Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Mike Wallace on Restrictor Plate, Daughter Chrissy and More

For Mike Wallace, his career has seen many ups and downs. He’s won races in the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series over the years, but he has also bounced back and forth between the three series multiple times. At age 54, Wallace has a combined 772 starts in NASCAR’s National Series. For the past four-plus seasons, Wallace has driven the No. 01 Chevrolets for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller. It is quite a different experience as compared to driving for teams that can provide anything under the sun. Our own Phil Allaway sat down with Wallace recently in Daytona to talk about his season and the struggles involved in racing on a limited budget, his 2013 season, his daughter Chrissy’s career and more.

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch.com: Yesterday in practice, you ran nine laps and focused mainly on single-car runs. Was this mainly a protectionist move in order to make sure you didn’t get caught up in someone else’s shenanigans?

Mike Wallace, driver, No. 01 JD Motorsports with Gary Keller Chevrolet: Absolutely. That’s exactly what it was for. [Johnny Davis] says, “Look, we don’t have any sponsorship on our race car. We don’t have a backup car in the trailer.”

Collectively, between Daytona and Talladega, we’ve got three cars destroyed. In February, the No. 4 car got destroyed, then at Talladega, both of them got destroyed. So, it was like “We have just enough cars to start the race. I don’t have a sponsor on this car, I don’t want anything to go wrong. I don’t want to scrape the wall. I want you to run the minimum amount of laps that you can, and put [the car] away.” So, that’s what we did.

Allaway: Enough laps just to test out the car and make sure nothing was wrong with it?

Wallace: Primarily, we [wanted to] get our baseline. Dave Fuge, our new crew chief, had a different theory than Johnny did in our car setup, and that proved to be positive. We changed the front springs on the car, we went out and ran faster. That was a plus in the right direction, but we didn’t want to just keep going and going. [Fuge] and I would love to just run all of both practice sessions and try everything you can. But, you gotta know your bounds. We feel like we made the car drive faster. Now, we’ll lineup and qualify, then race hard through the race.

Allaway: You’ve had quite a bit of success here at Daytona in the past. You won this race back in 2004, picked up top-5 finishes in ARCA races, and in the Daytona 500. Generally, you’re considered to be one of the best restrictor plate racers in NASCAR. Is there some kind of a mindset that makes a certain driver better on a plate track?

Wallace: I think just going into a race track and appreciating it, not having a bad mindset works. Early on, when people said that they didn’t like restrictor plate racing years ago. I love racing in restrictor plate races. The late and great Dale Earnhardt taught me a little bit about plate racing, different things to look out for, and different things to pay attention to. I did, and I think I understand that there is a different style of racing that goes on at these two racetracks [as compared] to the open tracks.

I think I’m good at all the tracks when the cars are good. Here, I seriously believe that the driver can make up some things.

Allaway: If I remember correctly, Earnhardt was really big on controlling the race around him. He could do that with certain tactics that he would do in the car. Can you still really use those types of tactics that Earnhardt would have used in the ‘90s today, or has the tandem drafting rendered such strategy impossible?

Wallace: Tandem drafting adds three to four seconds a lap of pace. If you have an incredibly fast car, if you have the greatest motor program in the world, you can maybe affect things. We have our own Johnny Davis/Tony Clements-built motors that don’t have as much power as some of the others. So, the tandem draft is really crucial to us. Not losing the draft is incredibly important to us as well.

We will probably not qualify that good. The same scenario last year saw us come here and qualify 27th or 28th for the February race. We came back with a better motor program and qualified seventh. We’re back to the same motor program that we had when we qualified 28th.

The draft is instantaneous. I’m hoping I don’t get any rebuttal from my car owner when the green flag drops, but I’m planning on going forward.

Allaway: Will you be likely pushing, or being pushed?

Wallace: I have been pushed most of the time. There are a few people, like my teammate, Landon Cassill, that pushed me at Talladega. Joe Nemechek and I have worked very well together. We’re both small, independent teams that have a lot of experience in this type of racing. <Johnny Davis’ cell phone goes off here>

I prefer being pushed. There’s a good and a bad. The good is that I can see what’s happening in front of me all the time. When you’re pushing, all you’re looking at are the spoiler bolts. The problem is that the guy from behind is pushing, and he gets at an off-angle, you’re the first one that’s going to get spun out. So far, that has not happened. I’ve been turned sideways, I’ve been done everything [else]. Right now, I assume I’ll be pushed, but I won’t be scared to push someone.

Allaway: This year, we have the new Camaro body style. Has that changed the tandem drafting in any way since the nose is no longer close to square?

