Born: August 23, 1963
When you’re born into a racing family, your career path is pretty much already decided before you even have time to think.
Kenny Wallace knows that all too well. The son of Russ Wallace, a renowned short track racer throughout the Midwest, Kenny and his older brothers Mike and Rusty, grew up at the track.
“I grew up in a racing family, and absolutely loved racing from the beginning,” the youngest Wallace brother said. “I got caught up early on helping my brothers Rusty and Mike, and my dad, at the track.”
One of racing’s most visible and popular figures for more than 30 years, Kenny took a path less travelled to racing success and stardom, starting out as a mechanic, earning nine NASACAR victories, and carving out a career as one of the sport’s top media voices. Still a competitive and successful dirt track racer to this day, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Kenny Wallace as a member of its Class of 2023.
Like most kids growing up in Arnold, Mo., Wallace was a St. Louis Cardinals fan.
“I grew up on KMOX Radio listening to Cardinal baseball,” he said.
But baseball, still a favorite for Wallace, took a backseat to the track. He began his career as a mechanic for Rusty and his dad, but eventually got behind the wheel in 1982. With the help of a local businessman, the youngest Wallace entered the Street Stock State Championship in Springfield, Ill., and won. He was 19 years old.
“Going from a mechanic to a race car driver was pretty difficult,” Wallace said. “I ended up calling a man named John Childs, who owned some tire stores in the O’Fallon area. John helped me financially and so did our motor man, Don Kirn. Racing cars is super expensive, and I could have never done it by myself.”
His first big racing break came in 1988 when NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt gave him a shot at the Busch Series race in Martinsville, Va., where he finished 11th. A year later, Wallace was the Busch Series Rookie of the Year. His mechanic days were over.
Though he was having on-track success, it took a while for Wallace to grab his first victory. In 1991 he earned his first checkered flag at the Spring 200 at Volusia Speedway in Florida.
“To this day, that’s my most gratifying on-track moment,” Wallace said. “Until then I always had it in the back of my mind if I could win on the big stage.”
While Kenny was finding success on the Busch Series, Mike and Rusty were having success of their own. With the trio all competing – and winning – one might think there would be an on-track brotherly competition of sorts. But Wallace says differently.
“I never did have a sibling rivalry with my brothers,” the youngest Wallace brother said. “I just wanted to do what they were all doing and that was racing cars.”
Wallace continued racing in NASCAR until 2015, winning eight more times on the Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity series. While he never captured a win on the Cup Series side, he did have a pair of seconds including at the Winston 500 in Talladega in 2000, There, he helped Earnhardt, his teammate, to a victory in his last race before his death by refusing to allow competitors to pass him in the final few laps.
“That was the biggest racing moment of my life,” Wallace said. “Senior was good to me. Gave me my first start. Changed my life forever.”
Soon after his NASACAR career came to a close, Wallace transitioned to broadcasting, gaining a new life as a commentator on FOX Sports. It was like putting a fish in water.
“My mom always said that I never met a stranger,” Wallace said. “I guess I was just made for TV. My boss at FOX Sports said they hired me because I had a lot to say.”
And he still has a lot to say. With more than one million followers across his social media platforms, Wallace remains close to the sport. He’s so close, in fact, that he is still a competitive – and winning – dirt track racer at the young age of 60.
“I am still racing because I am in really good shape,” Wallace said. “Watching my dad and my grandma and grandpa die of heart attacks really opened my eyes. I do my very best to stay active and eat clean. Plus, I am still winning. Like Clint Eastwood says, I’m trying not to let the old man in.”