NASCAR Illustrated - Growing Up NASCAR: Jarrett and Wallace
June 03, 2014, NASCAR Illustrated, NASCAR.com
What was it like? That's really all we wanted to know when we talked to the children of some of the most famous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in NASCAR history. We wanted to know how it felt to grow up in racing.
The children of Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton have lived lives of incredible breadth. Travel, privilege, and excitement have been part of their lives. But their parents' lifestyle also brought stress with fathers focused on success at the expense of almost everything else.
But most of all, the children in the inner circle shared a unique and near-unbreakable bond. No matter what might have happened among their fathers on the track, they were bound by the unique opportunities and demands of their lives.
Here are the stories of Jason Jarrett and Greg Wallace.
NOTE: This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue. To read the entire interview, you can order a copy or subscribe here: NASCAR-Illustrated.com/Store -- As told to Steven Levine and Jay Pfeifer. Edited by Jay Pfeifer.
"When people ask what's it like, the easiest thing to say is that it's good and bad. I always wanted to be a normal kid. I didn't go to the track to be famous or to get on TV.
"On one hand, you grow up -- honestly -- almost with an absentee dad. We'd go to the track together but other than that, he was off doing his own thing. My dad was never at my high school football games or never drove me to soccer practice. But in exchange, I got to have a ton of life experiences that I'm very grateful for and would never have experienced in a million years if my dad hadn't taken the time to do what he did. I'd probably be working in the family vacuum shop in St. Louis now. People that are on the outside just don't understand.
"I always tried hard to separate myself from racing. It always drove me crazy because I didn't have an identity of my own. I'd go to school and I was Rusty Wallace's son or I was the rich kid.
"I went to a lot of races when dad was winning a lot. Especially when I was 13 or 14. I remember sitting on the pit box in my pit crew uniform next to Buddy Parrott or Robin Pemberton. Some of the guys who were the best in the garage at that point. I feel like I have the life experience in NASCAR of a 65-year-old man even though I'm 34.
"I was always the last guy at Dad's car when it fired up. I don't know if that was some subconscious thing, you know, I always gave him five or shook his hand before he rolled off pit road but I didn't consciously think about it."
Dale Jarrett and Kim Lutz
"I normally jumped in the car with my grandfather and my grandmother. It was normally Darlington, Bristol, Charlotte, North Wilkesboro -- until I got older and started going to more races. It's like the older I got, the more interested I got in being a part of the sport.
"Ned used to be the PR rep for Busch beer -- we used to hang out in the old Busch beer van. Looking back on it, it's kind of funny. A lot of times, [my friends and I] would just sit in the van and talk about whatever. I remember thinking that Dale Jr. always had an interesting perspective on things. The more I see him today, the more I respect where he was coming from back then. He loved racing more than anyone I knew other than my grandfather.
"I think it was rare to spend time with my grandparents and it helped with that disconnect most of us had with our dads. But all of us understood what our dads were trying to do and that they had a job to do. But I was fortunate in that respect; that I could always have Ned to hang out with and talk to. My grandmother was the same way. She would sit in that van and listen to the radio. She very rarely wanted to see the actual race on the track. Ned would park in a spot where she could see my dad come by and she didn't want to see any more than that."
NOTE: This is an excerpt from the June 2014 issue. To read the entire interview, subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated or order single copies here: NASCAR-Illustrated.com/Store