Wallace: I don’t think it’s changed it very much. To be honest, what’s changed tandem drafting more than anything else is [NASCAR] closing up the grille opening. You gotta be more cautious, gauge race a little bit. Water temperatures, you gotta pay attention to water pressure, which we don’t pay attention to on a regular race track. You can’t be pushing any water out, since [NASCAR] puts a pop-off valve on the water reservoir tank so it can only take so much pressure before popping off and blowing out water.

Allaway: I think this is the first time in a year that NASCAR hasn’t changed the rules going into a plate race. Every time, NASCAR decides that they’re going to drop the pressure on the pop-off value or adjust the grille.

Wallace: I think that if you really study it, the NASCAR Nationwide Series races has some of the best restrictor plate races going. They’re good, they’re exciting, there’s lead changes and everything.

We, as teams, have asked NASCAR, “Please, please, quit changing the rules. Let us go race for a while and leave the rules package the way it is.”

What happens is that every time there’s a rule change, it costs the teams money.

Allaway: I’m pretty sure Johnny [Davis] doesn’t necessarily want to spend that extra money.

Wallace: The point is, what does the rule change accomplish? That’s the whole thing. If it made for better racing, yes, that’s fine, but it doesn’t, normally. No team owner, not just Johnny Davis, even though we’re a small organization where every dollar is important to us. Even the big teams [don’t want to do it].

I heard a quote once from Richard Childress, “I wish NASCAR would stop trying to save me money.” Everything for a change costs money. So, unless there’s a real important need for it, don’t do it. Leave it alone.

_To this degree, Wallace is also critical of NASCAR’s move to require Chevrolet teams to run the new Camaro bodies at Daytona and Talladega. Both the Nos. 01 and 4 have run older Impala bodies all season long. The cost of new bodies is fairly substantial and Wallace doesn’t believe that it was a necessary move. He believes that NASCAR was supposed to get away from those types of situations with the introduction of the new Nationwide car in 2010. Unfortunately, that was not so._

Allaway: These cars are not cheap.

Wallace: No, not at all. You gotta remember, it’s not just the cars. It’s everything that takes place in this garage. We pay to enter these races. It costs us to enter the race. You gotta pay for all your crewmembers. You gotta have hotel arrangements, travel expenses, then you have the race cars and tire bills since tires aren’t free anymore.

Allaway: When did [Goodyear] make free tires available?

Wallace: There was a time back in the day when there were plans out there, but they’ve all went away. If you were so far up in the points or qualified well enough, you’d get a tire, or a couple of tires.

Allaway: Sounds like a tow money scenario.

Wallace: That was before my time that tow money and appearance stuff [was out there]. [NASCAR] has the greatest form of motorsports in the world. Everybody wants to be a NASCAR driver.

When I was at Road America, I talked to all of the guys that were there, like [Owen] Kelly, who was there from Australia, the V8 Supercar racers, they all want to be here racing. They say, “You guys are crazy. You say how cool V8 Supercar racing is, but we want to come here and race.”

IndyCar guys, Formula One guys want to come here and race. This is the Mecca of motorsports. NASCAR racing, Daytona International Speedway. Other than Formula One-type money in regards to driver salaries and so forth, everybody wants to come here and race.

Allaway: Generally, it’s good racing and can be lucrative. The competition is unparalleled in most races.

Wallace: You have competition, you have lead changes, [and] you have everything that we need to have. We’re here to race as individuals. Everyone from the teams, drivers, crews and cars, we’re here to compete. But, at the same time, we have an obligation to put on a great race for the spectators. If the spectators weren’t here, none of us would be here. Even if we got paid the same money and everything like that, it would be boring coming here and [having] no one here. It’s like coming down here during Preseason testing in January and no one’s in the grandstands.

Allaway: [Daytona] is eerie when there aren’t people cheering.

Wallace: Yeah. All of us as competitors want a great race. Not a race, but a great race for the race fans. I want [the fans] to leave and go, “You know what, that was well worth our money. It was well worth the investment we spent. We had a great time at the track. The race was great, we had fun with our friends. Now, we’ll go back to work, save up some more money and go to another race.”

Allaway: Getting back to this season, you’re currently 16th in points with a top-10 finish. Unfortunately, it came at a steep price. How would you characterize your season to this point?

Wallace: It’s been disappointing, to be honest with you. We had some situations at the start of the year that got us in a big hole. It’s not just a hole, we took a backhoe and dug a hole. We finished all the races, but we broke in the middle of them. At Daytona, we had a battery cable short out during Speedweeks. Never had that happen before. Got that fixed. Had an A-Frame break at [Auto Club Speedway], had some shims fall out at Las Vegas.

We’re working to rebound from that. We’ve had some respectable runs for our car. We’ve gotta keep things in a real perspective in this sport. There are the teams that have everything they need (the “have” teams) and, indirectly, we’ll use the term “have nots” to describe those teams that don’t have everything that they need.

