Shortly after being crowned champion, Wallace received a surprise visitor.
“I had an offer from a top team to drive for them,” Wallace said. “As soon as I won the championship in 1989, Roger (Penske) walked up to me and told me he wanted me to drive for him. I was just humbled like crazy. At the time, things started happening right away. Miller Brewing Co. wanted to come on the car and everything was coming together fast. Raymond said he could go another year, so we had Miller on the Blue Max car and won at Charlotte and Sears Point in 1990.”
Beadle began to run low on money and dissolved his team at the end of the 1990 season. Wallace decided to revisit Penske’s offer.
“Roger Penske has won so many Indianapolis 500s and he is still so respected all over the planet,” Wallace said. “When it was all said and done, we started a team in 1991 and I really needed that. I need structure. I was on the gas wide open all the time and Roger was able to give me some good discipline as far as how to treat the fans and how to take the best approach as far as dealing with the car. He taught me great organization and became like a second father to me. That changed me. I started dressing differently. I started acting differently and started working with the media as much as I could. He really, really straightened me out. We are still great friends today.”
After careful consideration, Wallace retired at the conclusion of the 2005 season with 55 Cup Series victories to his credit.
“That was a really hard decision,” Wallace recalled. “There were plenty of times when I would say to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ My crew would remind me that I was running great and running up front and making great money and I loved the sport. But it got to a point when I got to the track I was looking for a way to get home. It became such a grind. I wasn’t having a ton of fun.
“I’d get to the race track, run the race, leave the race, get home,” he continued. “When I was there, I was just so focused on the car. Even though I had a great team surrounding me, I just couldn’t get away from thinking about the car.”
Many of those he raced against remember Wallace’s desire to win.
“I raced against Rusty on the short tracks, but didn’t race against him a lot on the Cup Series. He was a very, very good race car driver,” said Donnie Allison. “He knew his race car and knew what he wanted. He was sort of the exception to the rule as far as young drivers, sort of like how Mark Martin was. All those ASA guys were very involved in their race cars.”
Added two-time Cup Series champion Terry Labonte, “He was always great to race against. He always had great equipment and he knew how to race people. We raced for years and years and I don’t ever remember touching fenders with him. He was a guy you could race side by side with and not worry about getting wrecked.”
Matt Kenseth admired Wallace’s determination to win and knowledge of his cars.
“Rusty was obviously one of the best,” Kenseth said. “I watched him as a fan and he would either win or blow up. He was always dialed in, in racing and qualifying. When I raced against him, he was always into his chassis and what he had under him.”
The 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee enjoyed a phenomenal career before becoming a race analyst on television and radio.
“I’ve often been compared to Fred Lorenzen and that’s a great compliment to me,” Wallace said. “I had the chance years ago to meet him, and we have a lot in common. It means a ton to be compared to a great driver.
“I hope I’m remembered for having an exciting personality,” Wallace noted. “I love the sport so much and do all I can to support it. I want people to think of me as a real racer. I just hope I’m respected as a driver and respected as a contributor to this sport.”