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Wallace still passionate about short-track racing

Jeff Birchfield • May 20, 2018 at 5:14 PM

BRISTOL — Rusty Wallace loved Bristol Motor Speedway from the first time he set a track record driving a No. 14 Camaro in the ASA Series back in 1982.

Of course, he's most famous for his NASCAR Cup Series career with nine wins at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile." The 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee was back at BMS on Sunday for the Short Track U.S. Nationals, sponsored by his group of car dealerships.

He recalled his Cup Series debut at Bristol in 1984, driving the No. 88 Gatorade Pontiac for car owner Cliff Stewart. He finished 12th in the Valleydale 500, but remembered it was far from smooth sailing.

"I was this kid fresh off winning the American Speed Association championship back in 1983. I was overwhelmed by the excitement level," Wallace said. "I was doing a lot of wrecking that first year and this place will take your breath. It's so incredible. Of all the races, I wanted to win everywhere, but I was always like if I can win Bristol and I can win the Bristol night race, I've really done something."

Wallace won 55 races and the 1989 championship in what is now the Monster Energy Cup Series before retiring in 2005. He now works 21 weekends as part of the Motor Racing Network radio team. He was at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday for the series' all-star race.

But the short tracks are his true passion, and he talked about one major challenge the local tracks face. He believes the late model cars need to look more like production models.

"There needs to be a fairly substantial rule change with the body styles," Wallace said. "It needs to be more like NASCAR where they are patterned more after the street version of the Camaro or something like that. Maybe they can come up with a more affordable, composite-style body.

“If they can modernize the bodies, I think the car companies might get more involved in short-track racing. Right now, they are running bodies which are hard to promote."

BUMP-AND-RUN

The Missouri native, who has lived the last three-plus decades in the Charlotte area, likes his radio schedule compared to the 38 weeks he spent on the road while racing in the Cup Series or the 30 weeks per year working for ESPN television.

He had just come back from a 15-day trip to Scotland and Ireland, where he pursued another passion of his, golfing on some of the world's most famous courses like St. Andrew's. He missed watching this year's Food City 500 where Kyle Busch used the bump-and-run on Kyle Larson like Jeff Gordon did to Wallace years earlier.

"It's gotten so if you don't do it at this race track and you've got the opportunity, then people look at it like you're not trying hard enough for your team and your sponsors," Wallace said.

NASCAR FOR SALE?

Wallace doesn't put much credence in the recent rumors the France family may soon put NASCAR up for sale. He believes the news was floated out there for other purposes.

"I think that whole thing was more of an exploratory deal to see what the state of the sport is," Wallace said. "I don't personally think they're going to sell NASCAR. I think it got a little out of control. I would be real surprised if they sell NASCAR. I don't think it's going to happen."

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