To start with, we don’t have the financial resources that we need. Financial resources allow you to hire people and buy parts for the team. We’re kind of the lead group of the “don’t have everything” cars.

Allaway: Can you talk about the challenges of finding sponsorship for the operation?

Wallace: First of all, it’s a very big challenge for anyone to find sponsorships anymore. Even the high quality teams are taking any sponsorship that they can get. There used to be a rule that the Cup teams would only take a minimum of this, Trucks would take this. Now, starting in the Cup Series, they’ll take anything and everything. As a result, some sponsorships that used to be in the Nationwide Series are now over on Cup cars as associate sponsors.

The biggest challenge we have and I have, since I work hard at it as well, is finding the proper decision makers within a company. We can make legitimate sense out of this; it’s not blue sky that we’re selling. It is a viable branding, marketing and advertising tool, along with an employee recruitment and retainment tool, along with good customer and vendor relations. [Sponsorship] can be a lot of things for companies.

I don’t know how Corporate America operates when you can’t get ahold of the decision makers. You might as well take every website in the world that has contact information on the back of it, and you might as well throw that away because nobody responds to it.

You might get one back from a food company like a restaurant, where the food quality was bad or something. If you’re calling, asking to talk to a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) or something like that, you’re not even going to get a courtesy note. So then, you try to network with people to get the door open. Somebody might know somebody, and it might work that way. That’s the best thing you can do. That’s the challenge of today’s world. [Businesses] in today’s world have to make more business sense out of sponsorships than they did years ago. How you prove a return on investment is crucial. ROI, ROI is the refrain.

Years ago, people got involved in the sport because they liked it. Upper management liked it, the CEO liked it, and there are still some sponsors, good sponsors, in the sport like that. Thank god the CEO likes it, because they’re the one driving it. So, it’s challenging, and hopefully, we can make something different happen before long because this team is in a crucial situation. We need some full-time marketing partners. We have a few.

G&K Services does a few races with us that we pick up here and there. What we end up finding out is that we do such a good job for our partners at such a low price that we can convince [sponsors] to do more. We give them a value to get into the sport, then we over deliver.

Allaway: Speaking of Cassill, he was originally brought in to serve as a driver coach for Daryl Harr before eventually being hired full-time. How has he helped out the team?

Wallace: I wasn’t aware of [Cassill] being brought on as a driver coach. Daryl Harr races our car on occasion. What really happened is that Danny Efland was scheduled to drive the No. 4 all year long. Then, Danny didn’t like a few things about the team, or the way that things had happened, so our car owner fixed that by replacing him.

When [Davis] looked down the list, Landon had a Cup ride and was going to be at the race track, so he was available to hire. Daryl Harr runs some of the races on the West Coast. JD Motorsports maintains some of their K&N cars, so it was a good mix. We needed somebody that had race track experience, wasn’t going to tear our cars up, would keep the car in the top-30 in owners’ points (as of this writing, the No. 4 is 30th in owners’ points) and keep it locked in. If Daryl drives the car at one of the road courses coming up, or at Phoenix or Iowa, we want Daryl to go there without the pressure of having to qualify. So, Landon’s been around for a long time now, he’s a young man, but he’s got plenty of experience. He did a lot of development work with Hendrick Motorsports. He’s brought some different thoughts and perspectives to the team. He’s doing well, had a bit of bad luck the last couple of weeks, nothing of his making, just engine related issues. Our main goal with this team is to finish each and every race. This is not a start-and-park race team. This is a race team that wants to run hard every lap. But, we also realize that we shouldn’t tear up the race car to run 20th if we can get by running 21st and not tear anything up. Take what the car will give you, get to the end, the guys will work on it, and we’ll go back next week.

Allaway: What kind of racing is your daughter, Chrissy, up to these days? There doesn’t seem to be any information out there about that topic.

Wallace: That’s because there is no information. Chrissy is sitting on the sidelines right now. She wants to do any racing that she can. My job, my salary has changed so that I, Mike Wallace, can’t write a check for her racing. There are so many people floating around out there with wealthy parents or wealthy grandparents that are able to put their kids into situations that I can’t.

Chrissy ran a couple of late model races last year. Back it up to 2011, one of the [Sprint] Cup car owners told her, “Chrissy, you need to go win some races, win a championship, then we’ll talk.” So, Chrissy got in a Hancke straight-rail ASA late model, went over to Lebanon, Missouri, won seven late model races, won the track championship, won the ASA regional championship. She went back to that same car owner and said, “I did what you told me to do.” He looks at her and says, “How much money you got?”

