The Frontstretch: Kenny Wallace Driver Diary: Improvement, Mexico, and Playing in the Dirt by Kenny Wallace -- Friday April 25, 2008

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When I went to Jay Robinson Racing, it caught a lot of people off guard. I even had Marcos Ambrose say to me, “How is it to drive for an under-funded team?” when I talked to him at Phoenix. I said to him that I don’t think anyone else would have taken this ride, but we have good cars, and Jay Robinson is a really good guy and I feel like we can go places with this team.

I’m really comfortable where I am. I really like the leadership role that I have. The team looks to me to help make them better. I like being a leader. I usually don’t work very well when someone tells me what to do, because I don’t get to use my talent. We were able to bring my crew chief, Rick Gay, over from Fitz Racing, and he brought over a couple of guys that he knows of. We’ve got the car handling pretty decent. We had two big areas we had to work on. The first thing we have to do is get the cars handling as good as we can. Then, the second thing we have to do is work on areas that we can control, like making aerodynamics as good as we can.

We’re building two new cars right now. One of them is almost done. We’d like t have it ready for Darlington, but it looks more like it’s going to be Dover. The other one is going to be a new short track car and we will have that one ready for St. Louis.

I think that right now, we have about a 25th to 26th place racecar. That’s because right now, we’re down on horsepower. The reason that they’re low on horsepower is because, even though our engines are good pieces and the parts are new in them, they are still motors from last year and they have not been fitted to this brand-new restrictor plate that we run every single week. Then, the other thing we have to look at is that in order to start running better, we’ve got to have way better pit stops. Right now we have come close to having the slowest pit stops in the series.

I’m really excited to make our guys better. Also, in return, they make me better. They don’t know it, but this team is bringing out the best in me.

Kenny Wallace signs autographs before the race in Mexico.

The trip to Mexico is actually just fine, but then we sometimes find ourselves saying, “Why are we here?” The first time we went down there, there were 70,000-80,000 people at the race. But there is no doubt that that has gone down every time we have gone since then. I’ve talked to some of the top TV people in the sport and they have told me that the crowds have gone down every year. There are a lot of empty seats. The reason we were told that we go there is to help build the Latino fan base. I don’t see that base building. I know one reason we’re there is NASCAR is making a lot of money. They do pay the series good-the last place guy made $40,000, and that’s probably about the best there is at any track we run. I don’t think the budgets are big enough in this series to go down there. I’d rather see us at tracks like Newton, Iowa, tracks like that right here that can help different regions of the United States out and we know they’re going to pack them in. I have had a good time down there, though.

My dirt racing is something that I started about three or four years ago. I had never run dirt in my life. Although, I have to say that I won my very first race in 1982 on a one-mile dirt track in Springfield, Illinois, but I didn’t really start racing until 1986-that was a one-time deal. The real story of how I started dirt racing is this: I was scared to death that I was going to end my racing career without running any dirt. That just really bothered me. You get all these great racecar drivers, like Tony Stewart and Jeff Burton who were great dirt racers and I really wanted to try it.

Dirt racing is like potato chips-you can’t put it down. I know for a fact there will be a time when I have to slow my obsession down. My wife is on me all the time about racing the dirt car too much. She’s right about that-I sometimes do race it too much. The only thing I’m guilty of in dirt racing is taking too much time away from my family. But as far as driving the dirt car, I’ve had a couple of really good crew chiefs say that it’s made me a better driver. One was Chris Rice, and the other is my crew chief right now, Rick Gay. Especially when I was driving the Furniture Row team, I needed a release; I needed an outlet, so that was really good for me. I read that Martin Truex, Jr. gets up at like 6:30 and goes fishing, there are a lot of drivers that go golfing, Dale Jr. says that he plays on his computer all the time. What I do for a hobby is drive my dirt car.

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