In addition to his role of...
In addition to his role of team owner, Rusty will be a television commentator for ESPN this season.
The ARCA season wasn't all roses. A late accident during the August race at Michigan, where he had won the previous year, knocked him out of contention after running up front most of the day. The frustration of losing was evident, though, when Steve threw his helmet out of the car as he stopped in the garage area.
The tantrum drew a lot of negative media attention and embarrassed Steve and the team, but he says that he has learned from it. "I know that I have a temper," he says. "I just want to win so bad that it's stupid. I pulled down between the garages so that nobody could see me, but they turned the in-car camera on me. You don't realize how hard it is when something like that wreck took us out. I know it's not right, and I'm trying to learn to keep control."
With his success in ARCA, Steve had to face the national media quite often last year, so he is working on improving his media skills. Rusty has hired Marty Reid, a media consultant, to work with Steve, using mock press and television interviews to sharpen those skills. By the end of the season, Steve was much more open and relaxed when meeting the press.
Wallace's limited Busch Series schedule was not as successful as the ARCA run, but it still served as a valuable learning experience. In his 17 Busch Series starts, Steve failed to grab any Top 10 finishes.
"It's a completely different deal than ARCA," says Rusty. "In the Busch Series you're not only competing against the other drivers, but you're also racing against all of the resources of a lot of the Nextel Cup teams. It's a lot tougher."
The so-called "Buschwackers"-Cup drivers who race Busch-dominate the series these days, and Steve has an opinion on that.
Steve competed in 17 Busch...
Steve competed in 17 Busch events last year but recorded no Top 10's.
"Well, I would prefer not to race with them, for obvious reasons," says Steve, "but they are not going to go away. Besides, you have to race against people who are at a higher level than you if you want to get better."
Getting better was what the entire '06 season was about for Rusty and Steve Wallace. In order to improve Steve's road course abilities, Rusty hired Boris Said as a coach. They took one of Rusty's Busch Series cars, moved some of the rollbars around so they could install a LaJoie seat on the right-hand side, installed a two-way radio system so the two drivers could talk back and forth, and then took the car to Virginia International Raceway for a test session.
First, Boris took the driver's seat to show Steve the braking and shifting points, turn apexes, and so forth. Then, for the afternoon session, it was Steve driving and Said in the right-hand seat advising. The unusual session seemed to work well, as by the end of the day Steve was only a couple of tenths off of Said's best lap.
For 2007, it will be a full season in the Busch Series, driving all of the races for his father, and Steve is realistic about what he needs to do.
"Our top goal for 2007 is to get into the Top 10 in points," Steve says. "It's not realistic to think that I can win the championship in my first full year. Last year, we were an 8th to 13th place car at most of the races. That we can improve."
"We are not going to do anything related to Nextel Cup this season," Rusty says. "We are concentrating on bringing the Busch team to the top of the series. Maybe in 2008 we may take a look at running Steve in a few Cup races, but not before then."
For his part, Steve is taking a mature viewpoint on his progression.
The RWI Dodge was left battered...
The RWI Dodge was left battered in the Busch finale at Homestead. Photo by Penny Holder
"I don't want to go to Cup right now," he says. "I'm not ready for that yet. I'm just 19 years old. There will be plenty of time for that later."
As we walk through the beautiful 60,000-square-foot Rusty Wallace Inc. race shop, Steve is still in his work clothes, smudged with dirt and grease.
"I'm here every day," he says. "It's important for everyone in the shop. They know that I get right down there on the cars with them. We're all friends here; we hang out after work and everything. It's the friendship base that builds the trust in the team. We all work together, and it's like everybody feels like we own the team together."
Outside, work continues on a 22,000-square-foot expansion that will house the fabrication shop.
"Racing has just gotten so expensive," Rusty says as he surveys the progress. "When I won the Winston Cup title in 1989, our budget for the full year was $750,000. Last year it cost us $200,000 per race in the Busch Series. It's kind of crazy, isn't it?"
Then Rusty smiles and says, "It's OK. I don't mind spending the money. He's my kid. That's what's number one."