Kenny Wallace feels at home racing in Wisconsin
By Bert Lehman
Editor, Full Throttle Magazine
There probably isn’t a race track — dirt or asphalt — in the United States that former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace doesn’t like.
When he ventured to 141 Speedway to compete in the Clash at the Creek IV, he had nothing but good things to say about the track and racing in Wisconsin.
“Everybody knows that Wisconsin is the home of real racing,” Wallace said prior to the first night of racing at the Clash at the Creek. “These guys for years raced Tuesdays all the way through Sundays. For years they only took off Mondays. This has always been known as the epicenter of auto racing.”
Wallace was racing a MadMan chassis, IMCA Modified owned by Ricky Lemmen.
Lemmen said he worked with Wallace 15 years ago on asphalt Late Model cars.
“It’s just exciting to be around him,” Lemmen said. “He’s a good guy. He’s good for the sport and I thought I’d give him a call and it all worked out and here he is.”
It wasn’t a tough sell, Lemmen said about when he called Wallace to offer him the ride.
“He started laughing and said, ‘Yeah,” Lemmen said. “He said if we can make it work, he’d be here. I think he called me back two days later and we had it all set up.”
Wallace said with the race in the middle of the week, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
“I’m a racer. This is my 10th year on dirt and it’s very rare that any Modified race in the world pays $10,000-to-win. I got good friends up here. Ricky my car owner owns some really good Mods and it just made all the sense in the world,” Wallace said.
With Wallace and his wife celebrating 30 years of marriage just days prior to the Clash at the Creek, they decided to make a vacation out of the trip.
“Instead of flying up and getting a rental car, we drove a pickup truck with the souvenir cart,” Wallace said. “My wife likes selling souvenirs. She likes meeting the fans and talking to them. We’ve had a great time. We left St. Louis and took our time getting up here. It’s been a really good time, really calm and easy going.”
When Wallace is on the track, he’s looking for more than just a good time, he’s looking to be competitive.
He arrived at 141 Speedway early enough for the Tuesday night practice.
“I practiced as much as I could. I couldn’t ask for anymore practice,” Wallace said.
Many times drivers new to 141 Speedway say it is a very unique track. Wallace acknowledged to track is unique.
“I’ve seen all the dirt tracks [around the country]. This is a really great facility. I think the only thing unique about it is that both corners are completely different, but I race at a lot of dirt tracks like that,” Wallace said.
Brian Mullen, who builds the MadMan chassis’, was impressed with Wallace’s preparation for practice. He said Wallace would come in after a practice run and explain what he’d like the car to do.
“He’s very knowledgeable because they race dirt Modifieds everywhere, they’re just UMP cars,” Mullen said. “He knew what he wanted and it was fun to work with him because he’s here to race, not just make an appearance.”
Mullen said UMP Modifieds have better tires and bigger spoilers than the IMCA Modified Wallace was racing.
“I’ve seen other guys jump in them and not do very good and he runs very well for not being in this type of car,” Mullen said.
Wallace said he felt competitive in practice, but admitted it would be a hard race to qualify for, as only 24 of the 69 Modifieds on hand would make the big show.
Prior to the night of qualifying heats, Wallace said his goal was to qualify for the feature through the heat races.
When asked if he picked the brains of the local drivers, without hesitation, Wallace replied, “All of them. Every one of them. I’m listening. I’m with a really good team. These guys know what they’re doing. I’m really fortunate to be in a good car.”
Each driver raced in two heat races on Wednesday night of the show, with the starting lineup flip flopped from their first heat to their second heat. Drivers accumulated points based on passing points and finishing place.
Wallace finished third in his first heat race and second in his second heat race. Those finishes weren’t good enough to lock Wallace into the show, meaning he’d have to qualify through a “B” Main.
Wallace wasn’t down on himself after the first night of racing.
“I’d give myself an A++ and I’ll tell you why. I’m in a strange car. I’m in strange territory and I started last in my first heat and I got third. I got beat in my second heat, but he’s (Mike Mullen) one of the best in the north right now. But it can all go wrong tomorrow. As they say, you can’t let your guard down. My guard is up. I have to drive good tomorrow to win my race. If I don’t win my race, then I have to finish in the top four in the Last Chance race.”
Lemmen said he was happy with Wallace’s performance in the heat races.
“Being at a brand new track like this and driving a brand new car, you saw how well he did,” Lemmen said.
Mike Mullen said it was fun having Wallace as a teammate, and he thought Wallace did a good job in his heat races, under tough circumstances.
“Most people expect he can get in any car and threaten to win, but in reality it’s really hard to do that. He’s driving really good with it,” Mike Mullen said.
Prior to the final night of racing, Wallace said that it would be a huge accomplishment to qualify for the feature.
Wallace finished third in his “B” Main, which put him in the Last Chance race. He finished second in that race to get him into the big show in the 22nd starting spot.
In addition to Wallace’s driving ability, Lemmen credited Pro World and Brian Mullen of MadMan Chassis for his help in setting up the car.
“Brian Mullen works endless hours on these chassis’ and people don’t see that, but he does that,” Lemmen said. “He tries new setups all the time racing. That’s why he may not do as well every time because he’s trying new stuff for us.”
Wallace wound up finishing 19th in the feature.
“I had too much fun, it’s illegal,” said Wallace, after his racing experience at 141 Speedway. “It was a great. Obviously I knew I was in for an awful lot. With 69 cars here, knowing that 45 would miss the race, we made it. It took all the way to the bitter end. I was kind of shocked that I finished third, second, third and second, those finishes are what it took to start 22nd out of a 24 car field. What an incredible experience for me.”
And where was Wallace headed after his Wisconsin racing adventure, to a dirt track in Kentucky to race a dirt Late Model in a Hell Tour race.
(This article first appeared in the July 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)