Story By: JORDAN DELUCIA / DIRTCAR – BARBERVILLE, FL – From competing at the highest ranks of NASCAR to racing at dirt tracks across the country all season long, Kenny Wallace amassed a fanbase larger than he could’ve imagined.
This year, while he’s not saying goodbye, he’s giving them a final full-time tour with a hint of nostalgia.
Wallace will be scaling back his racing a bit in 2023, after a 38-year professional career in the sport. To celebrate his career accomplishments, he plans on running special designs on his DIRTcar UMP Modified throughout 2022, starting with the track he holds a special merit at – Volusia Speedway Park.
Wallace, of Arnold, MO, holds what is one of the most unique accolades in Volusia’s 50-plus-year history as the only driver to win on the track in both its dirt and asphalt configurations. Volusia spent eight years (1989-1996) as a paved half-mile oval before being converted back to dirt in 1997.
In its time as an asphalt track, Volusia hosted several NASCAR-sanctioned events – including the Busch Grand National Series (present-day Xfinity Series). That’s when Wallace found his way into NASCAR Victory Lane for the first time in his career on March 24, 1991.
“As a competitor, that win at Volusia was everything to me,” he said.
A simple black and green scheme with white accents and yellow trim wrapped his Pontiac Grand Prix that day. Those colors will come to life again during DIRTcar Nationals (Feb. 7-12) when Wallace returns to the Florida track with the rest of the UMP Modified field for the first of six straights nights of racing to decide who takes home the iconic Big Gator trophy.
Wallace will have his Elite Chassis #36 wrapped in those 1991 colors for the entire week, commemorating a day that first sparked his next-level success on the big stage.
“I’m a kid who comes out of St. Louis, living in a single-wide mobile home, making like $20,000 a year, and we go to Volusia,” Wallace said. “We went there and put it all together. I remember qualifying 13th, and we won the race. We were good, and it was a major accomplishment in my life.”
The next time he came back to Volusia, the track was entering its ninth year back on dirt in 2005. Wallace had only started dipping his feet into dirt racing, but it didn’t take long before Volusia felt his impact, winning the second UMP Modified Feature of the 2007 DIRTcar Nationals.
“It’s crazy, we come back in 2005 and we’re like ‘Holy moly, they put dirt on it. What’s going on here?’” Wallace said. “So, I started learning how to race dirt; I just wanted to try it. We come back in 2007, and there’s like 80 cars there, and I won.”
Last year, fellow NASCAR driver and DIRTcar Nationals regular Justin Allgaier captured his first career Big Gator trophy as winner of the Gator Championship race. He previously won a little gator in 2016, and said to this day, the trophy still means more than any other win. Wallace echoed that same sentiment.
“There’s not that many gator trophies out there – they’re very rare,” he said. “There’s 365 days in a year. The gator – there’s only six possible tries.”
READ ALSO – Winning a Big Gator meant ‘more than you’ll know’ to Justin Allgaier
Since 2007, Wallace has added another three gators to his collection. Despite the unique trophy, however, that’s not what keeps him coming back every February.
“Volusia is a place for us all to gather,” Wallace said. “It’s snowing and the weather’s bad [at home]. It’s about going down there, the comradery, it’s live on DIRTVision, everybody around the United States is watching the races.”
After his run at the 51st DIRTcar Nationals, Wallace will return home to his native Missouri and prepare for one last hammer-down, go-all-out season as a full-time race car driver. The million-dollar question asks – why now? His answer is quite simple.
“It is true that I’m a hardcore racer, but I don’t think that I need to race the entirety of my life ‘til death – that’s not important to me,” Wallace said. “I’ll be 59 in August. It just seemed like it was the right time to slow down.”
Though he’s never been known as a “Sprint Car guy,” Wallace has looked-up to many of the greats with The Greatest Show on Dirt. He took many of their teachings into his own career, including his decision to scale-back.
“I studied the king, Steve Kinser,” Wallace said. “His last year with the World of Outlaws was at 60 years old.”
Like so many other motorsports greats have done before, Wallace is also getting the urge to dive into his post-racing career plans.
“Even Tony Stewart races when he wants to; he doesn’t run a full open-wheel series,” he said. “I felt like I needed to do that. I felt like I needed to give myself an opportunity to… get a motorhome, take my grandbabies around, and do what I wanna do.”
But until he decides to hang up the helmet for good, his legions of fans can still catch him at several dirt tracks around the nation. Wallace said he expects to race around 50 nights in 2022, including a few on the DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals trail. After that, he’s taking his daily driver pickup truck, his 28-foot trailer, and going racing when and where he feels like it.
As always, his signature, nonstop social media presence will remain as active as it ever has been – with or without racing. He’s never been shy about sharing advice on racing or life with his followers and took a moment to offer-up something he’d tell that teenage version of himself, now an accomplished superstar, heading south to Volusia before that victorious day in 1991.
“People will tell you that you have time, and you don’t. Start going after what you want right now,” Wallace said. “I’m not saying go running around with your tail on fire, I’m saying do it now and go after it.”
Don’t miss Kenny Wallace and the rest of the DIRTcar UMP Modified field take on six-straight nights in the 51st DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, Feb. 7-12. Buy a ticket, stream live on DIRTVision, and keep up with all the latest DIRTcar