CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Rusty Wallace has long believed he retired from racing too soon, that he had another three years in a Hall of Fame NASCAR career.
Since his 2005 decision to get out of the car and transition into a broadcasting role with ESPN, Wallace has periodically longed to return to some form of competition. He’ll get his chance in June at the X Games, where the 58-year-old Wallace will compete in the Off-Road Truck Racing event.
”I honestly miss driving a car a little bit,” Wallace told The Associated Press. ”ESPN brought up this possibility and I thought, `Why not? Let’s go knock the cobwebs off and try this.’ I know that I stopped driving too early. I think I could have gone another three years.
”But at that point, I was really getting burned out on all the travel. I was irritable. I got the opportunity to work for ESPN and I said to myself, `If I don’t do this, someone else will.’ So that’s the path I took. I still struggle with not racing, not a whole lot, but a little, and this was a good opportunity to go have some fun.”
Wallace spent Wednesday of this week at Robby Gordon’s race shop driving one of the trucks for the first time. All the trucks competing in the X Games will be leased from Gordon, who will also drive in the race.
”He was very methodical about it – he asked me to go out first to give him a vision, and he basically then went out and did everything I did,” Gordon said Thursday. ”He got out and was ear-to-ear smiling, just laughing and saying how much fun he had.
”To watch him smile like a young man was great. I asked him to hold his hand out to see if there was a nervous shake, a shake most race car drivers get. And he had a little shake, but he was good to go.”
Wallace retired from NASCAR competition after the 2005 season, the same year he made NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship driving for Team Penske. He was with ESPN from 2006 until the network’s contract with NASCAR expired at the end of last season.
Now the 1989 champion is spending about half the year living in Mexico while doing radio work for Motor Racing Network and ambassador appearances as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. Wallace also owns several car dealerships that require his attention.
”I don’t need to do anything, any racing I do, it’s just for fun,” Wallace said. ”My wife rolls her eyes at me and says, `We are having fun.’ But most of you, you see Rusty in damn regular clothes and think, `There’s retired Rusty.’ I am a racer at heart, I’m always a racer at heart, and I’m not done with racing.”
Wallace has periodically been back in a car since his retirement, and he had a high-profile stint behind the wheel when he tested Brad Keselowski’s car at Daytona in January, 2014. Wallace said he told Team Penske he’d be willing to do any testing the team needs.
The X Games in Austin held June 4-7 will be Wallace’s first time competing in Off-Road Truck Racing. His truck will be sponsored by Jimmy John’s.
The Off-Road Truck racing competition will feature identically-prepared 600-horsepower trucks. The trucks reach speeds up to 120 mph and hit man-made ramps at multiple locations throughout the course. The Baja-style race trucks will negotiate the seven-turn course made of both dirt and asphalt.
There will be 16 drivers in the field, Gordon, who owns and operates his own Stadium Super Trucks Series.
”I’ve been following Robby’s series, watched the races when they run with IndyCar, and it just looks like something I’ll enjoy,” Wallace said. ”Every time I see that 2 car (Keselowski) running around, I say `Man, I wish I could do that again.’ But I’m smart enough to know I’ve got other things, so this chance at X Games and working with Robby is an opportunity to just go have a little fun.”