Just hours after being inducted into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame, Rusty Wallace said he is already feeling the impact of the honor.
|"Everyone's calling me, `Mr. Wallace."|
“(Fellow Hall of Famer) Ned Jarrett told me that people would treat me differently,” said Wallace before a Saturday appearance at NASCAR Preview 2013. “I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but already today, I think I’m beginning to understand.
“Since I walked off stage last night, there has been a steady stream of people wanting to shake my hand,” he said. “People are acting different. They want to see the (commemorative) jacket. They want to see the ring. I’m the same old Rusty, but everyone’s calling me, `Mr. Wallace!’I’m not entirely sure what to make of it yet.”
Wallace’s induction confirmed what his career statistics made clear long ago. His 55 Cup Series victories placed him ninth on NASCAR’s all-time win list. Six of the men ahead of him – Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Dale Earnhardt –preceded him into the Hall Of Fame. The other two – Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson – are likely first-ballot inductees once their driving careers end.
Wallace won the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship in 1989, five years after claiming the circuit’s Rookie of the Year title. He won at least one Cup Series race in 16 consecutive seasons, tying him with Ricky Rudd for the third-longest winning streak in the history of the sport. He was voted one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers and is, to date, the youngest competitor voted into the Hall Of Fame.
|Wallace and Wood compare hardware|
“I feel so happy,” said a still-emotional Wallace Saturday. “I feel like my career has been legitimized.”
He saluted fellow 2013 inductees Leonard Wood, Cotton Owens, Herb Thomas and Buck Baker, praising Wood and Susan Baker (widow of Buck Baker) for their acceptance speeches Friday night.
“Leonard was just wonderful,” said Wallace. “He had that room in the palm of his hand. He is such a humble man, giving all the credit to his family and team. Listening to him speak last night, you’d never know the impact he’s had on the sport.
“And Susan Baker had me in tears,” he said. “You could feel how proud she was of her husband, and how much she loved him. I was already pretty emotional, and following her on stage just about had me in tears.”
Wallace never lacked for confidence during his racing career. Never one to understate his chances on the race track, he enjoyed telling people that he was the man to beat, sometimes even before being asked. Saturday, however, surrounded by autograph-seeking fans, Wallace was oddly understated.
“I am honored to be in the company I’m in (at the Hall Of Fame),” he said. “I’m truly humbled.”