Full throttle with Kenny Wallace
NASCAR fans know who Kenny Wallace is. Youngest of the three Wallace brothers, Kenny’s career in racing spans nearly three decades, as chronicled in his new biography, “Inside Herman’s World”. He’s open, honest, sincere, passionate, sensitive and funny, in person and on those pages, as I found out during our interview at Infineon Raceway last month.
Kenny doesn’t hold anything back when he talks about his intense love for his wife and daughters, his hyperactivity, his relationships with his father, Russ Wallace (a very successful racer in his time), his older brothers, Rusty and Mike (also racers), his career and his dreams. His book is full of information that many fans and even friends didn’t know about Kenny, from how he got the nickname “Herman” to his relationships with other drivers and his search for affirmation from his family.
Currently Kenny drives the #78 Furniture Row Chevrolet in the NASCAR Nextel Cup series and co-hosts Speed Channel’s NASCAR This Morning, a pre-race show broadcast before each Cup race. He is also known as the “go-to guy” in the garage because of his willingness to help out teams that need a substitute driver. But most importantly, Kenny is a racecar driver.
“About three years ago I went on the Dave Despain show, WindTunnel, and he said something, it was a good question, he said ‘now Kenny, what are you? Are you a TV guy or are you a racecar driver?'” Kenny said, “I wasn’t mad at him but I thought it was odd and then I thought well, I’ll be goddamned, here I’m still racing, I’m in the Daytona 500, I’m lined up, you know, I’m racing and he asked me that. And so I thought, well, if Dave Despain wants to know what am I, a racecar driver or a TV guy, maybe I need to make sure I *@#*ing drive it down everybody’s throat so they don’t forget, ya know what I mean?” he said, punctuated by his famous laugh.
His work as a broadcaster has earned Kenny the respect of his peers, especially his interviews in the garage area. “The drivers really like me interviewing them because they know I’m in the driver’s union,” Kenny said. “Mark Martin (driver of the #01 Army Chevrolet) is no nonsense and he makes me feel the best about our shows. He says, ‘ya know, Herm, I love your show the best because you guys make sure everybody out there knows really what’s going on’.”
Kenny’s honest commentary, backed with his first-hand knowledge of how to set-up and drive racecars, pulls no punches. For example, when talking about Carl Edwards’ long stretch of races (52) before winning again, Kenny said, “Well, it’s not cuz he has forgot how to drive, it’s either cuz his team’s been suffering, and we’re up against some of the toughest competition in the history of NASCAR. I can explain some of those things, and the drivers like that. But they also don’t like the part where we gotta say what’s wrong with the team. We all know what’s wrong with the teams, it’s just all up to the teams to fix it.”
Whether he ‘makes the show’ or not, Kenny really enjoys his broadcasting duties and is a fan favorite. “The reason I do TV is because, and I’m being honest with you, it’s so damn easy. I can’t believe I get paid to do it!” Kenny said with a laugh. “It’s like going to the bar and taking out the cuss words!” His entertaining antics and wealth of knowledge have made him very popular, something he recognizes with mixed feelings. “Even if I am popular, I prefer not to know it because the flip side is, if you know you’re popular, then everybody hates you and I don’t want to be hated, so I’d rather just not know anything about my popularity,” Kenny said solemnly.
But when I told him I believed he had a broad fan base without the fanaticism that follows some drivers, such as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, Kenny responded, “I like that, I like that a lot, because hopefully they like me for me.” He added, “the people that like me like me for Kenny, they don’t like me obviously cuz I don’t run good as I used to anymore, so sometimes people like you because you can hit a baseball good or you can catch a football and that’s not the proper way to be liked.”
That sentiment covers his relationships with other drivers too. “I said something last week to Kenny Schrader (driver of the #21 Little Debby Ford) I’ve never said before,” Kenny continued. “I said, ‘you know, Schrader, I like racecar drivers because they’re good people. I don’t like racecar drivers that win and are mean.’ If you’re mean, I just don’t like you, I don’t care if you win, I don’t care who you are.”
With a background that includes stints as a crew chief, mechanic and driver, I asked Kenny what he would change about his past, if given the opportunity. Kenny said he would have been more careful about the teams he chose to drive for early in his career.
“There was a day when I used to think that raw driving talent was what made these cars go fast,” Kenny said, “so I took some rides early in my career, thinking that I could do it. I would have made sure that I got hooked up with better teams and held out and said no to some teams. I was just happy to get a Cup ride no matter what the hell it was and I should have waited.”
There is a lot more to Kenny Wallace than meets the eye and his biography gives fans a look into the life of one of NASCAR’s most entertaining drivers. “Inside Herman’s World” is currently available at http://www.kennywallace.com or at http://www.coastal181.com.
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