Rusty Wallace announces his retirement plans

by Pete McCole

August 31, 2004

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Rusty Wallace
Credit - Ford

Former NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion Rusty Wallace announced today that the 2005 season will be his last behind the wheel of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge Nextel Cup car.

Wallace, the 1989 Nextel Cup Champion, will retire following the 2005 season, which will be highlighted by a year-long celebration of Wallace’s career called “Rusty’s Last Call”.

“I didn’t think this day would ever come. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or how soon I wanted to do it. I just didn’t know,” Wallace said during Monday’s televised announcement at Daytona USA. “I want to go out at the top of my game. I want to go out a champion, a front runner. I’ve won this year. I’ve had a lot of great runs this year, and I feel like I’m at the top of my game.”

The 48-year old Wallace has 55 career Nextel Cup victories, and recently broke a 105-race winless streak last April at Martinsville Speedway.

“Definitely my No. 1 thing as far as my decision was, I’ve accomplished so much if I just kept going it was just doing more of the same old thing. I won 55 races, so there’s 56 and 57. Every race is important and fun to win, but it’s not like your first win. There’s a lot of things in life I want to do. I want to play more golf. I want to spend more time with the team. I don’t want to live in a motorhome every single weekend at a racetrack. I want to grow the business more. Probably No. 1, I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to push it too far.”

Wallace, who was joined by his parents Russ and Judy Wallace as well as his wife Patti and their children, Greg, Katie and Stephen, said his health and safety as well as the death of his long-time friend Dale Earnhardt, Sr. in 2001, greatly influenced his decision to walk away from racing.

“You know what? I’ve won a lot of races. I want to have fun in this sport, and I don’t want to get hurt,” Wallace said. “I think after Earnhardt lost his life three or four years ago, it kinda got to me. It made me a little nervous. It made me think hard about it.”

“I’m very concerned about safety, and it bothered me a lot when Dale got killed because he and I were good friends. He was the guy that every single time I went to the track I looked at him. There are a lot of good drivers out there right now, no doubt about that, but he was the one I always looked up to. He was probably influential in this decision.”

Jeff Burton (Top), Rusty Wallace (middle) and Mark Martin at Talladega
Credit - Ford

Wallace began his racing career running local short tracks near his hometown of St. Louis, Mo., winning more than 200 stock car features from 1974-78 before joining the USAC stock car circuit in 1979 where he claimed the USAC Rookie of the Year title. He later moved up to the American Speed Association where he won the 1983 ASA Championship.

Wallace ran his first race in NASCAR’s top division, then called Winston Cup, in 1980 at Atlanta Motor Speedway driving for Roger Penske. Wallace made a handful of starts before landing his first full-time ride with Cliff Stewart in 1984. Two years later he joined the Raymond Beadle-owned Blue Max Racing and notched his first career victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in his 72nd career start.

Wallace’s relationship with Beadle culminated with the series championship in 1989. In 1991, Wallace again joined up with Penske where he has remained ever since.

“Roger Penske, when I first started driving for Roger it was the most wonderful day of my life,” Wallace said. “When the Blue Max days were over, I asked Roger if he ever thought about getting back into NASCAR. He said, ‘hell yeah, let’s go.’ He’s a guy who’s taught me so much about business, and he’s taught me a lot about life and a ton about racing. He continues to be one of my best friends.”

“Rusty has been a friend, a partner, a great driver,” said Penske. “It’s hard to think a great driver says it’s time. That’s the position of a great driver to say I know when it’s time for me to move on. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be on a slow walk down during the next year. We’re counting on a big, big year. We’re counting on more success this year.”

Neither Penske nor Wallace made any indications of who might replace Wallace in the driver’s seat of the Miller Lite Dodge, but Wallace himself plans to be involved in the selection.

“We’ve got a year and a half to make that decision,” said Wallace. “We’ll look at some guys out there and see what we can do. There’s been absolutely no decision made on any driver at all.

“Whoever will take my place, that’s definitely going to be a decision between myself and Don Miller and Roger Penske and John Erickson. We’ll sit and talk about it. Miller Brewing wants to continue on sponsoring the car, but they’d like to have a young hot shot get in it and fill the seat. I told the guys let’s not get crazy right now.”

Wallace also plans to remain actively involved with Penske Racing after his retirement, as well as continuing to wear the owner’s hat with the NASCAR Busch Series team he started this past season.

“I want to hang around the sport more. I plan on staying in the sport,” said Wallace. “I plan on being very heavily involved with Team Penske and help grow it and stay in it a long time.

“I’ve got a lot of plans with Team Penske, and we’ll talk more about it later.”

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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