Wallace 'humbled' by Hall of Fame induction
FEB 08, 2013 10:54p ET
“Here’s to Rusty,” he said, holding up the Miller Lite bottle.
It was Keselowski who gave the Blue Deuce -- the No. 2 with its blue and white Miller Lite paint scheme -- its first championship, but it was Rusty Wallace who put it on the map.
Friday night, Wallace took his place among NASCAR’s immortals in what he called “the biggest day of my racing career,” as he headlined the Hall of Fame’s fourth class.
“I’m humbled that I’ve made it here,” Wallace said. “I’m humbled that I’m standing up here.”
The St. Louis native entered the sport as a young, brash outsider and would go on to win 55 races and the 1989 Cup series championship. Wallace was inducted along with innovative crew chief Leonard Wood, Buck Baker (the first back-to-back Cup champ), Herb Thomas (the first two-time title winner) and former car owner Cotton Owens.
"I feel so different. I feel so happy. I feel like my career has finally got a period on the end," Wallace said following the ceremony. "People are already acting different. They are acting kinder. They are calling me Mr. Wallace and treating me different."
Wallace thanked his car owners, among them Raymond Beadle, Cliff Stewart and Roger Penske, and another surprising name that helped key his lone Cup title.
“We started running out of money at the end of 1989, and Rick Hendrick said, ‘Hey, I’m going to give y’all some money to keep y’all going,’ because Raymond and Rick are big buddies,” Wallace said. “So Rick Hendrick will tell you he has — I don’t know how many — championships and half a one.”
Wallace later estimated Hendrick had loaned Beadle $400,000 to keep the team afloat.
Outspoken throughout his career and in his current role as an ESPN analyst, Wallace took the opportunity to send a message to the current generation of drivers
"The thing I learned, and I said it at the driver meeting in 2005 the day I retired and walked out, I said: 'This is a privilege. This is a privilege to race in NASCAR. You don't have to do it. We're not making you do it. It's a privilege to race in NASCAR, and it's a blessing for me to be in this sport and do what I've done,' " Wallace said. "I just hope all the young drivers respect NASCAR as much as I respect it and go out there and say nice things about NASCAR and help build this sport."
As the ceremony closed, Wallace stood on stage with the rest of living Hall of Fame members, 2010 inductees Richard Petty and Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, Ned Jarrett, Bud Moore and David Pearson of the ’11 class and ’12’s Dale Inman, Darrell Waltrip, Glen Wood and Cale Yarborough.
Wallace made his way to the media room in the Charlotte Convention Center, the stories continuing as he recounted, a meeting in 1992 when he convinced owner Roger Penske to stay in NASCAR and the day Dr. Jerry Punch saved his life after a crash at Bristol.
“I was dead, not breathing,” Wallace said. “He got me going.”
He discussed the biggest regret of his career, never winning the Daytona 500 -- “I desperately wanted to win the Daytona 500,” he said. “I wanted to win that race so bad.” -- before walking next door, where cameras were set up in front of a gray backdrop. He posed for photos with Wood, the class’ only other living member, whom Wallace thought was a fitting HOF classmate.
It was Wood who was the first person to congratulate Wallace when he earned his first Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1986.
"He stuck his hand in the window and said 'Kid, congratulations,' and I could hear his voice over the engine," Wallace said. "Leonard was the first guy to congratulate me for winning at Bristol and I'm going into the Hall of Fame with you."
Wallace posed for more photos with his son, Greg -- who presented Wallace with his Hall of Fame ring – and more shots by himself before walking back out in the hallway, where the rest of his family waited.
The festivities were far from over.
The next morning, Wallace would be part of an unveiling in the facilities’ Hall of Honor of pieces of the HOF class’ past. Wallace’s display includes Midnight, the black and gold Miller Genuine Draft Ford Thunderbird he powered to 13 wins and 30 top-5s in 38 starts from 1992-97. “It's going to bring back a lot of memories for sure,” Wallace would say of seeing the car, which has been restored.
“Time to do another picture,” a Hall of Fame worker said, ushering Wallace and his family back inside, as Wood brushed past for his media session.
Wallace adjusted the tie of his son, Nationwide Series driver, Steve.
“This is going to be a good picture,” the elder Wallace said, beaming.
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