Woody: Kenny Wallace Is A Gush Of Fresh Air
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
Nashville – I’d forgotten how much fun it can be to talk to a NASCAR driver who seems to enjoy the company, and how simple and easy it is when you don’t have to hack your way through layers of PR guardians.
I got a reminder the other day when Kenny Wallace called.
Wallace, headed to Nashville for Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 300 Nationwide Race, is a driver throwback – a genuinely good guy who’s always accessible and never makes the media feel like it’s imposing on his time.
Chatting with Kenny almost makes me miss my 40-year-old newspaper racing beat. Almost. If I lie down awhile it goes away.
Wallace’s quick wit and bubbly personality make him a natural on his TV show. He connects with viewers, just as he connects with fans face-to-face. I’ve watched Kenny work a crowd and there’s nobody better. I’ll bet he never met anyone who didn’t come away a fan – if he or she wasn’t before.
Saturday’s race will be run without two dominate drivers in the lineup – Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick both are skipping the Nashville stop to concentrate on their Sprint Cup duties at Pocono. Busch has won five times and Harvick twice in the 12 Nationwide races this season.
But although they’re out of the lineup, there will still be three Cup heavyweights on hand that Nationwide-only drivers must get around: points leader Brad Keselowski, fourth-place Carl Edwards and sixth-place Paul Menard. They are running full Cup/Nationwide schedules, and the second-tier series’ title likely will be between them.
That means that Wallace’s odds remain long. How discouraging it is to keep battling full-time Cup drivers and their powerful teams? Wallace tells this story:
“One of the biggest wins in my career came at Richmond in 1984. I was in front on a late re-start, and in my rear-view mirror was Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin. I managed to hold both of them off through the final laps for the win. What a thrill – to beat two greats like Earnhardt and Martin. But let’s be honest – I couldn’t do it on a regular basis, race after race.
“Back then the Cup guys ran only an occasional (Busch) race. Over time that changed. Now some of them run the full schedule and there’s no way we (Nationwide-only drivers) can compete with them week after week. I’m confident that I can race against those guys but my team can’t compete against their team. That’s where they have the advantage.”
Wallace, a veteran at 46, jokingly refers to himself as “the Mayor of the Nationwide Series” and says he has lobbied NASCAR for some relief – to no avail.
“All we can do is keep trying to do our best,” he said. “That’s what I do week after week. Maybe eventually we’ll get a break.”
Kenny Wallace deserves one. All good guys do.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment