12 Questions with Kenny Wallace (2022) - Fix Bdsthanhhoavn

12 Questions with Kenny Wallace (2022)

Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Kenny Wallace, the former NASCAR driver who continues to regularly run dirt races. Wallace is a native and resident of the St. Louis area, which hosts its first NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.

1. How do you feel about people reclining their seats on airplanes?

(Laughs) You know, that’s a double-edged sword. When you want yours reclined, you want it reclined. And then when you’re behind them, you don’t want them to recline it. So it’s give and take.

Do you wait to see what somebody else does before you take action?

Although if you make me mad I can be mean, I don’t want any drama at the airport. That is the very reason I quit NASCAR on TV early in my career. That process of going to that airport and fighting all those people and then getting off that airplane and getting your rental car and getting to the hotel and being alone by yourself every night? It’d take a grown man down. There’s technique to all that fighting and traveling and getting my luggage up there. And I don’t want anything to do with that stuff anymore. That is truly the hell tour. (Laughs)

2. How often do you get recognized at the grocery store?

My hometown of Arnold, Missouri, they are very good to me. I’ve been back six years and I was gone 27 years. People are very nice to me at home. I love living in Arnold. Every restaurant I go to, they always meet me with like, “Hey, Kenny!” And all the time in St. Louis, people are really nice to me. And I enjoy that.

It’s kind of like the whole town is your version of “Cheers” or something?

I’m good for the community and they know that. I don’t have a mean bone in my body. I’ll give my opinion on some things, but that don’t mean I’m mean. So they’re good to me.

3. On a scale of one to 10, how good are you at replying to text messages in a timely manner?

Ten. I’m very good. Some people text me and I respond and they want to do that deal where they respond an hour later. I think a lot of people do that to make themselves feel important. I’m not saying I know for a fact, I just really feel like a lot of people are busy being famous. And they see it and they go “Oh, just let that sit there for a little bit to make the people think I’m busy.” (Laughs)

4. What is the best way to get out of a conversation with someone who won’t stop talking?

That’s a great question, because I deal with that at the racetracks. A lot of people walk up to me at racetracks while I’m working on my dirt car. I try to give them 30 seconds. They can clearly see I’m working. It depends what the situation is, but if I’ve got my firesuit on and I’m working on my race car and somebody wants to tell me about their grandma or grandpa, I listen for about 30 seconds and I’m like, “OK, I gotta go. I gotta get my car ready. My race is getting ready to start.” That’s my go-to.

I can see why people would feel you’re so approachable, because you’re so nice. Everybody loves you. But then sometimes you have things to do.

There’s a big misconception out there and there’s an article that just came out. Dick Berggren wrote it, it’s in “Speedway Illustrated” and it’s about Kenny Wallace’s final ride. And what I really like about Dick is he gets it right in here, because a lot of people forget I’m a mechanic/crew chief first. In 1984, I was the crew chief on Joe Ruttman’s Levi Garrett car. So anyway, there’s a piece in here that says, “Kenny Wallace does it all on his car, from airing the tires up to working on the carburetor.”

I think all those years on TV, there’s a group that doesn’t realize my history. They think I’m just a race car driver, and specifically just a NASCAR driver where I don’t do anything (on the car). I’d say me and Bobby Labonte are a lot alike; we came up as crew members and then we became race car drivers. So I have things to do at the racetrack.

5. If you could pick only one form of social media to use and drop all of the rest, which would it be?

Gosh, darn it. I’m struggling with that right now. The way the story goes is I threatened (to quit social media) about a year ago and all of a sudden my phone rang and I looked down and it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. Usually we just text each other. It shocked me, because he’s famous and although we’re friends, we just text. And he goes, “Hey, man, don’t leave social media. I like to hear what you have to say. However, if you do, stick with Instagram because our our studies find that Instagram is the best quality.”

However, I do like pushing on that little hourglass on Twitter because I can see all the news. You know what’s going on. I really struggle with social media because it does put me in a bad mood and fills my head with bad vibes. I’m struggling with it. And Instagram is fun. Nobody argues with you.

But I gotta answer it this way: I would stay with Twitter, because I can simply get everything I need to get. You know, Facebook is horrible. It’s like the National Enquirer, the (Facebook) news section. Clickbait is one thing, and I might do the same thing when I put something on YouTube — you know, to get a headline for people to click on it. But I’m not vicious like Facebook is. They’re God awful! At least Twitter is a real article. So I’d probably have to, as of right now, keep Twitter only. Because if I’m wanting to know what’s up, I can go there and see the news.

