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Wallace Leaves Hall Ceremony ‘Legitimized’

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 9 2013

Rusty Wallace said that being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night changed his life. (Photo by Jamey Price/NASCAR via Getty Images)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Less than an hour after being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Friday night, an emotional Rusty Wallace admitted the honor made him feel different.

“I feel so happy. I feel like my career finally has a period on the end of it,” the 1989 NASCAR champion said in a very humble voice. “I feel my career has gotten legitimized.”

Joining Wallace in the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction class were Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas and Buck Baker. Wood joins his brother Glen in the Hall of Fame, making them the first brothers to receive the honor.

Wallace said NASCAR Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett told him on the eve of his induction the honor would change his life, but he didn’t understand what the two-time NASCAR champion meant until Friday.

“People are already acting different,” Wallace said. “They’re kinder. People are calling me Mr. Wallace. They’re just treating me different. It’s an incredible feeling. I’m still kinda in shock and so happy.”

During Wallace’s acceptance speech, the Missouri native told several stories about incidents that could have ended his career, even his life. They included the frontstretch barrel roll at Bristol in the late 1980s when Dr. Jerry Punch saved his life by stabilizing his neck until track medical personnel could reach him. It was that wreck that resulted in Dale Earnhardt nicknaming him “Rubberhead.”

Another was the airborne flip Wallace survived at Talladega in 1993. That wreck resulted in shoulder and rib injuries, but led to the creation of the roof flaps. And if it hadn’t been for the $400,000 Rick Hendrick gave fellow team owner Raymond Beadle to pay various invoices, including tire bills, towards the end of the 1989 season, Wallace might not have earned a championship.

Another story Wallace revealed was when internationally renowned team owner Roger Penske called him to his hotel room in Daytona and told him he was leaving NASCAR. It was then that Wallace told him emphatically he wasn’t leaving stock car racing to concentrate solely on his Indy Car efforts.

“I wanted to stay with Roger because I knew what kind of operation he ran; so class and so polished,” explained Wallace, who noted he wished his father, Russ, was still alive so he could have attended the ceremonies. “He had a real defined mission.

“When he brought me into that hotel room that day in Daytona and told me, ‘I want to quit.’ It made me mad because I turned down Junior Johnson. I was going to drive Junior’s car, the Budweiser No. 11 car, in the ’90 season and I said, ‘No, I’m going to go with Penske. I want to go with Penske.’ We ran one more year with Raymond (Beadle). We knew he was running low on money but he kept going. So I was so mad when he said he wanted to leave because we had to shut down after the ’80 season. To stop again, that’s the reason I jumped up and held my finger up and told him, ‘Don’t you spin out on me now.’ It shocked him, I think. That’s when he said, ‘OK. I’m not going to spin out.’”

When Wallace made his NASCAR debut in 1980 at Atlanta he finished second to Earnhardt in a Penske car. He rejoined Penske in 1991 and remained with the veteran car owner and former driver until his retirement at the end of the 2005 season. During that time, Wallace won 37 of his 55 victories. He also won at least one race in 16 straight seasons, tying him for the all-time third-longest streak with Ricky Rudd.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 9 2013
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