News & Media

Russ Wallace, patriarch of Wallace racing family, dies at 77

November 03, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Russ Wallace, the patriarch of the racing family that grew to include not only his three sons but also some of his grandchildren, died early Sunday morning from complications of a stroke he suffered only days earlier. He was 77.

Long before sons Rusty, Mike and Kenny Wallace were winning races in NASCAR's top national touring series, the trio stayed busy preparing cars that their father raced on dirt tracks around the St. Louis area -- primarily in Granite City, Ill., and Valley Park, Mo.

Russ Wallace was an accomplished and well-respected driver on dirt, where he once won 200 features during a four-year stretch from 1974-78 in machines that his sons helped build and repair. He generally won no more than $300 to $500 even on a good night, however, and had to work various jobs to support his racing obsession. Through the years he worked as a mechanic at a car dealership, as a newspaper carrier (again assisted by his sons, who frequently delivered the newspapers) and as co-owner of a vacuum and janitorial supply business in St. Louis.

Mike Wallace once said that even though racing was a hobby to his father, "it was a professional hobby."

Kenny Wallace added recently that he and his brothers owed their careers to their father, who taught them a tireless work ethic and a style of driving that was both respected and feared by fellow competitors -- who knew Russ Wallace would bump them out of the way if he thought it was the only way he could get by them on the track.

"Let me be very clear when I say this: when I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a superstar race car driver. I wanted to be like my dad, Russ Wallace," Kenny Wallace said. "My dad -- you can ask anybody in St. Louis -- was the best. Dad won 12 weeks in a row one time. He set that record in Granite City, Ill., at Tri-City Speedway.

"I fought my way out of those race tracks, along with my mom [Judy]. ... But my dad was good, and all I ever dreamed of becoming was a really, really good race car driver just like him."

Kenny Wallace, the youngest of the Wallace brothers, is set to become the all-time leader in starts in the Nationwide Series with his next start. Rusty Wallace, the oldest of the brothers, won 55 Cup races and the 1989 championship before retiring as a driver. He now works as a television analyst on ESPN race telecasts and owns a Nationwide team that includes his son, Steve, as one of its drivers. Mike Wallace, the middle brother, recently won the Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega and has been a fixture as a driver across all three of NASCAR's national touring series during the past two-plus decades. His daughter Chrissy also is an aspiring race car driver.

Kenny Wallace confirmed his father's death on Twitter prior to Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway, writing: "Today was the hardest day of my life because my Dad 'Russ' is gone. He molded me and my brothers to be race car drivers."

Iowa Speedway, whose seven-eighths of a mile asphalt tri-oval was designed by Rusty Wallace, issued the following statement:

"The Clement family and Iowa Speedway's staff extends its deepest sympathies to the Wallace family after the passing of Russ Wallace, father of NASCAR racing legend and Iowa Speedway co-owner Rusty Wallace. Russ' impact on the legacy of NASCAR has been immense. His sons, Rusty, Mike and Kenny, have all won many races in NASCAR's three national touring series and grandson, Steve, is a current Nationwide Series driver. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Wallace family, the friends and the racing community which surrounds them in this difficult time," the statement read.