I was really looking forward to your answer on this question, because I feel like we’ve had somewhat of a similar journey with the social media stuff. Back in 2010, we both spoke at this social media motorsports conference. It was like all the early adopters, and it was so refreshing because everybody was pretty nice on Twitter, and there wasn’t like a lot of trolls or meanness. It’s obviously changed. But I still see you engaging all the time. And I’m tempted to just be like, “the hell with this” sometimes. Why have you stayed? How come you haven’t quit Twitter?

Well, let’s be clear. This is breaking news right now with me: If you have followed me over the last two or three weeks, I’m off of it. I went totally to YouTube. Because what I found is I do have an opinion about everything. And I found that YouTube gives me a long format. Anything I say on Twitter, people are gonna bash anybody. I’ve studied that people talk horribly to Kevin Harvick, horribly to anybody. Everybody talks bad to everybody. There’s no exceptions.

So if you look over my last three weeks, all I’m doing is posting what I’m putting on YouTube. And that’s because I would go to bed and those arguments would be in my head. Social media was affecting my brain, affecting my quality of life. And I feel like I’m strong-minded. I feel like I can diagnose myself. I don’t need a therapist. I don’t need a psychiatrist, although I have been to a sports psychiatrist up in Topeka, Kansas, and it did help me (learn) how to justify things and made me better.

But I have people right now jumping on me: “Oh, you’re not strong enough to argue on Twitter.” And I won’t respond. So what I am doing now is I’ve got a good friend here in St. Louis, his name is Charlie Marlow. Charlie was on Channel 2 Sports here. And he said, “Herm, I know you don’t know anything about YouTube. But if you want to keep making your content, send it to me and I’ll edit it all up.” And so I took it from that and dreamed all this up on my own.

I’ve got to get out of those arguing ways. I used to argue because at first I thought it was fun-spirited. And I remember telling you 15 years ago: When I put a little “lol” that means it’s lighthearted. And hell, that don’t even work anymore, you know? So that’s my take right now.

6. What advice would you give someone who is having a hard time getting over a mistake they’ve made?

I just dealt with that with a close friend. I told him, “Listen, get in your car, roll the windows down, turn the music up. Do the speed limit. Just smile, man.” You know, I’ve lived by this. Listen, my NASCAR career did not go anywhere near the way I wanted. And I’ve been very open about it. I wanted to be Jeff Gordon. I wanted to be him. I’ve talked to him about it and he’s been very good to me about it. But Jeff crushed a lot of dreams in my era.

I changed my life around and I’ll tell this person my best quote I can give for people is this — “Tough times last awhile, tough people last forever.” That’s number one. But then the other one that really helps me is “Your life won’t change until you change your life.”

Now I’ve learned these things. The great thing about my life is I’m very clear to people: I don’t drink and I don’t tell anybody anything. I tell them my story. And that’s the one thing that really helped me was “Your life won’t change until you change your life.” You cannot wait for people to help you because everybody is dealing with issues.

There’s no way Elon Musk is perfect. There’s no way Warren Buffett is perfect. The wealthiest people in the world deal with moms and dads abandoning them. We’ve all got issues: Was my dad was mean to me? Was my mom mean to me? Am I not getting out of my career what I want? Nobody likes me. Divorces — we watch it play out with these marriages in NASCAR.

So life is a journey. That’s number one. You’ve got to realize we’re born and this is part of the journey. We’re not gonna go somewhere and stand on top of a mountain and go “I win!” I’ve been through a lot and I don’t wish what I went through on anybody. I’ve been made fun of because I wasn’t really good in NASCAR. That shit hurts. It hurts anybody. And even guys who have won championships right now in NASCAR, their feelings get hurt, too. I know that for a fact.

So we’re all vulnerable. There’s no exceptions to the rule. Tom Brady, you think that sumbitch has done it all. But no! He can’t quit, because it’s in his brain, you know? So it’s crazy. We’re all the same, and we just don’t know it.

7. This is a wild card question where I’m mixing it up for each different person. Obviously you’ve taken a step back from the NASCAR part of things, but you’re still racing quite a lot. So what is one thing from the dirt racing stuff that you wish you could bring to NASCAR?

