“We can talk about ‘winning’ a long time. You’re not gonna win unless you surround yourself with smart people. Surround yourself with people that believe in you and are smart people that have been there, done that.”
~Rusty Wallace, racing legend, in “Hangin’ with Winners”
Russell William “Rusty” Wallace is a retired NASCAR race car driver, former NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, and former auto racing analyst for ABC and ESPN. Rusty and I first met in 2005 around the time he broke ground on his signature Iowa Speedway in Newton, IA. We got to know each other much better in 2006 after ABC and ESPN re-acquired the rights to broadcast NASCAR races starting in 2007. Together, we hosted sports directors from various ABC stations at the Texas Motor Speedway on November 3-4, 2006. Having dinner with Rusty in the old stockyards district in Fort Worth was like hangin’ with a rock star! It served to validate his reputation of being one of the sport’s most well-known and charismatic personalities.
What kind of race car driver was Rusty? “Rusty was relentless to the point of being ruthless at times,” longtime ESPN/ABC motorsports commentator Dr. Jerry “Doc” Punch once told me. “To compete at the level he did on the short tracks, you had to be that way. You had to be selfish and self-centered because everybody in those events wanted to win, and they wanted to take your place. Dale Earnhardt was the same way: He ran over people on the racetrack because his total focus was on winning. It didn’t make any difference if you were a teammate, a friend or a relative! The most successful people in motorsports have always held a similar philosophy, and Rusty was exactly that way. Rusty and Dale had the same ‘my way or the highway’ mentality, which explains why they butted heads so often. But if you’re a race car driver, it’s a great way to not only survive but to advance.”
As adept as Rusty was on racetracks from Talladega to Richmond, he’s been equally successful in his broadcasting and designing careers. “Rusty was one of those rare drivers who grew up working on his car,” said his former colleague Punch. “He knew so much about cars that he had a lot to contribute as a commentator, and he was all energy and excitement. Rusty was always a pleasure to work with, and just a great guy to be around.”
As for the Iowa Speedway, it is clear that it holds a special place in Rusty’s heart. “As a driver always wanting to design a racetrack that would race the way I wanted it to race, it was awesome to hear all the drivers say, ‘Oh my God, this track is so much fun to drive on,’” Rusty told me shortly after it opened. “I hated coming off the turns at some racetracks where the banking falls off and you can’t pass anybody. It’s follow the leader. Well, hell, that’s not the deal at Iowa … (where) the racetrack opens up and you can carry speed that is similar to some of the intermediate tracks like Charlotte (Motor Speedway) — and it’s only a seven-eighths of a mile speedway. And then to see the excitement of all the fans that supported the track … seeing them show up at the track all jacked up and excited. Oh my God, what an amazing setting.”
In December 2007, Rusty and I hosted a private luncheon with Iowa’s governor at the time, Chet Culver. While the Iowa Speedway had successfully completed its first full season of racing, Rusty and I discussed how great it would be for the track to host a NASCAR Nationwide Series race (now the NASCAR Xfinity Series). The luncheon with the Governor and his economic development team, Nationwide executives (whose company has a big presence in Des Moines), and Iowa Speedway officials helped lay the groundwork for the first Nationwide Series race held at the Iowa Speedway in August 2009.
In June 2013, I was honored by the American Diabetes Association of Iowa — along with Dan Houston, Principal Financial Group and Gary Palmer, Prairie Meadows — with a ‘Father of the Year’ award. Rusty helped promote the award dinner by appearing in a public service announcement in which he said, “Three outstanding fathers who successfully balanced their professional lives while making an impact on the community.” And if he hadn’t already done enough, Rusty flew his private jet to Des Moines to join us and serve as the master of ceremonies. His presence made the honor all the more special.
Rusty has been inducted into four of stock car racing’s major halls of fame, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013. He’s a racing icon, whether driving, designing racetracks or analyzing each event with his keen eye and quick wit.
Rusty Wallace Jr. is a dynamic WINNER who transcends both acceleration and exhilaration.
Last Updated: October 30, 2022