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A face of fun

7/27/2014

By NICK SCHWIEN

By NICK SCHWIEN

nschwien@dailynews.net

The door opened to the slightly cooled room.

Through the blinding sunlight bursting through the door, in walked a slim man with a red-and-white Toyota cap donning his head.

As the door closed behind him, the beaming light still was present. But it no longer was from the sun.

Instead, it was the smile on NASCAR racing legend Kenny Wallace. One step into the building, and Wallace’s smile was brightening the room.

It was evident his spunk and natural tendency to entertain any crowd was going to live up to its potential — even if he thought he was a little bit late to the meet-and-greet event.

“I think when we raced NASCAR, we knew exactly where we needed to be,” said Wallace, who hosts a weekly NASCAR television show on FOX Sports 1. “It became very repetitious. I’m very grateful to run NASCAR. It was my dream to run NASCAR, and I fulfilled my dream. But along the way, my career took a different path. I missed out on this. I had never raced dirt, and I wanted to learn how to run it. So the reason I do this is because my infatuation with this and the fact I never raced dirt early in my life. So I’m just kind of doing it backwards.”

While Wallace might not be as famous to some as his brothers, Rusty and Mike, he’s still able to leave a lasting impression on any crowd.

Wallace and longtime friend Kenny Schrader took part in a special racing event July 20 at Thomas County Speedway in Colby. Both drove in the modified class, with Schrader finishing fourth and Wallace finishing eighth.

It didn’t matter where either driver finished, though. It was the personality and famous faces that brought a large crowd to the grandstands and pits.

And it was the face of Wallace who kept things light.

While modified drivers drew cards for starting positions in the night’s feature race, Wallace walked away from the other drivers a few steps and did what he does best — entertain.

He looked at the crowd, jumped into a position of a cowboy riding horseback and threw his right arm around wildly like he was swinging a lasso.

The crowd cheered in approval before he walked back to the rest of the drivers and drew his card — all while continuing to flash that Kenny Wallace smile.

“I absolutely love it,” Wallace said. “I love the competition and the comaraderie. In NASCAR, it’s very, very serious. If things don’t go good, you can take it personally and lose your job. You can have children and your wife on the line. Everything is on the line in NASCAR. You lose your job, and you’re out of money. As to where this gets you back to reality of life. And the reality is this: You’re running a car in circles, and what you’re doing is competing against competition. If you don’t do good, then you don’t pay a price. You’re not fired because it’s our stuff. That’s why it’s so fun.”

Wallace has a full repertoire of personalities: TV show host, driver, friend, father and husband.

He prides himself on being the best at each one of them, too, thanks for an abundance of energy and flair.

Wallace said that’s something he’s always had, even as a child.

“I was born that way,” he said. “I don’t really know why. I guess I was born that way. Obviously it is true I was diagnosed hyper-active and they put me on Ritalin. Then my mom didn’t like it, and they took it away. It’s not a medical condition. I was just born that way. There’s only a couple TV shows I can watch. I wake up in the morning and get the news. I have to be tired to lay in my living room. I just can’t do it. I can relax. I like going on vacations, and I love them. We go on a cruise once a year, and I can meditate. I like good candles, good music. I love massages. But I just can’t sit in my house because it just won’t happen.”

That’s why traveling the country, being on TV and driving on dirt is fascinating to Wallace — a diehard St. Louis Cardinals fan.

But he never has lost focus on what is important.

“The traveling with me is that I don’t want to miss out on life,” Wallace said. “I don’t want to sit at home. I sit at home, and I’m like, ‘Jesus. It’s no fun.’ The commercial airports get monotenous. But I look at it as a gift, because I couldn’t have gone from St. Louis, Mo., to here like that. I look at being gone from home a gift. If I’m at home, I’m not me. My wife goes with me a lot. She didn’t come out here because it was a different deal. I have my own dirt team, but I didn’t bring my car out here because of the way the schedule worked out. So usually she sells souvenirs. My family has been awesome about it. My kids understand that I was able to provide for them. My kids have never wanted for anything, and I’m proud of that. We sent them all through college, helped them all out. My kids never did complain about me being gone.”

The face of Wallace might get a bit more wrinkled and weathered as he ages, but he’s not about to stop living life to the fullest.

He might not have a full ride in NASCAR now, and he admits he won’t live up to the same racing success other family members have had.

That doesn’t bother him in the least.

“I never wanted to be my dad, Rusty or Mike,” he said. “I was never, ever jealous of my brothers. People sometimes say, ‘Well, you’re not your brother.’ I say, ‘Hey, calm down. I never wanted to be.’ ”

He’s Kenny Wallace.

Fans, drivers and track officials found that out firsthand at Colby.