August 6, 2008
WALLACE ON WEDNESDAYS
Mid-afternoon on July 23, a non-descript tow vehicle and an
unlettered trailer pulled into Murray County Speedway, a 3/8 mile
fairgrounds dirt track in Slayton, Minnesota. The rig had obviously
seen some miles. It was far less plush than the grand haulers of
USMTS stars such as Al Hejna, Scott Green, and Jason Hughes.
When the car was rolled out, it was a black and yellow #36 with
“JEGS” splashed boldly down the sides. Its driver, Kenny Wallace.
That’s right – the guy with the laugh.
At 44, Kenny Wallace (a.k.a. “Herman the German” and “the Hermanator”)
is an enormously popular NASCAR figure. Though overshadowed in
victories by his older brothers Rusty and Mike, Kenny has been a
consistent force in Nationwide/Busch and Cup racing for nearly 20
years. His stature in the racing community is obvious. He is one of
the most frequently requested “utility” drivers, filling the seat
when the regular chauffeur is doing sheet time in the hospital or
waiting out a suspension. This season, he is full-time for veteran
car owner Jay Robinson in the Border Patrol Nationwide entry.
The Hermanator is also a television staple in just about every
racing household in the country. He appears Sunday with John Roberts
and Jimmy Spencer on SPEED TV doing Cup commentary, dispensing his
loud and cheerful antics. A skilled public speaker, he’s frequently
bouncing around the country to various charitable and corporate
events. When he’s not on the road, he’s often home in Concord, NC.
He’s old-fashioned dedicated to his wife Kim and their three
It all sounds pretty cushy. And with all the pomp and circumstance
around big-time racing these days, you have to wonder what in the
world Kenny was doing on a Wednesday night in rural Minnesota. It
certainly isn’t the money. Short-track sponsorships are skinny these
days, even for a national parts company like JEGS. The fact is that
Kenny joined the church of the clay a few years back because he just
plain loves it.
In his autobiography,
Inside Herman’s World, he writes: “I believe in my soul I
would never be a complete driver unless I ran dirt. I am running
dirt races today because I need to feel like a real race driver...At
first, I sucked. And here was maybe the hardest part – I had to
totally park my ego and put on blinders. Because when I went on the
track people would rush up to the fence – not to watch me race, but
to see how bad I was going to wreck….Guess what? I’m going to keep
doing this until I can do a clean slide job on Schrader at Pevely. I
don’t know exactly what the last laugh is, but I’m at least at the
At Slayton, Kenny, in a tee-shirt and jeans with a 9/16 wrench, was
all over the #36. He was changing tires from the night before at
distant Corning, Iowa, joking with other competitors, and attacking
the tacky black gumbo track surface. He was fast, but his car broke
in the main. Just minutes later he was smilingly tackling a huge
queue of autograph seekers.
About 1:00 a.m. that night, the unremarkable hauler pulled out. As
it did, a caffeinated Kenny rolled down the passenger side window
and shouted joyfully, “We’re off to Kasson!” – the Thursday night
show three hours down the road. Friday night, he was back at the
helm of Jay Robinson’s Nationwide car on the asphalt of O’Reilly
Raceway Park in Indianapolis. Saturday and Sunday he had TV duties
at the Brickyard 400.
Is he cool or what?
© 2008 Lew
Boyd, Coastal 181