When I was at NASCAR, it was more, more miserable than not. And I admitted that after my NASCAR career on that Dale Jr. podcast. The great thing I love about what I’m doing now is when you have a bad night, I give myself 15 minutes to pout and then I grab a beer. (Laughs)

In NASCAR, they can swallow you up and they can somewhat just kill your spirit. It’s the driver’s fault. It’s the motor man’s fault. It’s the pit crew’s fault. It’s all everybody’s fault in NASCAR. What I wish we could adopt in NASCAR — and I know we can’t, because there’s so much money and sponsorship involved — is just simmer down. That’s my new two words: Simmer down. That means it’s not life and death. And when I was in NASCAR, it was all life and death.

There were times in my NASCAR career where I truly thought I wasn’t worthy, that I was a horrible human being because I couldn’t get up to speed the way I wanted to. And somehow I survived that whole damn mess. But I wish all my friends — all my crew member buddies, they shaved their heads, they put those Oakley sunglasses on and they put the backpack on and they just remind me of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. They all march in step. They’re sitting at the gate at six in the morning, waiting for the gate to open and they rush in like a herd of cows.

I’m like, “Oh, God. I remember those days. I fucking hated them.” And I hate it for all my NASCAR friends, because they tell me how bad they hate it. But I just wish I could bring “simmer down.” Let’s take it down a couple notches. I know it’s a serious sport. I get it. And I know it requires a sense of misery because the stakes are so high. So it’ll never happen. But I’m just saying if I was to dream, that’s what I wish could happen.

8. If someone blatantly wrecked you to win a race, would you interrupt their victory celebration?

Absolutely not. It is not in my DNA. I would just wreck them back. And I did that. I’m not proud of any type of junky arguments. But listen, it was Earnhardt who taught me that it: It takes incredible patience.

I was very lucky in life from that standpoint. I grew up in the greatest era. I know I did. I came into NASCAR as a crew chief in ’84 and then I moved back to St. Louis. Went down (to North Carolina) in November of ’88. I got into NASCAR when it was skyrocketing and I got out of NASCAR when it was plummeting. And the one thing I learned about those days — Earnhardt specifically taught me — that Turn 3 at Phoenix, late in the year, just when they forget. Make sure they forget and make it count. Guys like Ricky Rudd and Earnhardt were the best at that. These kids now, they think they’ve gotta get you back the next week. Uh-uh. The best ones are the patient ones: “Why’d he do that?” “Well, remember six months ago?”

9. What movie do you think you’ve seen the most times in the last year?

This is gonna sound odd, but the one movie I don’t mind watching a couple times is “The Green Mile.” It’s a very good movie and at the end, maybe a day or two later, you realize you’ve been taught a lesson.

Basically, there’s this mouse and this guy. There’s a lot more to the storyline, but the bottom line is they just age and they won’t die. Everybody else dies, except them. And it starts out with Tom Hanks in a jail cell. And it’s just an incredibly good movie. It might change by the years, but right now off the top of my head, that’s the one I’ve watched two or three times and every time I watch it, it’s new.

10. When you think about NASCAR five years from now, what are you the most optimistic about and what worries you the most?

What I’m most optimistic about is they’ll find their way back to acceptance. In other words, where the story won’t be everything they’re doing wrong. For the last 15 years, they’ve done everything wrong. They built that track in Chicago. Wrong. They built that track in Kentucky and they mess it up. Wrong. They left Wilkesboro. They left Rockingham.

Life has come full circle. Now we realize there’s nothing wrong with 60,000 people in the grandstands and a great TV rating. We used to think the more the merrier. We thought it was awesome when there were 250,000 people every single week. And it was a clusterfuck. People couldn’t get in and out of the racetracks. And inevitably, that was the end of Kentucky. They didn’t have enough parking space, and they sold those tickets knowing they didn’t have enough parking space (for the inaugural race). I hope five years from now they’re finally back to being accepted and the storyline is not how bad NASCAR is. That’s what I really hope.

I think what concerns me the most is — I don’t want you to take this wrong; I don’t know what you are, Democrat or Republican — but I hope we get out of this political disaster. A lot of sports people are putting their two feet in and I hope that that’s gone. I hope it’s a distant memory. I really do. I remember my whole life, I didn’t know about politics. I didn’t know about it, didn’t care about it. Hell, I was 50 years old and didn’t even know about it. I’m 58. Hell, around 54 is when I first started paying attention to it. So I hope those days are gone. It’s been a fucking disaster — for you and me and everybody.

11. A magic genie appears and offers you the chance to go back to the beginning of your racing career and start all over. But there’s a catch: You get to retain all of the knowledge and experience you have now. So do you go back to the beginning and start over or do you stay in the present?

