“My teacher would tell me: ‘Boy you smell like a shop.’ At that time, I realized my life was obsessed with racing.”
The names Rusty, Mike, and Kenny mean one thing to a large group of Americans: NASCAR. The Wallace family has been racing cars for generations, starting their climb to fame on the tracks across Missouri. Auto racing is the No. 1 spectator sport in the country, which just happens to be dominated by a family from the Show Me State.
THE EARLY YEARS
The patriarch of the Wallace family was a man named Russ Wallace, who also happened to be a short track race car driver from Fenton. He dominated races around St. Louis when his three boys were young. The family spent the entire day at the track, often working on the cars their dad would race that night.
In the 1970s, the sons were getting old enough to race the cars themselves. It started with the oldest son, Rusty. Rusty took over where his father left off. From 1974 to 1978, he was one of the most successful drivers in the Midwest, winning more than two hundred races before moving up the ranks of professional racing.
Brother Mike took a different path to NASCAR success by beginning his racing career on dirt tracks. He dominated the dirt track circuit before graduating to asphalt like his older brother.
Kenny started his career working on cars but decided to jump behind the wheel one night at the Illinois Street Stock State Championship. He won his very first race but took his time becoming a full-time driver. He continued working as a crew expert until the late 1980s when he made the transition to full-time driving.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
Rusty’s rise to fame got a kickstart in 1984 when he teamed up with Cliff Stewart and his Pontiac race car. He was named the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year after finishing fourteenth in points during his inaugural season. He was also the 1989 Winston Cup Series Champion.
He teamed up with Penske Racing in 1991 and continued his track record of success. During the span of 1991–2002, he was a top ten points finisher in ten of those eleven seasons. In twenty-four years of professional racing (through 2004), he has won an astounding thirty-eight races on the Winston and Nextel Cup Series as well as in the Craftsman Truck and Busch Series circuits.
Mike first joined the professional ranks of the Busch and Winston Cup Series in 1991. In nine races in Busch Cup, he had one top five finish while also starting two Winston Cup races. He slowly began climbing the ranks of auto racing’s elite but found the most success racing in the Craftsman Truck Series.
In his Craftsman career, he has a pair of top ten points finishes for the years 1999 and 2000. Through fourteen years of professional racing (through 2004), he has a total of 8 wins and 110 top 10 race finishes.
Kenny debuted on the Winston Cup circuit in 1990 but began racing the Busch Series in 1988. He competed with his brothers on numerous occasions and continues to have a great deal of success on all three circuits, including Busch, Nextel Cup, and Craftsman Truck.
During his first six years in professional racing, he finished in the top ten in total points five of those years. He also finished in second place in just his third year on the circuit. Through seventeen years of professional racing (through 2004), he has a total of 9 career victories and 172 top 10 finishes.
*Russ Wallace worked as a dealership mechanic, newspaper carrier, and co-owner of a vacuum and janitorial supply business in south St. Louis while teaching his sons the ropes of auto racing.
*Even their mother, Judy, raced cars on the Powder Puff circuit.