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Rusty Wallace and the hangover

rustyRusty Wallace talked about the possibility of a Nationwide Series race hangover at Iowa Speedway, a return to racing, and the difficulties of watching his son race during an exclusive interview with me on Wednesday. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

How will the Trucks race on this track, what do you expect?
It’ll probably be one of the most exciting races of the year because the way these trucks are designed, for whatever reason these guys drive with reckless abandon. The cars are flat on the sides, and they really use those sides. They beat on each other. There’s really a lot of aggressive driving in the trucks series. It’s always been that way forever and ever, that’s the way they were brought up. And when you watch them on a short track it’s breathtaking. People love the series because of that, because they’re so damn aggressive. The guys have been here testing. And they love it a lot. The thing with the 12 13 14 degrees banking angle, steeper. It pretty much assures that they’re going to race two or three wide all around the race. They get a lot of momentum out of turn 2. It’s one of these races that going into it, I’m not concerned about how the trucks are going to be racing. I think the fans are going to be going whoa, oh, wow, oww whoo. They’re going to be freaking out the whole race because these guys drive so damn aggressive.

Will it be similar to Bristol?
I think it’s going to have some similarities to Bristol. I think you’ll see them swap the lead back and forth quite a bit. Obviously pit stops are going to be important. I don’t think track position is going to be so important because it’s so easy to pass there. It’s an inaugural race. Everybody wants to be at a inaugural race, even the fans. The drivers all want to win an inaugural race anywhere. When you look way back at when we built this track the best we were hoping for was a NASCAR truck race. Having NASCAR call us up and give us a Nationwide race and a truck race, that just freaked us out. It was amazing We’re having such a great year, selling out the NASCAR East/West race, selling out the IndyCar race, and selling out the Nationwide race, which was beyond sold out, it was unbelievable, over 60,000. But right now we’ve got a little bit of a hangover because the permanent grandstands are about 25,000 seats and we’re at 23,000. We’ve got about 2,000 to sell yet and, I’m like what does that mean when everything sold out so fast, and these trucks are so popular, does that mean, maybe our date is wrong.

Are you concerned about going up against the Iowa football home opener?
iowaThat is a concern. But that was the only date we could get from the trucks series for this year. Now next year it looks like we’re going to be able to move that date a little bit. One good thing that we do have going on is that our races are night races. It starts at 8:45, it’ll be about 2 hours, so they’ll be able to get out at 10:30 and 10:45. So fans can do what they want during the day. They can enjoy the game and the race, and we hope they’ll do that. Friday we’ve got the Camping World West race with a concert, Saturday night we’ve got a truck race with a concert. So we just hope to end the year with a high note, I’d to end it and see the grandstands empty. Then we’re all done. Then we’re going to go back in January an say: “How did this year turn out? Did we make the right times, did we make the right dates? Did we make the right plans? One good thing is the traffic, we haven’t had any traffic problems. The race was over at 6:45 and everybody was out of there by 9:30. So we don’t have any traffic problems whatsoever. But with that said we’re going to continue to work to make sure that it gets even better yet.

Have any decisions been made on expanding the seating for next year yet?
No decisions have been made. We want to see what the final numbers are going to be because this track is very expensive. Mr. Brad Manatt brad-manatthas signed his name on then very big loan for this speedway. And we’re going to make sure that we can still service these notes and keep everything running properly. Because I will tell you, until we got the Nationwide Series race and Trucks race, we were in the hole. We made a lot of people nervous, especially Mr. Mannatt. And now with this thing we’re doing pretty good. We’ve gotta go whoa, we’re feeling better there. But we don’t want to build too many seats. In my eyes we need to build 10,000 more permanent. But we’ll see. The last thing any track wants to do is overbuild, and have empty seats at races. They constantly talk about how tracks aren’t sold out, and we know the economy is tough. But it was great to see 60,000 people in the seats, temporary or not.

Much has been made of the bump in turn 2, will it be fixed in the offseason, how does that work? Or doesn’t the bump give the track some personality?
We’ll look at it. I will tell you, there’s such a thing as a character builder. People say, “Man at Charlotte you’ve got the bump in turn 1, at Indianapolis you’ve got the rise in turn 3. This track’s got that and Iowa Speedway has a little bump in the middle of turn 1 and 2.” Iowa speedway was the smoothest track that anybody’s ever run on and the winters just caused just a little bit of settlement across the tunnel between turns 1 and 2. So we brought a company in there that specialized in putting a polyurethane style material under the track that pressurized it and actually raised the track up a little bit. We actually fixed a lot of it and not many drivers had complaints. Yeah it’s there. Is it a problem? No. Does it build character? I don’t know. It sure didn’t hurt the racing, that’s for damn sure. But we will go back and address it because the last thing we want to do is cut up a beautiful track and put a big ol’ black patch in it. The IndyCar Series guys would have to complain a lot more because those cars don’t have a whole lot of wheel travel at all. They only travel about 1 inch. The NASCAR cars travel about 4 inches. Well, the IndyCar guys didn’t complain and the stock car guys just talked about it. My buddy Randy Lajoie in the booth kept calling it the Rusty bump, I said shut up Randy, quit calling it the damn Rusty bump. But it made for some character, you can probably say that. We’ll look at it again, that’s for sure.

