There is nowhere the 31-year-old North Carolina racer would rather be this weekend than the high banks to race his Super Late Model car at the Short Track U.S. Nationals.
The son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace has over 200 career starts in NASCAR’s three national series — Monster Cup, Xfinity and Trucks — and he definitely wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to get back to the big time.
However, he feels it’s more fun, more fitting at this stage of his life to race on the short tracks. There is no short track as special to the Wallace family as Bristol Motor Speedway, where Steve’s father won nine Cup Series races.
“I’ve been coming to Bristol a long time with the different spectrums of racing. As a kid, I watched my dad and uncles race and my dad obviously had a lot of success here and ran really well. With my family being so good here, I’ve always put a big emphasis on this race track. I got a Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) pole here when I just turned 18.
“I won a race (in the UARA Series) back in 2004. Then, I’ve been on the other spectrum where I was life-flighted out of here in a helicopter. I’ve had the highs and lows here for sure.”
Wallace is referring to a Hooters Pro Cup Series crash where his car slammed head-on into the turn 3 wall, hitting so hard it knocked the windshield out of the car. He was knocked unconscious in the wreck before coming to briefly inside the helicopter on his way to the hospital.
“That was 15 years ago and I honestly don’t remember a whole lot about it,” Wallace said. “As weird as it sounds, I woke up naked in a helicopter, not knowing where I was or what happened. I fell back and went unconscious again before waking up again with a MRI machine freaking out.”
He came back a month later and raced at Bristol again. He won the pole for the Busch race a year later and two years after that finished seventh in the Xfinity Series at BMS. For Wallace, it felt like home with his father, a close friend to former track president Jeff Byrd.
Wallace, whose cousin Matt is also racing on Saturday, remembers camping close to the track when he was younger. It was something he and his father did again last June as fans for the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol Dragway.
“Growing up, I always loved the environment here and the people around the track,” he said. “Tennessee is just awesome and I just love drag racing, the engines, the way they’re always tinkering on motors. That weekend, it being Father’s Day weekend, my dad and I came up here and camped next to each other. Mike came with us and we had a blast that weekend. I’ve been around NASCAR my whole life and you go up there and you see a whole different side of racing.”
He often got another side of racing from his uncle Kenny, a former Xfinity Series winner at Bristol. Steve explained that his uncle could communicate with him in a way different than his father could.
“My uncle Kenny was always able to tell me things differently,” Wallace said. “My dad had such a natural ability and success. My uncle Kenny could explain things in a way where I could understand them better and made more sense to me. The older I’ve gotten, the more mature I’ve gotten, things have changed where my dad and I talk all the time, hang out all the time. I’m constantly learning from him. He’s a heckuva mentor for sure.”
HARD HIT FOR BAYNE
Knoxville driver Trey Bayne, the younger brother of 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, had a hard crash during practice for the Pro Late Model race. His No. 21 car slammed the outside wall in turn 2 (which is turn 4 for NASCAR races) and came to rest at the end of the frontstretch wall.
The 15-year-old driver said the car bottomed out on the concrete surface and got loose, causing the accident.
There are over 200 cars entered for the four races for Saturday’s Short Track U.S. Nationals.
Practice starts at 11 a.m. Qualifying for the Pro Late Model division is at 2:15 p.m. and the Super Late Models qualify at 3:15 p.m. heat races for the Compact and Street Stock divisions start at 5 p.m.
There are four feature races, a 50-lap Street Stock feature, a 100-lap Pro Late Model feature, a 50-lap Compact feature and a 100-lap Super Late Model feature.