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The 'other' Wallaces get their shot

Younger brothers Mike and Kenny have their best chance - temporarily, anyway - to race at the top like big brother Rusty.

By JOANNE KORTH

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2001


Younger brothers Mike and Kenny have their best chance -- temporarily, anyway -- to race at the top like big brother Rusty.

For years, there really was only one Wallace.

Rusty's younger brothers, Mike and Kenny, had long been race car drivers, but there never was any confusion when, say, a Winston Cup race leader was identified simply as "Wallace."

Everyone knew it was Rusty. But now, you have to ask: Which Wallace?

In top-notch rides for the first time in their careers, Mike and Kenny finally are getting the opportunity to prove all the Wallace brothers have talent.

"We've upset the apple cart," said Kenny, who won the pole on Friday for Sunday's Pop Secret Microwave 400 at Rockingham, N.C. "It's really neat for drivers like Mike and myself who have never gotten in good race cars. I can't stress how important it is to get in a good race car right away because then people think you're a good driver. When you get in a bad race car, people question your ability."

Rusty, 45, is the oldest. The 1989 Winston Cup champion has spent the majority of his 18-year career driving for two big-money owners: Ray Beadle and Roger Penske. He has 54 career victories and trails only Jeff Gordon (58) among active drivers. Sixth in the standings, he is poised for his ninth consecutive top-10 championship finish.

Mike and Kenny cannot relate. Neither has won a Winston Cup race. Neither has finished higher than 22nd in points. Neither has worked for a big-budget team.

But, for now, both are sampling what Rusty's life has been like all these years. Filling in for the rest of the season on established teams, Mike and Kenny are driving fast cars, running up front, challenging for wins and proving people wrong.

Mike, 42, is driving the No. 12 Ford at Penske Racing South as Rusty's teammate. Kenny, 38, is filling in for injured Steve Park in the No. 1 Chevrolet at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"It's pretty neat because for a long time people have been saying my brothers couldn't drive," Rusty said. "Well, here they are in strong rides and they're proving they can drive the heck out of a car. It makes Sunday a little bit more special for us."

Growing up in St. Louis, Rusty reaped the benefits of being the oldest. Most of the family's modest resources were invested in building his career, leaving little for Mike and less for Kenny. While Mike struck out on his own, Kenny helped with Rusty's cars. As a result, the younger brothers struggled to reach stock car racing's highest level.

Mike, who has won truck and Busch Grand National races, began the season in the No. 7 Ford of Ultra Motorsports. Knowing he would not return in 2002, he left for the chance to drive the No. 12.

Good move.

Since taking over for Jeremy Mayfield, whom Penske fired four weeks ago, Mike has consistently run among the leaders and finished in the top 10 twice, including a career-best second Sunday at Phoenix.

"I've had the best race team I've ever had in my life," said Mike, who has made 102 Winston Cup starts. "I haven't done anything different as a driver in the last four weeks, except get in a better race car and work with a better race team. We feel we're capable of winning a race before the year is out."

According to Kenny, whom many speculated would give up his driving career for broadcasting, the past month has been therapeutic for Mike.

"This means the world to Mike," Kenny said. "This has completed his life, his soul. It hurt his pride and his feelings for people to question his ability."

Kenny began the season in the No. 27 Pontiac at Eel River Racing, but the money soon ran out and he returned to BGN. When Park suffered a concussion Sept. 1 at Darlington, DEI called on Kenny. His four top-10 starts and season-best finish of sixth at Talladega have come in the No. 1. "People do two things to me," said Kenny, who has made 239 Winston Cup starts. "They tell me how great I'm doing in the No. 1 car, and then they say they hope that it leads to something."

Despite their recent success, Mike and Kenny don't have jobs lined up next season. Penske is not sure he will bring the No. 12 team back, though Mike would be a leading candidate if he does, and Park will return to the No. 1 when he's healthy. Kenny said he'll announce his 2002 plans in two weeks. For now, they drive hard and hope for the best.

"Gosh, I'd like for things to work out for them," Rusty said. "Both their deals are temporary right now, but they've been driving the wheels off the last few weeks and that should open a bunch of doors for them."

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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