Can we expect any surprises on the Sprint Cup schedule? Iowa?
No. People are really talking about Iowa Speedway, that we could get a Cup race one of these days. And I told them we never even thought about that. Then when the race was so damn successful, the Nationwide race, and a lot of the NASCAR people, employees, started to say, we need to be here. And I said, whoa, whoa, whoa, we need to be careful what we ask for because the Cup purse is about four times more expensive than a Nationwide race. We’ve got to make sure that the fans in Iowa will come out to support a race. We need to sell 75,000-85,000 to make this thing work. Because Kansas City has about 85,000 people there. Well, we’re not any different. We’re going to need that many. Can we draw that much more. I don’t know.

You said earlier you’re not sure if Iowa Speedway can pull off a Sprint Cup race at this point, because of costs, when could it?
I’ll say this. Let’s say right now if NASCAR says we’re willing to give you one of the most sought after things in the world – a Sprint Cup date – do you want it? Hell yeah, we would want it. And we would immediately try to go out and sell those sponsors and to help pay for the purse and get this thing funded. We would work our ass off and the race would be fantastic. I know it would be. There’s not a doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t. But you’ve got to walk before you can run. We don’t want to do something that we can screw up on. And I don’t think we would screw up on it at all. But we’ve always told NASCAR that we want a trucks race, and my God if we ever got a Nationwide race we’d totally freak out. But don’t ever worry about us getting on your knees, please God give us a Cup race. There were lawsuits for getting a Cup race. There were lawsuits for Texas. And we were really freaked out about even mentioning that word around the race tracks. We’ll just put this race on and see if we’re worthy of it. Well obviously we’re worthy of it, obviously the people showed up and they obviously know how great the race was. And really we’d like to get one of those phone calls at 2 o’ clock in the afternoon from NASCAR and they say, hey we’ve got something to talk to you about. Wouldn’t that be a great call? But we don’t have that yet.

During qualifying for the IndyCar race there was some problems with drainage, has that been figured out, or was it just a matter of there being so much rain in a short amount of time?
That’s a great question. We got some specialists in there. We went down into the drainage ditches under the track. The drainage ditches are very big 3 foot wide by about 8 foot deep. And we found an excessive amount of construction material filled up in the drains. We got in some crews and cleaned that out. There was wood down there, there was a lot of stuff. But I will tell you, even with that it looked like it was not even enough to cause that problem. The specialists said that with the amount of rain you had, that probably caused that. Remember, every racetrack everywhere has drainage problems. With our huge drainage system I was really surprised that it happened. I think it just kept coming so hard, so fast it had to come up somewhere.

What has been more difficult, driving, or owning a Nationwide Series team?
Owning a Nationwide Series team and watching my son drive. And watching him making an enormous amount of mistakes. And the good stuff is watching him now and he doesn’t crash anymore. rusty_and_steve_wallaceSeeing him come home with some good finishes. He’s running in sixth and we’re just around the corner from our first win. That’s tough watching all that. The other tough thing is just constantly working to try to find sponsors for these cars in this really tough economy. That’s a son of a bitch. We’re doing pretty good. Last weekend we announced that Five Hour energy is going to sponsor Steven’s car for every race next year. And then the folks for U.S. Fidelis that I do all the TV commercials for, they’re going to sponsor Brendan Gaughan’s car. We still have a little bit to sell on his car, we’re not 100 percent sold out. It’s been real tough to get those sponsors.

Michael Schumacher flirted with coming out of retirement, have you given that any serious thought?
I thought about it, and it’s long gone right now because I kept telling myself, I retired two years too early, but it was a great opportunity to work for ABC and ESPN and I really like those guys a lot and so I did it. I thought in these two years I still had another good strong run in me. Well then 2006 is passed, 2007 is gone, now we’re into 9. So, even if I wanted to, I’m way past what I thought I could do. I’m happy with what I do. Yeah, I still have the desire to jump in a car and run some races. And if ESPN ever thought and said, why don’t run a couple of Cup races, I’d jump at it. But that hasn’t happened and I’m very content. I’m just real hopeful that my kid will be successful, that he can continue his success because that’s what the whole family has tied itself to now. And Steven, since I don’t drive no more, he’s the guy I’m watching.

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