Editors’ Note: We are excited to welcome Kenny Wallace to the Frontstretch Driver Diary lineup for 2008. Kenny is a three-time NASCAR Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver, and will offer his unique insight into all things racing this year. In addition to racing full time in the Nationwide Series, he co-hosts “NASCAR Race Day” on Speed Channel prior to every Nextel Cup Series race and keeps a busy schedule racing his dirt cars, a late model and a UMP modified.
Personally, it was a great offseason for me. We started off with Thanksgiving and we had me, my wife Kim, our three girls and the whole family over for dinner. I gave my family a speech. I stood up before dinner and told everybody that I hope I have to no longer invite anybody for Thanksgiving. We love having Thanksgiving and my wife is a great cook. We would always have this funny thing that would go on with my family where my brothers would say “Well, nobody called us. We weren’t invited.” So I gave them a little speech and I said that Thanksgiving is sacred to us because my Grandma always had dinner and we always went there. So we got that out of the way and said that Thanksgiving would always be at Kenny and Kim’s and that nobody needs to be invited ever again!
Then we went on our annual fan club cruise. It was a great cruise again. Next year we’ll go to Cabo San Lucas and Puerto Vallarta, so that will be a lot of fun. Then we had Christmas, which was a lot of fun, especially for the girls. They got their usual ton of clothes. All three of them love new clothes. We went to St. Louis for 10 days so we could see our friends and Kim’s family.
There were a couple of highlights this winter. One of them was visiting about half of Kim’s family, who live in Milwaukee. We went to Milwaukee for a day and then we went to Green Bay to watch the Packers play the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field. It was funny because everyone drinks their beer at like 9:00 a.m. because otherwise the beer would freeze. You had to wiggle it around so it wouldn’t freeze. Then after that we decided to drive back home to St. Louis. That was wild. We got some pretty good pictures. There were 60-mph winds and you felt like you were getting swept away driving. We decided to drive home because it wasn’t that long of a trip so we took the Suburban up there from St. Louis to Milwaukee and back and we had a great time.
We capped the winter off with my oldest daughter Brooke’s 21st birthday. That was four days in Las Vegas and I would say that was really awesome. Me, Kim, Brooke and her boyfriend Jacob, we went to Vegas and stayed at the Wynn and Brooke got an incredible suite. We had money laying on her bed and we had birthday balloons and chocolates. She is such a good kid, she deserves everything and we celebrated her 21st birthday. We went to the Hoover Dam, the Ethel M Chocolate factory, and then we casino-hopped. We worked our way through I think 18 casinos. We did it all, and it was the end of a good winter for the family.
On the opposite side, the professional side, it was the worst, most brutal winter I’ve ever had in my racing career because I didn’t know what I was gonna race. I had no idea what I was going to drive then as soon as the new year started, everything started coming together. I got a phone call from Armando Fitz about my sponsorship. Joe Garrone from Furniture Row Racing called and wanted me to try to make the Daytona 500 in a second Furniture Row car, I have some really good sponsors that started coming together. JEGS is back, Bank of America is back, I’ve hooked up with a new website called myracelife.com, it’s basically like a MySpace for auto racing licensed by NASCAR. It will be a place for everybody to go and talk racing. I’ve been doing a lot of commercial shoots to help them out. So slowly, surely, everything started coming together for me, but I will tell you it was a very hard winter on me professionally. Personally, it was a great winter, spending time with my wife and kids. Because it was so hard to get a sponsor in these times of economic strain, I found myself on the computer at like 5:30, 6:00 in the morning and I’m just glad it’s over. I hope I never have to go through it again.
I’m very grateful to have found a sponsor and that I’ve been given these opportunities. Our back was against the wall. We have a brand new team at Fitz Racing and I want to make sure everybody knows how grateful I am to Roger Penske. He is letting us use the Nationwide Series car that we’re going to race at Daytona next week because the team is so new. We just started putting it together two weeks ago. I have a lot of respect for Roger Penske, and he will forever be on my good list. I will brag on him all year long because he is letting me use a Daytona car. He’s letting us use it for no money, and he said when we’re done, give it back. It was incredible help to our new team. I want everyone to know what Roger Penske did for our new team. I also want to give props to my brother Rusty. He gave me two Dodge racecars from last year. Equally between Rusty and Roger Penske, they made the start of the season for this team possible. It would have been a lot more difficult without their help. These two people came to our rescue, giving us cars to get the year started. We’ll be racing used equipment until Atlanta. My first new Fitz car will be ready by Atlanta, and my guys are working hard at building us new cars.
Yesterday at Daytona we announced my new sponsor, Shark Energy Drink. It’s very interesting; they are the second-largest energy drink in the world. It’s big in Europe and Asia. I have seen their sponsorship on some Formula 1 cars. The cool thing about Shark is they were one of the first energy drinks in the world. It’s a 50-year-old energy drink. It’s made in Asia. They are bringing Shark to the United States and they picked the NASCAR Nationwide Series to kick off their introduction to the U.S., which is really awesome. It’s a really cool logo, too, a shark’s head. They saved my career, and I’m really grateful to them.
I’ve been asked a lot about my deal with Furniture Row Racing. I’m very grateful. I had a lot of people say to me, “How can you go back and drive that car after what they did to you?” But here is Furniture Row’s thing. I saw it every week. This is a brutal sport. People backstab and lie to stay in the game. This is a small industry. There was a time when there was room enough for everybody, but not any more. Furniture Row had to find out if it was me or the cars. They found out it was the cars, and they came back and were very nice to me and offered me a ride for the Daytona 500. I’m excited for the chance. I can’t wait for my opportunity on Thursday. It will be a lot of fun. I’m against all odds, but I remember a couple years ago, I made the Daytona 500 coming off turn 4 to the start/finish line on the last lap, and it’s very possible this year.
I want to talk a little about dirt racing at Volusia Speedway Park. I raced my UMP Modified, which is fully sponsored by JEGS this year. I am really happy to be dirt racing, bit this has not been a good start to my Speedweeks. We had all brand-new equipment. They dropped the green flag in the very first heat race and they all wrecked in front of me… tore the right side of my car off, tore the left side of my car off, bent my steering, bent my shocks. To make a long story short, we’ve been working hard every night to fix it. That night I still finished fourth in my heat with the body tore off. Then I was running seventh in the A-Main, and I drove it too hard and I accidentally spun it out. I was really upset with myself. But, you know, when you’re running hard on dirt, you’ll spin out, and I spun the damn thing out. The first night, we finished 21st. Then we spent all night and the next day fixing the car and I went out and finished third in my heat and finished 13th in the A-Main last night.
Thursday night, we have the Bud Shootout pole draw, Ken Schrader and I, so we’re not going to get any practice, we’ll just line up for our heat races, but that’s what I like about Daytona Speedweeks: I get to race all the time.