Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kenny Wallace: Life is a Time Warp

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

Kenny Wallace has done it all in NASCAR. Wallace, who currently drives the #09 for RAB Racing in the Nationwide Series, has been around the sport since 1988.

When we think of Kenny Wallace, many think of the “TV guy,” but Kenny the racecar driver is who I think of. Looking at his career, Kenny won at Richmond in 1994, finishing ahead of the heavy hitters of Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Sr. That’s one heck of an accomplishment. Wallace won the 1996 Busch Series Autolite Platinum 250 at Richmond, leading 167 of 250 laps.

Through recent interviews, Kenny revealed that under his new contract with RAB Racing, he is racing for free. As he said, "trading speed for dignity" further proving his love for the sport of NASCAR.

I had the opportunity to interview Kenny Wallace this week. A special thanks to Kenny for his time and to Dee Poole for working with me to arrange this.

AE: Kenny, how do you feel moving to a new team this year?

KW: I feel like I am reborn, like it is a time warp back to 2001 when I won my last race at Rockingham. I am excited!

AE: Can you explain the fan car idea for those who are unfamiliar with it?

KW: Well, the fan car is something that was started in 2009 by the fans on Facebook. The fans said you don’t have a sponsor for Montreal, Canada, so let the fans sponsor you. It was their idea. I said I would never do it again, and then two years later the fans continue to want to do it because for them it was like a game show, it was fun, it was like putting a puzzle together. And so the car is called "Thank You Fans." If you go on my Facebook, you will see a nice video there. It's funny how successful it was, but two years later many people forgot about it. For $20, go to Kennywallace.com - you will receive a postcard to your home and two days before the race, October 12, we’re having a meet and greet at the race shop where everyone can see their name on the car with free soda and free chips. $20 goes a long way. It's because the fans keep wanting to do it.

AE: Can you explain to the average Joe and Jane NASCAR fan about American ethanol? We have all seen you slowly trying to educate your fan base on Twitter.

KW: Yes, I can explain it very simply. For the last 10 years all the presidents keep asking for different types of fuels because wars are breaking out; we are too dependent on the Middle East for their oil that makes fuel. The family farmers are taking corn we are growing and trying to use corn for 15% of one gallon. We can cut that, so if we have to go to the Middle East for 100% of the oil, now we would only be going to them for 85% of the oil. We are trying to cut down on so much dependency on foreign oil and gas for the United States. There is a lot more to talk about, and I will teach everyone that all year long because I was just named the spokesman for American Ethanol and the Family Farmers of America.
American Ethanol Toyota Camry at Texas Motor Speedway  Credit: Debbie Ross

The bottom line is this: Do you want to pay for American-made fuel or do you want to pay the Middle East for your fuel? It’s a choice! What shocks people, for years there has been 10% ethanol in all your gas. No one paid attention to the sticker that was on most pumps in the United States.

People have been lied to, told we’re trading fuel for food. Only 3% of the corn in the whole world is used for ethanol; it's sad that people think that the corn that we’re using is for gas. Yellow corn is used for gas and for farm animals as feed. Then there is sweet corn, that’s the corn you and I eat, then there is white corn which you and I eat and is used for tortilla chips.

What’s great about the corn right now - we grow the yellow corn, take the starch out of the middle which turns into ethanol and the leftover parts are great protein for farm animals. We also grow corn to feed livestock: cows, chickens, etc. A lot of people just don’t know - they don’t have a clue. That’s why I am here to teach them.

For more information, please go to: http://www.growthenergy.com/

On a side note, Kenny really provided me an education during the conversation about American Ethanol. I come from a farming community and know the benefits that this could have … thanks Kenny!


AE: Do you feel social media (Twitter and Facebook) have been a pro or a con for NASCAR as a whole?

KW: Oh, it’s been a pro! It's awesome, because if you don’t get the truth out I can only imagine without Twitter and Facebook how bad things would be right now. Years ago we had to find a news station or a newspaper to tell the truth; now it's good and it's bad. Your privacy is gone and the truth prevails. You got to lead a clean life; in reality if you lead a clean life you’re not in trouble. If you’re out stealing and lying, then you get caught on Facebook and Twitter because everyone has a phone and can take a picture.