So, he kind of depressed her. She did everything from the performance standpoint she was requested to do. Then, its how much money do you have.

She has, at this present time nothing racing, but starting in two weeks, there is a major production company out of Los Angeles that is coming over to do some stuff with her that possibly thinks that they can help her get back in the car, and maybe create a docu-reality type show out of it. They’ve been over and shot some footage. It’s a major company, not some little deal. We’ll see if she can get back in the car. The desire is to get her back in a car and get her racing, car or truck. Whether it’s back in a late model, or in ARCA, wherever she can win races and hopefully win a championship.

She’s had some opportunities for her to come and run some Nationwide stuff this year, but she’s just going to run in the back with the cars that she’s been offered. She said, “Look, I’m at a point in my career where if I run bad[ly], people are going to write me off. I’m better doing nothing than being considered not capable.”

But, she has had a lot of opportunities. Chrissy did a lot of things thanks to the motorsports world. She had a quarter-page article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of years back titled “The Changing Face of NASCAR”: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122161485635746071.html, talking about how she is a female racing in a male-dominated sport. She rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. She has a standing offer with the Exchange that if she can bring an Exchange member to the table, they’ll have a launch party for her on Wall Street. She did The Bonnie Hunt Show, a live, daytime television show, she was a walk-on guest on Dancing with the Stars, [and] she was on Extra and walked the red carpet.

Allaway: That’s a lot of accomplishments.

Wallace: It is. A lot of people don’t pay attention to it because she’s not presently racing. She wants to race is all I can tell you. She wants to race really bad. But, she doesn’t want to just be in someone’s car. She wants to be a car or truck that will run competitively, and is capable of running up front. Then, it’s up to her to produce.

Allaway: What kind of goals have you and the rest of the team set for the remainder of 2013?

Wallace: I don’t know if we’ve really set a goal. The simple goal is that this No. 01 car needs to finish in the top-20 in car owner points, and as far up in driver points as we can. Why that is important is because [NASCAR] only pays the top-20 in points, and as the team gets towards the end of the year, there’s going to be some debt owed.

Tonight, we believe we’re here in Daytona with a chance of winning the race. That’s our goal. This is one of our shots this year of winning a race. Over the past few years, we’ve led every speedway race we’ve run in. We’ve run well. We’ve led two Green-White-Checker sequences at Talladega and we’ve crashed on the last lap.

Allaway: Or put on your roof.

Wallace: “The roof one”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_BqjL-Ez7o was the time we led the previous two Green-White-Checkers, then got turned over. Took the white flag, got a run at the worst spot and got turned over. In the middle of the backstretch.

At Talladega (this year), we did the whole ride around in the back thing. Even got lapped [after I] lost the draft. Moved back up. Coming off of Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag, get to the tri-oval, and all of a sudden, you’ve got two “experienced” Cup drivers Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler, two Gibbs cars racing down below the yellow line for some unapparent reason. They run into each other and wreck everyone around them 1000 feet from the finish line.

When I realized we were wrecking, I just thought, “This is ‘Days of Thunder,’” I stayed in the throttle to make sure I could at least get to the start-finish line.

Allaway: Did you think it was too dark to be racing at the end of the Aaron’s 312?

Wallace: No. It was dark, but we’re all professionals, we all have capabilities, we all grew up short track racing somewhere where there were hardly any lights at the race track.

There was absolutely zero cause for that last wreck. Zero. Not even a good apparent reason. Why were two team cars racing a full car below the yellow line, racing? You know you’re not supposed to be there. No one pushed them down there. I have no idea what they were doing. And nobody will respond to that. Doesn’t make any difference now because everyone’s cars are tore up. Thank god they both got wrecked on top of it. I’d hate to think that they would have gotten away with it.

Gotta remember that NASCAR has a commitment to the race fans. The race fan wants to come to see what they paid to watch. They did a remarkable job that day just trying to get that race in. Kudos to them for what they did in order to deliver the product to the race fan. NASCAR told us that they were going to cut the race short and we all knew it. We knew the checkers were coming.

Allaway: It was a great finish, but an expensive one.

Wallace: Yep.

For Wallace, Daytona ended up being a disappointment. Wallace qualified 35th and ran around near the back for much of the event, eventually getting lapped, but getting back on the lead lap via the wave around. Wallace eventually advanced as high as 20th before electrical problems reared their head with 15 laps to go. Wallace’s car essentially quit and stalled on track to bring out a yellow. Wallace was credited with a 37th-place finish.

Since Daytona, Wallace has finished 28th at Loudon, 24th at Chicagoland and 22nd last weekend in Indianapolis. He is still 16th in driver’s points, but the team is currently 22nd in owners’ points, 28 points out of 20th and the all-important bonus money.

About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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