Amy Henderson · Thursday March 3, 2005
Part of the fun of being a race fan, at least for me, is the fact that every time there are cars (or trucks) on the track, history is made in some small way. Good thing too, or else I’d have to find a new title for my column. Some of that history might not be earth-shattering, glue-you-to-the-TV, this-may-never-happen-again, history changing history. But every additional win recorded by a veteran, every first win by a rookie, every on-track vendetta or strange victory celebration has a story behind it, to give it meaning.
For a long time, part of that fabric of stories has been woven by Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. Long before either was a household name, their fate was intertwined from the bullrings of the Midwest to NASCAR’s biggest superspeedways. Both drivers began their final season at NASCAR’s highest level this year. They will be missed for a long time coming.
Martin and Wallace are as different as two drivers can be. Martin has spent his career rather quietly, making noise on the track but never louder than necessary to get the job done. Wallace is more outgoing, on track and off. Where Martin is likely to get past by running the low line, smooth, lap after lap, Wallace is a master blocker and as adept as anyone at the bump and run. Both are usually in contention at the end of a race, and neither one backs down until they’ve passed the checkered flag.
By the numbers, Wallace has 54 victories and 36 poles at the Nextel Cup level, Martin 33 wins and 41 poles. Wallace was the then-Winston Cup Rookie-of-the-Year in 1984. Martin is a 4-time International Race of Champions (IROC) champion. Wallace is the 1989 Cup champ, Martin may be written into the history books as the best driver never to win the championship, although a penalty and the resulting point fine effectively took one from him. Martin is the winningest driver in NASCAR Busch Series history. Wallace’s mark on that series may be as a car owner, a role in which he is in his second stint. The first time around, his team fell just 74 points shy of the series championship (the team owner of the championship team was fellow driver Terry Labonte. Both were fielding cars driven by their younger brothers.) in 1991.
Martin and Wallace have been on-track rivals since both were racing on tracks around the Midwest. By accounts, Martin, whose team was well-known for their almost obsessive attention to detail, drove Wallace crazy with this virtue. Wallace, on the other hand, really got to the detail-oriented Martin by arriving late for practice at many tracks on Friday nights, due to the necessity of having to wait for his brother/mechanic, Kenny, to finish his day at high school, and then running as well as anyone in heat races and features.
Both drivers enter the next chapter of their racing lives in support of their sons. Stephen Wallace and Matt Martin are just beginning to make names for themselves in racing. Both have interests in NASCAR: Martin is co-owner of Matt Kenseth’s Nextel Cup Series team, Wallace is a partner in Penske Racing South and owner of a Busch Series team.
Growing up in Batesville, Arkansas, Martin leaned to drive at the tender age of five by standing on his father’s lap and steering while Dad kept the gas pedal pushed to the floor. As a teenager, he was known to the local police for keeping the pedal to the floor himself. Wallace was known to the local police in Missouri for building a bomb in the backyard trash can, and to many local newspaper readers for being less than diligent about the paper route he shared with his younger brothers. Both had goofy hair once upon a time.
Both entered NASCAR in the 1980’s, racing their own teams, but had to wait for success later with teams owned by someone else. Each has since left his mark of excellence at every left turn. Both will be missed, neither forgotten. Both are, and will be, history.
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