AE: Kenny also keeps his fans up to date with videos on his Facebook and on Youtube. Here is a recent one, taking you on a tour inside of his race car.


AE: How do you manage your schedule between racing Nationwide, dirt track racing and with your commitments to SPEED?

KW: Well, I am much busier now than I have ever been. I have people say to me all the time, "My God you’re busy." It's true I am busy but that’s the way I like it. I am really bad at sitting around the house. I am going to retire, probably at 50-51 years old from NASCAR racing, TV is something I am in love with, the dirt car is something I am in love with, it's just very easy for me. I go into that race track on Thursday very focused about my Nationwide car, then the team leaves and I wake up and do TV. I think a lot of people get tired easy - I don’t get tired. People need days off, I don’t need days off. I like some time off, but I don’t need it. I’m just wired different! (AE: Energizer bunny anyone?)

AE: Is there a different place you go to when you race on a dirt track versus concrete?

KW: It’s a different approach, it's basically in the seat of your butt. It feels different, concrete feels different. On concrete you don’t feel the grip; on asphalt you feel the grip.

AE: At the start of the season, the talk was on everyone’s new fitness regime. You joined the likes of Michael Waltrip, Mark Martin, Carl Edwards and began working out more. Do you see a noticeable difference in the car?

KW: Oh yeah! I am a skinny kid but I got to where I was 20 pounds overweight and I know what I should weigh. I should weigh 160 and I was up into the 180s. I thought, listen, if I am going to be the best I can be, I thought I should try to lose weight. That’s the reason I decided to lose weight, I wanted to be in better shape.

AE: Taboo topic, start and parking in NASCAR. Were you ever told to start and park a ride? And what are your personal feelings on the subject?

KW: NEVER! They know better! Don’t ever ask me to start and park, I will quit racing! Start and parking is a means of survival; in other words, when you go to start and park  it means you can’t afford to race. People do it to survive, and I understand that. Start and parking is meant for some people but it's not meant for me.

AE: I know it's something fans debate, a driver pulling off only three or five laps into a race. We don’t understand what the point is.

KW:  What's even sadder, teams will take their haulers and drive 3,000 miles across the United States with their hauler and on lap 3 they pull off the race track. It's very sad, people start and park because they cannot afford to race and I feel very badly for them. There’s no happiness. Joe Nemechek said it perfectly to me. He’s a good friend of mine. He says, "I’m getting wore out." I felt really bad for him. He start and parks right now because he wants to race so bad. He’s hoping a sponsor will come along.

AE: Women are making their way up in NASCAR. In the Nationwide Series in particular, you have Danica Patrick. How do you feel with all the attention she gets perhaps overshadowing everyone else?

KW: I love her to death, I think she is ballsy as all get out. She’s my hero, no lie! She’s this little package of dynamite. She has actually run really, really good this year, I think once she decides what division to run she is going to be even better. She is very talented; I am all behind her. I am not a male chauvinist - I got three daughters, my niece Chrissy Wallace is really good and she’s the first woman to win at Hickory Motor Speedway in Hickory, N.C., so you are never going to get an argument out of me. She’s frickin’ awesome! 

AE: Speaking of your three daughters, how have they dealt with dad being gone so much? Is it hard on them?

KW: I think we have been able to nix it because they know it’s what I do for a living. What's great is my kids know how much I love them and when I come home we are a good family. Kim (wife) either makes supper or we go out to eat, we are a good family. I kind of think it’s a little funny when the mother or father spend all their time with the kid; we leave ours just enough for them to know their independence yet know we love them.

AE: How have you dealt with being compared to your brothers, Rusty and Mike?

KW: I think that’s common, everybody gets compared to everybody. Can Kevin Harvick beat Jimmie Johnson? It's just competition.

AE: Was there ever any rivalry between the Wallaces?

KW: No there never was, we always love each other. I would say that when Mike or Rusty was bummed out, I was there to make them feel better; when I am bummed out, it's their job to make me feel better. I think that bitter rivalries are for other competition. The Wallaces have never been in a rivalry; we never rivaled each other.  

Rusty, Mike and Kenny Courtesy of @Kenny_Wallace

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