CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Friday was a big night for the Wallace family, with Rusty Wallace being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Another one will come in May, when the race team owned by the 1989 NASCAR premier-series champion returns to the track.
Rusty Wallace Racing will attempt the spring NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the first step in what the organization hopes is a 10- to 15-race slate on the circuit. RWR shut down due to sponsorship issues following the 2011 season, mothballing what had been a two-car effort that placed drivers Steve Wallace and Michael Annett in the top 10 in final points.
Annett has since moved on to Richard Petty Motorsports, while Steve Wallace started one event last season at Richmond in a car he and crew chief Blake Bainbridge prepared by themselves. It's still a two-man show at RWR, but Steve thinks the team can learn from past mistakes and field a leaner yet still competitive effort if sponsorship comes along.
"The flow of everything is so much better," Steve said after his dad's induction. "You can sit back, focus, pick the races you want to run. Whereas before, I never really had that opportunity. I'm way more involved in stuff than I've ever been. I shamelessly say that, because my head should have been in the deal a lot more hardcore then, as it is now. I'm extremely focused on this stuff, because I've got to be. There's only two of us doing it."
The closure of RWR was a wake-up call for the younger Wallace, a driver who in the past has had a reputation for being hard on equipment. To compete in the race at Richmond International Raceway last season, he and Bainbridge obtained a car from Roush Fenway Racing and prepared it themselves. Wallace learned from the experience, bringing the vehicle home in 11th place -- and most importantly, with barely a scratch on it.
Now, Wallace said he and Bainbridge are working roughly 80 hours a week trying to get the scaled-down race team up and running again.
"The tower can tumble quick, and it did, and I learned a huge, valuable lesson from it, for sure," he said. "I'm way more appreciative of all the people who have helped me in the past, and the man hours that go into stuff. I've always worked on my cars, always been really hands-on with everything. But just not to this extent. I've got my fingers crossed, and I'm hoping and praying we can get about a 10-race deal. Because I'm telling you, if I was able to come back, I know I'd be able to knock all the bad vibe of me out. I could totally change some minds."
The Charlotte race has sponsorship from Richard Tocado Home Mortgages, and Wallace said he hopes his father's Hall of Fame induction will help attract more backing. He added that Rusty is a daily presence in the RWR shop, which has contracted from three buildings to one.
"We had three gigantic buildings," he said. "We were just stupid with it. We spent way too much money in the wrong areas. We had three giant race shops. We leased out a 20,000-square-foot shop on the left and about a 15,000-square-foot shop on the right. Now we're in the center building. Dad's office is in there, so he comes out probably 30 times a day. His head's in it a lot more now. It's a smaller deal, everything's packed in there good, and the whole flow of that race shop is real good."
If sponsorship comes through, Wallace said the team might be able to hire a few more people, but he doubts the organization would attempt more than a 15-race effort. The lessons learned from the team's shutdown, and the shorthanded effort prior to the Richmond race last year, have not been forgotten.
"Working that hard with just two guys showed me, I'm 95 percent sure we can do this deal with a much smaller budget, less people, and the whole nine yards," Steve Wallace said. "Because I think with the whole deal with the race team shutting down, we learned we can do a lot more with less. That was a big eye-opener."
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