Those familiar with the name Dallenbach have most likely been fans of motorsports for a long, long time.
And the way things are looking, the Dallenbach name will be around on the track and in race-control pods for some time to come.
The Dallenbach clan has been part of America’s racing fabric for more than 50 years, starting with patriarch Wally Dallenbach. The now-80-year-old New Jersey native was a driver to be reckoned with in open-wheel cars and raced many times at Indianapolis. He nearly won the 1975 race, dueling with A.J. Foyt as the race neared its conclusion only to fall victim to a dropped cylinder with 12 laps remaining. Of course, a massive downpour ended the race soon after and Bobby Unser won it.
Despite that disappointment, Dallenbach made the switch from driver to official look silky smooth. He went on to be competition director at Championship Auto Racing Teams in 1980, just a couple of seasons after he hung up his helmet and was the now-defunct series’ chief steward from 1981 through 2004. While at the CART helm, he improved driver and fan safety in many different ways and shepherded the sport through a particularly tough period.
Wally Dallenbach Jr., himself an accomplished racer and TV broadcaster, is taking a page out of his old-man’s playbook by returning to his racing roots in the venerable Trans-Am Series … as chief steward this season.
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It has a certain symmetry, doesn’t it? The younger Dallenbach won two Trans-Am titles, in 1985 for Roush Racing and in ’86 with Protofab, and was quite the player in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, winning his class in that race four times. He also won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring three times. [caption id="attachment_226907" align="alignleft" width="234"] Wally Dallenbach Sr., the patriarch of the Dallenbach racing family[/caption]
He’s been there and done that in Trans-Am and now he’s bringing the band back together with the 51-year-old racing series.
“The Trans-Am Series is what put me on the map,” Dallenbach said when he was announced as chief steward. “It’s unreal when you think back on it — everything all started in 1984 with me, my family, and a dually pickup truck with a trailer and a car in the back, going out to the races with this small team effort. Then, suddenly, I’m a Ford factory driver and a two-time champion. I wouldn’t have had some of the opportunities I’ve enjoyed over the years without Trans-Am. I love the series and today’s racing; some of my old friends I used to race with and against back in the day are back in the paddock — this is like coming home to me.”
More than that, he’s doing something very few of us get to do: follow in your father’s footsteps twice. Being the son of a driver-turned-official, at the pinnacle of the sport in his time, has to have its advantages.
“You pick up a lot when you’re in the same house as the man,” said the younger Dallenbach. “You hear and learn a lot about situations and what steps were taken, how decisions were made. My dad is one of the most levelheaded people I know and I’ve learned plenty from him over the years. You have to be tough and fair.
“Drivers and teams are looking for someone who is fair and consistent. That’s what I want to bring to the position. And the thing is, my dad is only a phone call away; and I’m going to lean on that — I’m learning, and it’s a great tool to have.”
His career as a Trans-Am and GT driver led to a 226-race stint in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, driving for such luminaries as Roush, Rick Hendrick, Richard Petty, Bud Moore and Junie Donlavey. In 2001, he switched to the broadcasting side of the sport, with NBC and TNT, and made his mark with his “Wally’s World” segments.