In the 12 years I was with the American Speed Association, I was privileged to become acquainted with a lot of drivers and others who went on to fame with NASCAR. We’ve already talked about Dick Trickle, Darrell Waltrip, and Kenny Wallace. This time the subject is Kenny’s older brother, Rusty.
First off, I have to dispute Rusty’s claim that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. gave him the nickname ‘Rubberhead’ after that tumble at Talladega. We were calling him that years before, when he had a real ‘do’ for a haircut, and it may have been Trickle who hung it on him.
That aside, he was another one of those who, when he came into ASA, obviously had a ton of talent and a lot of drive. We were and are friends, but there were a couple of times when it was a rather rocky relationship. Our goals were sometimes at cross purposes. Rusty wanted to win, and I wanted to make sure things were done right.
The one occasion when we disagreed most strongly came on the mile at Milwaukee on a restart.
I can’t recall the exact year, just that it was in the early 1980s, but it’s still very clear in my mind.
Rusty was in second place while we were getting ready to restart. The start-finish line at Milwaukee is way down the front straightaway, much closer to the first turn than the fourth.
We didn’t do double-file restarts in those days. As the field came off the turn and the pace car headed for the pits, I had the green ready and was just waiting for the right time to throw it. Before I could, Rusty drops to the inside and passes the leader.
Now, calling off the restart in a situation like this when everybody is accelerating already can be pretty dangerous. You’re asking for a disastrous pileup. So, I went ahead and threw the green, then advised Race Control that Mr. Wallace was about to see a black one the next time around.
They asked what I wanted them to tell him, and I said just make him stop in the pits and then send him back out. This was ASA’s first stop-and-go penalty.
When I showed him the black flag, Rusty appeared to tell me I was his favorite flagman; at least I thought it was a “You’re number one” signal.
He did the stop-and-go and, by choice, we avoided each other until the next race, at Springfield, MO. I may have exacerbated the situation at the drivers’ meeting in Missouri after Rex Robbins told me to explain it. At that meeting, I coined a phrase similar to one made famous by comedian Ron White. I told them I was up there looking out for all of them, and trying to make sure things were done properly, but there was nothing I could do about stupidity.
Rusty was not happy with that remark, and we did discuss it that day.
He came around to my way of thinking a year later at that same Milwaukee Mile.
When getting ready for another restart, with the yellow lights off and the light on the pace car turned off, a spotter said, “Stay yellow, stay yellow! We’ve had a wreck in Turn 3!”
I saw Rusty’s car and another come in on the wreckers, and naturally when the race was over I went to find out what happened.
This time, Rusty was way back in the field after a long pit stop, and he decided to pick up a few positions before he got around to me. He pulled out of line and started passing cars heading into the third turn.
Unfortunately, as he came around the turn, he encountered a car which had also pulled out of line, but which wasn’t moving near as fast as he was.
The result was pretty dramatic, as you can imagine.
I didn’t get much satisfaction out of hearing Rusty say, “My fault.”
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