Auto Racing: Rusty Wallace eager for visit to Grundy County Speedway
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org July 18, 2013 9:50PM
Rusty Wallace celebrates his victory in the 1983 ARTGO Fall Nationals at Grundy County Speedway. | Photo courtesy of Stan Kalwasinski
Full program, 7:30 p.m.
Grundy County Speedway: ARCA Midwest Tour 100-lap Wayne Carter Classic, 7 p.m.
Illiana Speedway: Full program (Kids Night), 7 p.m.
Updated: August 20, 2013 6:39AM
Thirty years ago, Rusty Wallace won an ARTGO race at Grundy County Speedway.
It was one of many victories that season that helped propel the young Midwest star into the NASCAR spotlight — and eventually into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Rusty’s son, Steve Wallace, said he didn’t know about this sort of neat anniversary until I mentioned it to him in a phone conversation we had Thursday regarding his own upcoming appearance at Grundy in Friday night’s ARCA Midwest Tour Wayne Carter Classic.
“That’s pretty cool,” a surprised, but not shocked Wallace said with a chuckle. “Dad won a lot of short-track races back in the day, here and all over.
“To come here and race is definitely cool. We definitely need a win right now.”
The 100-lap event highlights a program that starts an hour earlier than usual (7 p.m.), and also features the SCAG Power Equipment Midwest Trucks Series and the Grundy street stockers. Rusty Wallace also will make an appearance to sign autographs and do a meet-and-greet with 300 randomly selected fans.
Steve Wallace, 26, seemingly was headed right in his dad’s tire tracks in 2011, finishing in the top 10 in points in the Nationwide Series for the third straight season. That year he also made his Sprint Cup debut in the Daytona 500.
The progression, however, stopped there, and in 2012 his career went haywire when he lost his sponsorship — and momentum — and had to shut down his Nationwide team.
This year Wallace is trying to turn things around with a new short-track car and a four-race deal to run in the NASCAR Truck Series. He raced in one Nationwide event, finishing 25th at Charlotte.
“We’re still kind of in the haywire stage, to be honest,” Wallace said. “It’s a blast being able to do this stuff — short-track racing is definitely way more fun than all of the Nationwide stuff, and having to put up with people criticizing you, and this and that. It’s definitely a whole different atmosphere.
“I’d really, really like to get back into NASCAR. We’re trying to hopefully get back in the Nationwide stuff, but it’s really hard, man, it’s just really hard to find a bunch of money. It’s a tough game out there now.”
Rusty Wallace won 55 Cup races, the series title in 1989 and made nearly $50 million during his NASCAR career, which began in 1980 and ended in 2005. He won at least one Cup race for 16 consecutive seasons. He’s in his eighth season as a racing analyst for ABC/ESPN.
Wallace was a short-track force throughout the Midwest and south from the late 1970s through early ’80s. He did find rides for nine NASCAR races from 1980 through ’83, but was more noted for his success on the ARTGO, ASA and All-Pro circuits.
Wallace was victorious at Grundy on Oct. 9, 1983, in the ARTGO Fall Nationals.
“As far as the race, it’s hard to remember that,” Wallace said. “But I remember the track. I remember the shape of the track and I remember going to the track, driving through a cornfield.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been there. I’m looking forward to going back to my roots. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of good people that I know I’m going to recognize when I get there.”
Winning the ARGTO event at Grundy was of many checkered flags he carried in 1983.
“That was a good year for me,” Wallace said. “I won the American Speed Association championship, and that championship is what propelled me into NASCAR, got me my big break driving Cup cars.
“Wins like I had at Grundy and wins like I had at different race tracks and in that series is what got the attention of a guy named Cliff Stewart, who said, ‘Man, this guy is really getting it done in the ASA series. I’m going to give him a shot at driving my car.’ That’s where it all started.”
It went a long way, to be sure.