TALLADEGA, AL – For over 30 years, Russell William Wallace, better known as Rusty, delighted fans not only with his hard-nosed and aggressive approach to racing, but also with a personality and charisma that were unmatched in sports.
Wallace’s legendary career not only rewrote the record books, but also helped bring millions of new fans to the sport of NASCAR racing.
Although his on-track performance was legendary, it was Wallace’s immense personality and charisma that often cemented the bond between him and his fans. The Missouri native was not only one of racing’s most outspoken and confident characters, but also one of its first superstars born outside the southeast. This led to legendary rivalries during the 1980s and 1990s with racing giants Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip.
“He is a tough competitor, and he isn’t shy, that’s for sure” Earnhardt once said of Wallace. Such rivalries came during a critical growth period for NASCAR, helping to draw legions of fans to the sport and propel it into the national spotlight. “It was a privilege to race against those guys,” Rusty admits.
“Rusty wasn’t afraid of anyone and that is why he became so popular,” says former driver and current television analyst Kyle Petty. “He was never intimidated. He cut his teeth in the Midwest, and while television cameras didn’t capture some of those heated rivalries out there, they existed, making Rusty tough and preparing him for NASCAR.”
When all was said and done, Wallace was the 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, a 55-time race winner (34 on short tracks) and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association Driver of the Year. He will go down in history as one of the best.
As a result of his accomplishments, he was selected into the prestigious International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 along with fellow NASCAR stalwarts Rick Hendrick and Dale Inman, as well as Don Schumacher, one of the NHRA’s best drivers and team owners. The quartet will be inducted on Thursday, May 2, at the SPEED Dome at the IMHOF, just outside of Talladega Superspeedway.
At the time of his retirement in 2005, Wallace ranked as one of the top-five money winners in NASCAR history, with nearly $50 million in career earnings. His 55 career victories marked the eighth-best all-time career total and his nearly 20,000 laps led ranked him seventh all-time.
One of the most impressive aspects of Wallace’s career behind the wheel, however, was his staggering consistency and longevity. For sixteen straight seasons, Wallace – the 1984 Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year – won at least one race in Sprint Cup competition, marking the third longest such streak in history. His final career victory, coming at Martinsville in 2004, made him NASCAR’s eighth-oldest race winner, at the tender age of 47.
It all started, however, in 1973, at the age of 16. After watching his father Russ become a championship racer in the Missouri area, Rusty was inspired to pursue a racing career of his own. His first race was at Lakehill Speedway, and later that year, he would claim the Central Racing Rookie of the Year award.
From there, he would make a name for himself throughout the 1970s, racing in the Midwest and winning more than 200 races and a pair of local track championships. In 1979, he was the USAC Rookie of the Year.
In 1980, Wallace made his NASCAR debut, and unbelievably, finished second in the Atlanta 500 when noted car owner Roger Penske gave the youngster a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The early 1980s, however, was a time when owners put drivers, who had more experience and higher credentials, in their cars rather than youth and potential.
So, over the next three years, he would compete in a total of just nine Cup races. After an American Speed Association championship in 1983, Cliff Stewart Racing took a chance on Rusty, putting him in a Cup car full-time in what would be the beginning an incredible career.
After two years with Stewart, he moved to Raymond Beadle’s Blue Max Racing in 1986. His first career win came at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 6, and he added another triumph at Martinsville. In five years with Blue Max, Rusty had 18 wins.
After finishing runner up to Bill Elliott in the 1988 title battle, Rusty outdueled his close friend and rival Earnhardt by a mere 12 points to claim the 1989 Winston Cup championship.
In 1991, he would rejoin Penske Racing, this time on a full-time basis. His best years with Penske came in a two-year stretch in which he won 10 races in 1993 while finishing second to Earnhardt for the championship, and then backed that up with eight wins in 1994 and a third-place finish in the standings. He would win a total of 37 races for Penske Racing.
Despite Rusty’s legendary NASCAR career, his racing success extended to the International Race of Champions (IROC) Series, which featured the best drivers in the world from a variety of series in identically prepared cars. Not only did he capture the 1991 IROC title, but he became the only driver in IROC history to win three of the series’ four events in a single season.
On his induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Rusty says, “It’s just so humbling to be recognized with an honor like this. Growing up as a kid in St. Louis, Missouri, racing in NASCAR was just a dream for me. For that dream not only be realized, but to end up with my being a part of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, still just blows my mind.
“I’ve always tried to be confident in whatever I do, but back when I started racing, I never would have believed that I’d end up where I am today. It wasn’t just me that made it happen though, this induction is a real testament to the hard work of an awful lot of people over the years.”
Wallace’s current undertakings allow him to continue putting his immense knowledge and charismatic personality to work. In 2006, he was named Lead Auto Racing Analyst for ABC/ESPN and led the networks’ broadcast of the Indianapolis 500, prior to their return to NASCAR. He currently headlines NASCAR Countdown, the networks’ popular pre-race show for ESPN’s NASCAR coverage. Thanks to his first-hand experience with the sport’s inner workings, Wallace is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost authorities on NASCAR racing. And, why not – he raced against the best.
In addition to his racing analysis, Wallace heads Rusty Wallace Racing, which has seen his son Steve behind the wheel in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series. Steve plans to make his 2013 Nationwide Series debut in May at Charlotte.
He has many other interests. In 2005, he became the first driver in recent history to design a professional racing facility, when he inked the plans for the 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway. A board member of the NASCAR Foundation which gives back to the community, Rusty is an avid pilot with over 15,000 flight hours. In his spare time, he loves to golf.
Not too bad for a Midwesterner who just wanted to race.
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Honoring its first class in 1990, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony has enshrined more than 100 inductees from all forms of racing. A Hall of Fame induction is one of the greatest crowning achievements in motorsports. For information on how to be a part of this year’s induction ceremony (Thursday, May 2), call 256-761-4725. For additional information on the IMHOF, visit www.motorsportshalloffame.com or call 256-362-5002.
The International Motorsports Hall of Fame is located adjacent to the Talladega Superspeedway. The most competitive racing in NASCAR combined with a mix of southern hospitality returns to Talladega May 3-5 for the Aaron’s Dream Weekend. Experience the excitement as the superstars of NASCAR attempt to tackle the high-banks of ‘DEGA at 200 mph. Secure your tickets at www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or by calling 877-Go2-DEGA. This is more than a race…This is Talladega!