Former NASCAR driver and current dirt track star Kenny Wallace is coming to Mandan this weekend, adding star power to this year’s two-day Governor’s Cup at Dacotah Speedway.
With 905 NASCAR starts and “a thousand” dirt track races on his resume, Wallace is confident in his ability to make some noise here. But can his car?
“I run about 75 dirt races a year. I got my own car but when I come out for the Governor’s Cup, I’ll be running somebody else’s car,” the 57-year-old Wallace said with a laugh about his chances of winning -- or not. “I’m looking at 150 dirt trophies. It’ll be the car, not me. I don’t question my ability anymore.”
Since Wallace’s UMP Modified can’t legally run with the IMCA Modifieds that are the centerpiece of the Governor’s Cup, Wallace is coming here sans car. He’s going to drive one of Jeremy Keller’s IMCA Mods for the two nights.
Wallace said it’s a blind draw.
“I don’t have a clue. That’s a fact,” he said. “It’s a load of fun. We’ll figure it out.”
Wallace will show up for some practice on Thursday night with performances set for Friday and Saturday on the three-eighths mile dirt oval. He also will meet with fans.
“It can’t be overstated how much of an outgoing person Kenny is,” local modified driver Jason Wolla said. “Don’t be intimidated. Go say ‘hi’ and shake his hand when you get the chance. He’s the most kind person you’ll ever talk to.”
Wolla had the chance to meet Wallace earlier. This weekend, he’s one of the reasons Wallace is coming here to race. He, and the likes of Fargo driver Austin Arneson.
The annual Governor’s Cup is one of the largest two-night shows around. Classes include Sprint Cars, IMCA Modifieds, WISSOTA Street Stocks, INEX Legends, Dacotah Speedway Hobby Stocks and IMCA Sport Compacts.
Wolla and Arneson, who won last year’s IMCA title and the $10,000 Legendary 50, then added the Dakota Classic Modified Tour title this year to his resume, have their sites set on more than Wallace. But he is the big name in the field.
“It’s like the great Dale Earnardt Sr. said, ‘Herman, there’s thousands of great race car drivers all over the United States and they can’t all be NASCAR," Wallace said. "There’s some great race car drivers out in the Dakotas, so I’m excited to come and run the Governor’s Cup. This is one of the biggest dirt races in the United States. There will be people from all over the United States.”
Smaller tracks have been the standard -- asphalt and dirt -- since Wallace looked in the mirror and realized he was getting a little long in the tooth for NASCAR. In 2015, he ran his last race for Joe Gibbs Racing.
“You start getting into your 50s and you start thinking you’re the oldest driver out there,” Wallace said. “I started looking at the greats: Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson; all these guys are retiring early now. Tony Stewart quit at 42 or 44. I was 52-53 when I quit. It’s a young man’s sport.”
But dirt tracking isn’t just a young man’s sport. That’s why former NASCAR racers Tony Stewart and Kenny Schrader are still running.
“I asked Tony Stewart and Kenny Schrader (why they still do it),” Wallace said. “Tony said, ‘Herm, I just wanna go racing.’ That’s the way I am. We get asked that question a lot. It’s the love of the sport. It’s no different than the senior golf tour. We’re still able to race against the kids. And in this sport, the older you get the better you get.”
And besides, it beats the alternative.
“Going to the lake and drinking beer is fun but it gets old. Fishing and hunting and golfing, that’s just not what we’re made of. We like to race,” Wallace said.
Now the Missouri native splits his time between racing and working as a motivational speaker. His message is a simple one of lessons he learned growing up with nothing and accomplishing great things.
“It motivates people to never give up,” Wallace explained. “We grew up with nothing. Back then, you could cash soda bottles in. I would take those to the 7-11 and get about a dollar-fifty. You don’t sit around and cry ‘why me,’ you make things happen.
“We made it because of a newspaper route. We would throw a newspaper route every Tuesday for a $100 bill. We kept going past one house with a huge Penske van. It was Roger Penske’s main guy, Don Miller.”
Miller was Penske Racing South’s president and would eventually work with the Wallaces. The brothers each went on to NASCAR careers.
Kenny won his first race in 1982 and got his first NASCAR ride from Dale Earnhardt in 1988 in the Nationwide Series. He was Rookie of the Year driving for Rusty Wallace in 1989.
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