After more than three decades of living the nomadic life of a NASCAR driver and broadcaster, this year’s racing season marked a new beginning for 56-year-old Kenny Wallace.
“This was a big year for me and I’ve learned a lot about myself. Between racing so much that it’s unbelievable, to doing motivational speeches, to racing asphalt, I’m having the time of my life. I am literally living the dream right now,” Wallace told SPEED SPORT.
Known in the NASCAR garage area by the nickname “Herman,” Wallace started his last NASCAR race in 2015 and he stepped away from his longtime role with FOX Sports at the end of last season to pursue his dream of being a full-time short-track racer.
So, how’s that working out?
“That’s a great question because I wanted to see how it was going to work out for me, too,” Wallace said. “I’ll never forget, Dale Earnhardt Jr., we were texting back and forth, and he said, ‘All eyes are on you, Kenny. We all want to see how this turns out for you.’
“I would say the highlight of the year for me was going and running several asphalt races that I did not plan on. What happened was I had planned about 60 dirt races with my modified, but there were two things I did not plan on. First, my motivational speeches preceded me; people started hearing about them. I started doing these motivational speeches around the United States, and then promoters at several tracks called and wanted me to come to their tracks and race asphalt.
“I guess all of the asphalt promoters across the United States remembered I was an asphalt racer first. That’s what caught me by surprise, the asphalt racing and my motivational speaking. Those two things I didn’t have on my radar.”
As the calendar turned to fall, Wallace admitted he was overly ambitious in mapping out his dirt-racing schedule.
“I need to back it down a little bit,” he said. “From Tuesday, June 25, at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., now listen to this, we ran 10 races in 13 days. Here’s the bottom line: I learned that I don’t need to race that much. We raced so much that I learned something Mark Martin said that I never thought would come true. Mark Martin said, ‘I love racing, but not every day.’ I learned that I love racing — but not every day. I also learned that I would love racing more if I get a little bit of rest. I filled my cup to the brim.”
Further adding to Wallace’s workload is the fact his racing operation has a lot in common with a one-man band.
“People come up to my shop and it’s really funny,” he noted. “At the end of the last year, this person just showed up. He was a fan. The guy hung out and I finally said, ‘Hi, can I help you?’ He said, ‘We were coming through St. Louis and we wanted to stop and see your place.’ When he got comfortable, he said, ‘Where are all of your employees?’ I said, ‘It’s just me.’ The man was completely shocked.
“I have a part-time employee, a guy named Joe Bilyk — we call him ‘Buddha.’ He goes to the races and works at the shop when he can. But for the most part, I do all of the fabrication and mechanical work. The thing about me is I didn’t start driving until I was 22 because, first and foremost, I’m a fabricator and a mechanic. It’s a job I really enjoy.”
With his NASCAR career in the rearview mirror, Wallace and his wife, Kim, have returned home to the St. Louis area.
“I’m located in Arnold, Mo.,” Wallace said with a tone of pride in his voice. “My shop is a 100-by-60-foot building – I call it a building because I only get half of it. My wife gets the other half. My actual race shop is 50 feet by 60 feet. The other half is where my wife holds her bingo parties and celebrations like birthdays, graduations, bridal showers and baby showers. So the building is truly half and half – half for my race car and half for special events and parties.
“I live in a new home and it is a 2,500-square-foot home, built small on purpose because I learned in life that I don’t like a big home. What I put all of my effort into is family and friends. I had a big home, 6,000 square feet, in North Carolina and it was too big. I love my home here in Missouri — I’ve got a basement. It’s absolutely perfect.”
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