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Published: Friday, 6/29/2007

Wallace family squabbles in NASCAR

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MILWAUKEE - The tension might be typical of any father and teenage son, particularly when both have a stubborn streak. But it's a little more intense in the Wallace family, where those father-son squabbles play out on live TV at triple-digit speeds.

Former NASCAR star Rusty Wallace says he just wants to help his son learn how to turn raw speed into respectable results during his first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series.

But 19-year-old Steve Wallace says his father's sudden success as a driver in the mid-1980s has bred unrealistic expectations.

"The thing he doesn't understand is, when he was winning all those races, there weren't 43 cars that could win," Steve Wallace said. "There were, like, five."

He knows his father's team, Rusty Wallace Inc., gives him good cars, good engines and a good pit crew. What he really wants is a little more slack.

"He doesn't understand all the time that it's not me," Steve Wallace said. "I give 110 percent all the time. Sometimes the cars, they don't handle."

The younger Wallace has won two pole positions, but his best finish in 17 races so far is 12th.

"He's the youngest of everybody here," said Rusty Wallace, the 1989 Cup champion who retired after the 2005 season. "And he's probably got a bigger foot than anybody here. But he's got a lot to learn in terms of patience."

The younger Wallace's most notorious moment came June 16 at Kentucky Speedway, when he wrecked Busch Series points leader Carl Edwards while trying to take the lead.

The incident didn't endear the younger Wallace to fellow drivers - some of whom Rusty said already might be concerned that Steve has a mild form of Tourette's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes his eyes to blink involuntarily.

"We were concerned about that early, but it's grown to be a nonexistent issue," Rusty Wallace said.

Steve Wallace said his medical condition doesn't bother him on or off the track. The incident with Edwards, he said, is just a sign that he still has to learn when to take chances.

"I need to calm down a little bit," Steve said. "Everybody knows I can go fast."

As he watches his son try to find his way on the track, Rusty doesn't plan on pulling punches - not as his father, not as his team owner and not as a TV analyst for ESPN.

"I said, 'You know, I might rough you up a little bit, but I've got to tell you the truth,'•" Rusty said. "And I can't get on television and be covering for my kid all the time and sound stupid, you know."

"It's just like any dad," Steve said. "You're going to butt heads as you get older."

Take, for example, Rusty's reaction to Steve buying a 200-mph Ducati motorcycle.

"I took the keys, and I locked it up," Rusty said. "He said, 'You can't do that. I'm 18, and I paid for it with my own money.'•"

Rusty is sending the bike back to the dealer.

"He sometimes thinks me and his mom are the biggest pain in the [rear] in the world, because we won't let him have enough fun," Rusty said.

Fun? That's where Rusty's brother, NASCAR class clown Kenny Wallace, comes in. Kenny has taken over as Steve's spotter for most of the remaining races this season, with hopes that Steve will be more receptive to advice coming from his favorite uncle. In contrast to Rusty's dead-serious demeanor, Kenny Wallace said he and Steve share a common bond - hyperactivity.

"He always seems to be in trouble - kind of like I was," Kenny said, laughing.

Despite the bickering, Rusty beams with pride when he talks about Steve's potential. Rusty brags that Busch Series director Joe Balash stopped by at the Milwaukee Mile last weekend to give Steve a pep talk in the wake of his crash with Edwards.

"He said, 'You know what? If I was in your shoes, I probably would have done it again. People have been beating you up all week. I just wanted to let you know that you're doing a great job,'•" Rusty said.



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