Race Weekend Central

Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Loving Talladega & Advice for the Future

The last Nationwide race I ran was Talladega. Talladega is the type of track where you have to be what I call “cautiously aggressive.” In other words, if you try to stay out of the wrecks and lag to the back, you have a chance of losing the draft and going down a lap. We’ve seen that in the Cup race, specifically with Denny Hamlin last year.

When you go to a racetrack, you’ve got to love it. So when I go to Daytona and Talladega, I know what I’m in for, so I have just got to love it. I go with a thought process that I love the racetrack, I can’t worry about wrecking. It’s in the back of my mind, but I’ve got to stay consistent and make good moves.

The last Talladega race, I made one mistake. I cut down a little quick and me and my brother Mike got together. It’s no different than say, Elliott Sadler in the Daytona 500. Here he is on lap 1 and he thinks he’s going to help Jimmie Johnson and boom, they have a big wreck. It’s hard, but I’m just cautiously aggressive, try to make the right moves, try not to make any mistakes.

We raced at Eldora this week and I was bummed out! I put a lot of effort into it. We had a great sponsor in Toyota. We had the first Toyota motor ever. My car just didn’t handle at all. We ran real well there in the past, but this year the car was just loose and never would hook up. I think we’ve run there enough that now it’s just gotten really competitive.

It’s a great fundraiser. It was all about Feed the Children this year, and we made a lot of money, but it’s really competitive. Some of the best super late model car owners in the world give us cars. Kyle Busch won with Scott Bloomquist and that was one of the best cars in the United States. The moral of the story is that the Prelude to the Dream is a great fundraiser, but it’s also very competitive.

I’m impressed with the drivers who have never run on dirt before. Hamlin didn’t race this year, but I was most impressed with Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. I know that they grew up asphalt racing. They’ve just got great talent. Those are the two throughout the eight years that have impressed me the most. They were up to speed, they ran good and just caught on really quick at a very high-speed racetrack.

Everybody knows that traveling is a major part of racing; not just racing, but a part of life. We travel so much. It costs a lot of money to fly in an airplane, so when we go dirt racing, I just ride in the hauler with my guys. We travel sometimes six or eight hours and sometimes it gets monotonous.

So, the trip becomes the entertainment. We just like to create a highlight reel for Twitter. So we find all these silly things we can do to let people know where we are and what we’re doing. We like Cracker Barrel restaurants; they’re our favorite. But then late at night, at one, two in the morning, all the restaurants are closed, so we always stop at gas stations.

We always go in the bathrooms and wash our hands and things like that, and we just think it’s funny to always tweet from the most unexpected places.

Sponsorship in our sport has changed. Over the last weeks, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people who love racing still. If you look at the TV ratings from some of these Nationwide races, some of these Cup races, and you look at a track like Charlotte, where they can have 150,000 people there. We got a 4.4 rating and that means that 7.4 million people watched the race.

So between the two weeks at Charlotte, the All-Star Race and the Coke 600, you had 150,000 people come to the track and seven million people watching on TV. There’s something good going on. It’s still a really, really good deal. But what I’ve learned is that corporate America has really tightened its purse strings.

Right now, the companies aren’t moving, they aren’t sponsoring. They’re just not spending money, and that’s what’s aggravating. I know that NASCAR is doing a good job right now. In USA Today, there was a really good piece on Twitter in the Money section; it shows Brad Keselowski tweeting and there’s a good article. I think NASCAR is doing a good job on trying to get the sport going, so I really wouldn’t blame them right now. They are not sitting still.

My take on Kurt Busch is this, and I truly mean what I’m saying: he is a good guy to hang out with. At Eldora last night, I put my arm around him during the photos and kind of gave him a hug. But when he gets to that racetrack, he’s a complete different person.

There’s really not much more to say about Kurt that I haven’t already said. He cannot control himself, unfortunately. I feel like Roger Penske has a good control on his drivers, but you have to remember that this is a driver who has been fired by Jack Roush and now Penske. So where’s he going to go next? If you’ve been fired by Roush and Penske, you’ve just got to say to yourself, ‘what do I do now?”

Nobody with a sponsor is going to hire him. I feel bad for him, but obviously he’s done it to himself. I’m not going to debate the whole thing. What’s more interesting to me about Kurt is why is he the way he is? Why does he act the way he acts when he knows it’s wrong? I know he knows, but he just can’t control himself.

Ken Schrader and I spoke to about 500 students at the University of Northwestern Ohio on Thursday. The biggest thing right now that people ask is how do you fulfill your dream, how do you get to where you want to get to? Most of the students ask how you become a crew member or how you become a racecar driver. And Kenny and I shared our experiences.

We said, ‘look, there’s no book out there that tells you how to go about it.’ I told them that you have to have the passion, and you have to want it. You have to go out and meet people and get it done. We talked about Steve Letarte, Dale Junior’s crew chief. Before he was Junior’s crew chief, he was Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, but he started out sweeping the floor.

The biggest epidemic right now is that people have this vision that you just become a racecar driver. So Ken and I tried to share our experiences and how you go about this. You’ve just got to start out at the bottom of the heap and do like Letarte did. He swept the floors, mowed the lawn. It’s about putting yourself in position and meeting people, and that’s what we told the students. You can’t make a living in racing until you put yourself out there.

I love the movies. I’d rather go to a movie than watch TV. Movies are a special place because it puts you in a different zone. It puts me at peace with myself for two hours; you become engrossed in that fake world. What’s my favorite movie here lately? You know I’ve seen a lot, but none of them stick out. My favorite all time is probably The Green Mile. It was very intense. I really enjoy that one.

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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