Barberville, FL — NASCAR veteran Kenny Wallace’s favorite week of the year to be a dirt racer is just days away.
On Feb. 5, Wallace will head onto the Volusia Speedway Park clay to begin the eight straight nights of UMP DIRTcar open-wheel Modified racing that are part of the 37th annual Alltel DIRTcar Nationals.
“Running a Mod at Volusia during Speedweeks is the highlight of my dirt team’s year,” said Wallace, the energetic NASCAR Nationwide Series regular and SPEED television commentator. “I love going there because it kind of puts you in a nice, relaxation mode before we go to the big track (nearby Daytona International Speedway).”
Wallace, 44, relishes every minute of his February evenings at the half-mile Volusia oval. Approachable and jovial by nature, he’s just one of the guys throughout each program, interacting breezily with his fellow UMP DIRTcar Modified racers and fans.
“We’ll be in the infield (pit area) all week, hanging out and having fun,” said Wallace, a younger brother of former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Rusty Wallace. “We’re gonna have t-shirts and hats. We’ll have a chance to spend some time with the fans. It’s just gonna be really, really fun.”
An Alltel DIRTcar Nationals entrant for the third straight year, Wallace has come to enjoy himself so much at Volusia, this year he’s enticed a fellow NASCAR veteran from Missouri to join in the UMP DIRTcar Modified fun. Kenny Schrader is planning to bring his Modified along with his dirt Late Model and enter multiple events during the short-track racing spectacular.
“Last year on about the third night (of the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals) Kenny Schrader came over to me, looked at me, and said, ‘You’re having too much damn fun, so I’m gonna bring my Mod next year,’” said Wallace. “So this year me and Schrader will be there with our Mods. We’ll have motorhomes there, our crews will sleep there – we’ll have a blast.”
The Alltel DIRTcar Nationals will serve as a coming-out party for Wallace’s new UMP DIRTcar Modified sponsor and colors. JEG’S High-Performance Auto Parts, which backed his dirt Late Model effort in 2007, will take over title sponsorship of his Modified, placing its distinctive yellow-and-black scheme on the machine’s bodywork.
Wallace’s No. 36 Modified, which last year carried a red-and-white look and prominently displayed the logo of Wallace’s beloved St. Louis Cardinals baseball team (a smaller Cardinals logo will be visible on the Mod in ’08), is a house car from the Impressive Race Cars shop in Hillsboro, Mo. The Impressive crew houses and maintains Wallace’s Modified, which he plans to drive in more than 40 events this season across the country.
“I own all my Modified stuff – my truck, my trailer, my cars, my motors,” said Wallace, who is competing for Fitz Motorsports on the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season. “But the only way it works for me to run it with my schedule is to be a house car. All my labor is taken care of (by Impressive) in St. Louis, and I can come to the track and drive it.”
Wallace took up dirt racing only four years ago, at the age of 40, but he’s proven his mettle on the surface. Last year, in fact, he won the opening UMP DIRTcar Modified feature of the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals, then went on to record two second-place finishes and a fifth. He finished sixth in the week-long points standings.
The multiple evenings of action at the same track is perfect for Wallace, who is still learning the nuances of dirt racing and craves as many laps as possible.
“See, I’m not a dirt racer by trade,” said Wallace. “So anytime there’s two or three nights of dirt racing, or more, in a row, I always get better. I love a show like (the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals), and the UMP (DIRTcar Racing) Roundup that Schrader’s having at Pevely (I-55 Raceway in Pevely, Mo.) this year (Oct. 15-18).
“Every night is a do-over,” he added with a smile. “If you don’t do good one night, just try again the next one.”
Wallace’s dirt-track activities this year will also include starts in selected dirt Late Model events (he’ll drive an Ed Petroff-owned car that is normally campaigned by World of Outlaws Late Model Series regular Brian Shirley of Chatham, Ill.) and his promotional role at Macon (Ill.) Speedway, a one-fifth-mile, high-banked bullring that he co-owns with Schrader, two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart and well-known Midwest track operator Bob Sargent.
According to Wallace, getting involved in the purchase of the UMP DIRTcar Racing-sanctioned Macon Speedway was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He sees ownership of dirt tracks by NASCAR heroes as a way for them to support the grassroots of the sport.
“The truth of the matter is, I have a passion for racing,” said Wallace. “This is what I do, it’s my whole life, so when I saw the situation at Macon, Ill. – the track was drawing two- or three-hundred people and was going to shut down – I knew we couldn’t let it happen. Myself, Tony Stewart, Kenny Schrader and Bob Sargent bought it, not because we have a particular goal but just to give guys a place to race. It’s giving back (to the sport).
“If we would’ve let Macon go, it probably wouldn’t even be racing now. The same thing with Paducah (Ky.) – it was shut down, and Tony, Kenny and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) went in with Sargent and saved it.
“You have to remember, the key of this deal with us (NASCAR racers) owning racetracks is, these were tracks that were gonna shut down, quit racing. That would’ve been a real bummer.”
With Sargent, whom Wallace calls “an incredible promoter” and “the real key” to Macon’s revival, handling the details of the small track’s operation, Wallace has, naturally, used his effervescent personality to help the facility grow. Last season he was involved in such fan-friendly promotions as ‘Kenny’s Krazy Kar Kaper,’ ‘Cinco de Mayo Night’ and a St. Louis Cardinals-themed evening.
“We work hard on special nights,” said Wallace. “We want the fans to have fun when they come to the track.”
Just like the kind of fun that Wallace will have when he competes in the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals.
Wallace will battle standout drivers from across the country in the UMP DIRTcar Modified meet at Volusia, including defending Alltel DIRTcar Nationals champion Steve Arpin of Fort Frances, Ont.; reigning UMP DIRTcar Modified national champ Denny Schwartz of Ashmore, Ill.; Jeff Leka of Buffalo, Ill., who raced Schwartz to the wire for the 2007 UMP DIRTcar Racing Modified national title; Brighton, Ill., veteran Tom Seets Sr.; and UMP DIRTcar standout Kent Robinson of Bloomington, Ind.
The UMP DIRTcar Modifieds will compete as part of a doubleheader each night at Volusia, running with the All-Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars (Feb. 5-7), Advance Auto Parts World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series (Feb. 8-10) and the UMP DIRTcar Late Models (Feb. 11-12).
Volusia’s racing is scheduled to begin nightly at 7:30.
Tickets for the Alltel DIRTcar Nationals are available by logging on to www.volusiaspeedwaypark.com or calling the track office at 386-985-4402.
More information on UMP DIRTcar Racing can be obtained at www.umpracing.com.