The Wallaces-Steve the driver and Rusty the team owner-will compete full-time in the Busch
Nineteen-year-old Steve Wallace is a rising star in the world of stock car racing, and he is coming up the old-fashioned way, through hard work and dedication. Most of all, he's doing it Rusty's way.
Rusty Wallace has been around for so long that a lot of people tend to forget that he wasn't always the superstar that he had become by the time he quit driving after the '05 season. Rusty started racing in the early '70s around Missouri, and it wasn't with a well-funded team. It was a family owned operation that his father, Russ, had started. Rusty did the majority of the work on the car himself, learning how a race car actually worked and what he had to do as a driver to make it go faster. He also learned that when he tore the car up on the racetrack, it wasn't a matter of going back to the shop and getting another car. He had to fix it himself.
He learned quickly. Over a five-year span, he garnered over 200 feature wins on the short tracks of the Midwest. In 1979, Rusty raced in his first national racing series, USAC, where he was named Rookie of the Year after winning five races and finishing Second in the point standings. His showing in USAC caught the eye of Roger Penske, and Wallace got a one-off deal to race in the Atlanta 500 for Penske. Wallace started Seventh and finished Second to Dale Earnhardt.
Through practice, Steve has become more at ease in the spotlight.
The early success just whetted Wallace's appetite to compete on the Winston Cup level, but he couldn't find a competitive ride. Four races in 1981 and three in 1982 didn't produce the kind of excitement that his first race did.
In the meantime, he was still honing his skills on the Midwest's short tracks, running on the ultra-competitive American Speed Association tour. Week after week, he butted heads with some of the best short track drivers in the country, still racing his own car and keeping it in racing condition himself. Drivers like Bob Senneker, Mark Martin, Mike Eddy, Alan Kulwicki, Dick Trickle, and Butch Miller were the guys Rusty had to race and beat every week. In 1983, Wallace won the ASA championship, and that was his stepping stone to a permanent ride in Winston Cup.
"I learned a lot in ASA." says Rusty. "I hung out with smart guys like Larry Phillips and Pete Hamilton. They taught me a lot about how to set up a car for the variety of tracks that we raced on. They taught me lessons that I used all throughout my career."
For the next two years, Wallace drove for Cliff Stewart with limited success. A total of four Top 5's and points finishes in the Top 20 weren't enough to keep Rusty with the Stewart team. For the '86 season, Wallace joined forces with former drag racer Raymond Beadle. That association brought the team five straight Top 10 points finishes, 18 victories, and the Winston Cup championship in 1989. In 1991, Wallace returned to the Penske fold and began a relationship with that organization and the Miller Brewing Company that earned him a place in the NASCAR record books and a sure entry into the Hall of Fame. Between the efficiency of the Penske organization and Wallace's ability to set up the car, the team gained 37 victories, 13 Top 10 points finishes, and an IROC championship.
Steve spent a couple of very productive years in Late Model competition.
While Rusty was chasing glory on the NASCAR trail, he and his wife, Patti, were also busy raising a family. Steve, the youngest of the three Wallace children, seemed to be the one bitten by the racing bug the hardest. Rusty encouraged Steve on his racing path, but he was determined that his son would learn about racing from the ground up.
"When I was growing up, my dad and Bobby Allison were my heroes," Rusty says. "And I saw the way that Bobby brought Davey into racing. He did it not by giving Davey all of the best equipment he could buy, but by showing Davey how to build or make everything that he needed on the race car. Davey put a lot of hours in at the shop before he was ever allowed to get into a car at the racetrack. I did the same thing, and that's the way I wanted Steve to learn."
Steve started racing at the age of 11 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in a Bandolero car and quickly moved up to Legends Cars. Between 1998 and 2002, he was one of the winningest drivers in those series. He won multiple national championships, the Summer Shootout Series at Lowe's Motor Speedway (twice), and the Winter Shootout at Lowe's, along with track championships at Concord Motorsport Park. While Steve was learning the art of driving a race car in the Legends and Bandoleros, he was also learning the mechanical side of racing as he helped prepare older brother Greg's car on the tough Late Model circuits in the Southeast.
The time Steve spent with Greg on the NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series and the UARA-STARS circuit convinced Steve that Late Models were surely the next step in his young career.