(Ken) Schrader once said, “I don’t want to do-over because I’m afraid I’ll mess it up.” I believe God put me on Earth to be me. I know I’m different. However, if I had a do-over, I just wish my very first race car would have been that No. 1 Pennzoil car (which he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. while substituting for the injured Steve Park). If my first ride would have been that car, I’d probably be another Denny Hamlin by now.

I misjudged how important equipment was, and we’re seeing that play out now with these cars equally prepared with guys like Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain. I believe in my ability. I’m not cocky about it. But by God, when I got in a good car, I showed up. You’re young, but they used to call me the “super sub” because anytime a great race car driver got hurt, they called me up and I’d perform. And I’m like, “Damn it, I wish I had that ride.” (Laughs)

So if I could go back and have a do-over, I wish my first car would have been that No. 1 Pennzoil car. Because when I drove that car and sat on the pole at Rockingham and led all those laps (Wallace led a career-high 101 laps in a second-place finish there in 2001), I’m convinced it extended my career another five years. I had a lot of people came up to me after that, like Mark Martin, and said “Herman, the car matters, doesn’t it?” I said, “It sure does.”

I had a lot of confidence early in my career and I thought it was all driver. I got a rude lesson in that it’s car and driver. We learned that with Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus and those great crew chief combinations. We see it in baseball and football, too.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one I did was with Conor Daly. He said there used to be more of a crossover of open-wheel drivers racing NASCAR, like Foyt and Andretti coming over. So his question is: If there’s a good NASCAR team that could give a good IndyCar driver an opportunity like in a Daytona 500, would you want to see that?

Absolutely, 110%. To this day, people say to me, “Herman, why do you run dirt?” And it took me a little bit to figure it out. But in my era, I watched A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. They’d win the Indy 500 and then a couple days later, they were down in Terre Haute, Indiana, at the Terre Haute Action Track, running dirt with goggles, an open-face helmet and handkerchief.

I think it’s absolutely fantastic. And what Kyle Larson is doing right now is reminding everybody of those days. Tony Stewart was that type of driver, but Tony didn’t enjoy going from track to track as much as Kyle Larson does. I think everybody needs to do it before they reach 30 to 35 years old, because I think you get set in your ways. If an IndyCar driver goes to NASCAR a little too late, it’s hard to adapt. I’ve seen that with Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell coming from World of Outlaws sprint cars. Steve Kinser won an IROC race. But the older you get, it gets harder to adapt.

So we watch what Kurt Busch did. He did it the other way. Kurt Busch went to Indy at a pretty young age and did something incredible. He finished sixth in Indy 500? You don’t see it the other way. Because an IndyCar is so tedious. They barely turn the wheel. You come to our cars, you’ve got to turn the wheel. It’s a lot to adapt to.

So the next interview I’m doing is with Carson Hocevar from the Truck Series. Do you have a question I might be able to ask him?

Yes. I’m very aware of him. I know what I want to ask him: Myself and Justin Allgaier found it hard to stay in the Cup Series. We found our home in the Xfinity Series. So is it life or death that you have to be in the Cup Series? Or are you OK with being in Truck or Xfinity, kind of like a Matt Crafton or a Kenny Wallace or a Justin Allgaier?

Thank you so much for taking all the time to do this and sharing some valuable advice.

Hey, I enjoyed it. Every once in awhile, the Hermanator needs therapy too, you know.

This was good for me. I’m going to reflect on a lot of the things you said about social media and taking things too seriously.

We’re all the same, man. I’m not teaching you nothing; all I’m doing is verifying. I’ll tell you this: the (former) president and CEO of McDonald’s, Ed Rensi, has always been a good friend of mine. I drove for him a little bit and he’s still my buddy. He said, “Kenny, don’t get on Twitter. It’s so toxic. It’s horrible. Stay away from Twitter.”

Sometimes we feel like Twitter is a necessary evil, and it is. But I’m learning how to control it, and that would be my message to you. It’s a necessary evil for you and Lee Spencer and all you (media). I’m trying to calm my cussing down, but it can be a motherfucker. So I’m learning to deal with it, to not engage and just to report news. Now, I read stuff. But it’s almost like I have a shock collar and as soon as I’m ready to respond — EHHH (imitates buzzer sound), no!

I’m so immune to so much crap. Once I realized they talk mean to Cassi Mitchell (Smith, wife of Marcus Smith) too, that told me all I needed to know. (Laughs) It’s a shitshow, my friend.

(Photo: Michael Allio / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)



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