days. I’ve had a lot of laps around Watkins Glen. We qualified fairly well.

The race was pretty uneventful. It was normal. Brakes were at a premium. I haven’t been happy with the brakes on my road-course car this year, the things keep fading on me. But we were able to finish 19th. That wasn’t too bad. I always want to be better. But with our team right now, consistency is everything.

Watkins Glen was a lot of fun. I had a great time with my nephew Steven. I stayed with him in his motorhome. Some of the highlights of the weekend were going down into Watkins Glen, at the point of one of the Finger Lakes. We had dinner two nights in a row down there – one night with just me and Steven and one night with Rusty and Steven. That’s where Steven introduced me to Bruschetta. That’s basically food on bread. We saw Jeff Gordon in there and we said hi and exchanged pleasantries. So Watkins Glen was definitely off the beaten path and a lot of fun.

Michigan is beautiful country, but a fairly boring place. To go to dinner or anything, you have to go to Jacksonville, about 40 minutes away. But I had a good time. I went all by myself. It’s kind of weird when I go out to eat by myself. The fans kind of stare at me. Sometimes they come up to me and say, “Sorry to bother you, Kenny; we just wanted to say ‘hi.’” So I was there all by myself. I’m always looking at my budget and ways to save money, so that was another race I stayed with Steven in his motorhome.

We celebrated Rusty’s 53rd birthday in Michigan, so my niece Katie and Steven and I, along with a few other people, went out and I bought. We went into downtown Jacksonville to the restaurant of Rusty’s choice. We had a really good time. I told my big brother, “You’re the birthday boy, you’re not going to pay for it.” So I picked up the tab and we had a really good time.

What’s interesting about downtown Jacksonville is it’s kind of a fun little town, and on the weekends there is a crusader, this Batman character and he comes around and checks to make sure everything is OK in the town. Steven was excited, he was telling me, “Uncle Kenny, watch this, there’s going to be this Batman guy coming around here to make sure all the buildings are safe.” But we never did see him that night.

The race didn’t go as planned. We qualified really well. We qualified 20th, and it seems like if I qualify really well, then I’m never going to run very good in the race. It feels like if I qualify around 25th or 30th, I run really well. So I qualified 20th and we were horrible in the race. I don’t even know where we finished. I don’t remember the bad runs; I kind of block them out. I think I finished around 22nd, 25th, somewhere around there.

After the race was a highlight. I jumped on a helicopter and headed over to I-96 Speedway, a big half-mile dirt track. We built a new JEGS dirt modified, got there and we started last in our heat, which was seventh, and we won our heat. We redrew the top 12 and I started ninth in the feature, and I got spun out right away, like on lap 3.

That made me mad. I restarted tailback, maybe 22nd, and won-a big 50-lap dirt race. It was a lot of fun to run well. My boys traveled about 10 hours from St. Louis up to Michigan. It was a really good time. So Michigan had a lot of memories, between eating by myself and staying with Steve, Rusty’s birthday and winning the dirt race. It was a heck of a week.

Bristol was quite different because my crew chief Chris Rice announced that he was going to leave our team and go to the No. 70 car. Chris said that Jay Robinson could not guarantee him a job next year. Chris is a great friend of mine, but he decided to go to the No. 70 with Shelby Howard because he was looking to make sure he had a job next year. So we went to Bristol without Chris, but we prevailed, right on schedule.

I qualified 24th, like I thought we would; we had it set up for the race. When they dropped the green flag we were rally fast. We passed about 10 cars. Then as the night went on, my car started getting tight and the right-front spring was coil binding too hard. We finished 14th and my car owner Jay Robinson called a great race from the pit box. It was a really uneventful Bristol.

My wife Kim and I drove to Bristol and it was like a little honeymoon for me and Kim. So we drove up together and we took part in downtown Bristol and Food City’s fan fest on State Street and it was really gratifying to see the fans. They came there by the thousands to get autographs. They always make me feel good.

The track has widened out now and it’s smooth. You can pass on the outside and the inside and we were able to finish 14th. I think David Reutimann and I got together once, but all we had at the end was a couple of tire marks on the right-side door and that was it.

The next day, Sunday, was my birthday. I was supposed to race in Canada. Kim and I drove all night long after the Cup race and got to bed at about four in the morning, only to wake up and be ready to go to Canada and part of the hurricane on the east coast caused it to be rained out.

So I spent a great day with my family and we spent my birthday at Ruby Tuesday’s with my mom and Dad, Kim’s mom, Kim and Brandy and Brittany and I – we all celebrated my birthday. Of course, we missed Brooke. Kim got me XM and Sirius satellite radio. Now I can listen to the NASCAR channel, but the biggest thing I’m excited about is now I can listen to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games!

Montreal was the biggest event of probably my whole career. It was a long journey since we started the fan car. I learned a lot about my life at Montreal. I grew up learning that people only like you if you’re a winner. I’ve got nine Nationwide wins and a lot of dirt wins and a lot of trophies and awards, and people have been good to me. But this time the fans just blew me away with their love and support.

See also
Beyond the Cockpit: Kenny Wallace on the Fan Car, Big Changes and Using Your Imagination

I went to Montreal with a little bit of pressure. When you have over 5,000 people sponsoring your racecar, I wanted to make a good showing. It was just awesome. We didn’t qualify very well, didn’t have the car adjusted for the rain. But when that race started, I don’t know how, but we did it again. I passed about 10 or 15 cars and ran anywhere from eighth to 12th all day long. It was a bummer at the end – we had a pretty good wreck.

If you go on my Facebook page, Kim actually uploaded some videos that show the last lap pretty well. I was running 12th and got together with Jason Keller when he got spun out. The tire was rubbing the fender, but we decided not to pit and to hold our position with three laps to go. It’s a 2.5-mile track and the tire rubbed the whole time, smoking. I got out and one of my crew members told me we wouldn’t have made it another half a lap. We finished 17th.

It was just so awesome. I learned so much. I actually feel a whole lot more serious about racing in the rain. I cannot believe that we practiced, qualified and raced in the rain. I think I have more experience racing Montreal wet than dry – the last two times we’ve raced in the rain. It was a great journey. The fans responded with incredible excitement. Most of them found their names on the car. I always wondered if you could ever start anything and we were able to start the fan car with the help of my friends on Facebook.

I couldn’t have asked for it to go better. It was drama filled-with 15 laps to go they told us to put rain tires on, and we got a good finish for my fans to brag on. It was really a feel good situation for me. I was disappointed to be passed by four cars on the last lap, but once I got out and realized we finished 17th, that was OK. We destroyed the front of the car. Steven hit me so hard that it almost broke the window net out of my car. Check out the Facebook video – it’s a really good video.

I’ve been really blessed this year. Right now I’m 11th in points, 200 points out of 10th with nine races to go. My goal is to finish in the top 10. Out of my 12- or 13-year career in the Nationwide Series, I’ve only finished outside the top 10 in points twice. I want to finish in the top 10. The second biggest thing of the year for me was being told that in September at Richmond, one of my very best tracks, where I have three wins, I’ll be making my 800th NASCAR start.

It’s really big to me. That makes me 17th all-time in NASCAR. That really humbles me. When I got the call saying I was making my 800th start at Richmond, I thought that was incredible, that’s just crazy. It could have been anywhere. If I had started the truck race at Phoenix a year ago, my 800th start would have been at Atlanta. But it was fate that I have my 800th NASCAR start, which will rank me 17th of all drivers, at my very best track.

I want to thank all my car owners and all my fans. What a year it has been! I never would have thought that they year would have gone as good as it has gone.

About the author

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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