Tonight will be one of the biggest nights of Rusty Wallace’s life as he is inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C.
Wallace, who retired from driving after the 2005 season and immediately joined ESPN as an analyst, was elected to the Hall the first year he was nominated. During his career, Wallace won the 1989 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship as well as 55 races, tied for eighth on NASCAR’s all-time list of winners.
Though NASCAR is more than 60 years old, it didn’t open its own Hall of Fame until 2010, so the Class of 2013 is the fourth group of five NASCAR legends to enter. Also being inducted tonight is famed mechanic Leonard Wood, while inducted posthumously will be driver/team owner Cotton Owens and driving champs Buck Baker and Herb Thomas.
Wallace will have some 200 guests, including his former NASCAR race team owners Roger Penske and Raymond Beadle. His oldest son Greg will introduce him during the ceremony.
“We’ve got a big dinner planned and a big party and get-together after the induction for all my friends and people who helped me in my career,” said Wallace, who is an analyst on NASCAR Countdown from the ESPN Pit Studio before each telecast. “It’s going to be a big deal.”
Wallace is especially excited that his favorite race car from his career, a Ford Thunderbird nicknamed “Midnight,” has been restored to the condition it was in when he won his last race in it in 1994.
“It’s a black-and-yellow Miller Genuine Draft car,” he said. “I haven’t seen it because they won’t let me look at it but I hear it’s absolutely gorgeous.”
What does Wallace expect to feel Friday night?
“It’s going to be really emotional for me because it brings me full circle,” he said.
“I’m retired as a driver from doing really good on the track, and now I do TV, and now this brings me back to being a driver to honor me for what I accomplished as a driver,” he said. “I won’t know how I’ll react to it until it happens.”
QUOTES FROM SOME OF WALLACE’S ESPN COLLEAGUES
John Wildhack, ESPN executive vice president, production: “Rusty’s unbelievable career as a NASCAR Hall of Fame driver gives him great insight and serves our viewers and NASCAR fans very well. He was a tremendous competitor on the track and we’re fortunate to have him on our team.”
Brad Daugherty, ESPN NASCAR analyst: “It’s an honor and a privilege to work with one of the greatest drivers to ever race. Rusty brings tremendous passion and love for the sport he helped build. His battles with [Dale] Earnhardt and [Darrell] Waltrip are legendary. I’ve learned a tremendous amount working with him for the past several seasons and look forward to many more. He’s the man!”
Ray Evernham, ESPN NASCAR analyst, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion crew chief: “At one time Rusty and I were fierce competitors; we sure never had coffee together anyway. Through that competitiveness I always had a huge level of respect for his driving ability and commitment to auto racing. Rusty is simply one of the best drivers and chassis men this sport has ever seen. His intensity and unique style on the short tracks will always be what separated him from the competition in my mind. Our work in the ESPN Pit Studio has allowed us to be teammates and friends. I am extremely proud and happy for Rusty on his induction to the Hall of Fame. I will be there with him to watch as he receives this well-deserved honor.”