For St. Louis, Mo., native Kenny Wallace, the choice to compete on the dirt came down to one simple element — heritage.
Growing up the youngest of three Wallace brothers, Wallace spent his fair share of weekends turning wrenches and watching from the grandstands. His father, Russ, is still a Midwest legend, having captured approximately 400 victories on the regional dirt tracks.
As Wallace proudly stated, “Dad was just good and that’s why Rusty, Mike and I are all race-car drivers. We are just following in Dad’s footsteps. My story is a little weird though. The first race I ever ran was the 1982 Illinois Street-Stock State Championship in Springfield on the one-mile dirt track.
“A friend of the family, Pat Walsh said, ‘Herman, why don’t you go run this race?’ The event was by invitation only, but Walsh was a local champion and so he gave me his car to run. I prepared it and although there were 100 street stocks there, I won the race.
“I thought I was going to be the next Mario Andretti or A.J. Foyt. It was unbelievable…but then that was it. I was so busy with Rusty and Mike’s cars that I didn’t get the chance to run again until 1986. I was first and foremost a mechanic and car builder.”
Wallace began to think more and more about starting his own racing career, and although barely into his 20s, he knew that if he wanted to compete in the NASCAR ranks he would have to work fast. Thus, in 1986 he strapped into an ASA car and by 1989 he had made his dream come true, racing under the NASCAR banner.
Nearly 20 years later, Wallace still had regrets about skipping part of his career, feeling as though he missed out on something special. He recruited friend Ken Schrader to teach him about dirt-track racing.
When it came time for the 2005 Prelude to the Dream at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, Wallace wasn’t 100 percent confident in his dirt-racing skills, but ended up putting on a great show by winning the event.
“After the race, I looked at the scoreboard and Tony Stewart was second with (Danny) Lasoski third and that’s what really got me hooked. Now, it’s like a bag of potato chips…I just can’t put it down. I own my own truck and trailer, my own dirt team with one full-time and one part-time employee, and two modifieds and I race 40-45 shows a year.”
Wallace is known for his high energy and enthusiasm, but with a schedule consisting of racing the U.S. Border Patrol No. 28 Nationwide Series car, the JEG’s No. 36 modified and working as a TV personality, it’s a wonder that the father of three can keep up, let alone find time to maintain his other investments, which allow him to fund his modified team as well as his partial ownership in Macon (Ill.) Speedway.
Despite a schedule that keeps him on the go, Wallace believes the key element to happiness is keeping priorities in order.
“I am the same at home as I am on TV, but I’m not a complete goofball,” he explained. “I know how to relax and I just love being a father and a husband. My wife, Kim, and I have been married for 25 years and we have three wonderful daughters; Brooke (22), Brandy (20) and Brittany (18), and I just love going home and taking my girls out to dinner or hanging out by the pool. Each year we take a seven-day cruise as a family and just have fun.”
For Wallace, racing is something he feels blessed with.
“For me, every day is a Saturday and I am lucky. My goal when this is all over is for everybody to know I was a racer. That is the highest esteem,” Wallace said. “It doesn’t matter how many races or championships are won as long as in the end people can say, ‘He was one heck of a racer.’ I know great racers from all over the nation and all different divisions. I just want to keep doing what I did here at I-96 Speedway (Lake Odessa, Mich.): come in, fit in with these guys and just race!”