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Rusty Wallace fondly recalls dirt track days as he arrives at RCS

NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace poses for a photo with Bret Rowley of Grand Forks during an autograph session at ACME Tools Friday. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Rusty Wallace arrived in Grand Forks on Friday afternoon for the second time.

"I love that airport," he said.

Nostalgia was setting in.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame driver grabbed a Grand Forks Herald, saw the cover photo of dirt-track racing on the sports page and began thinking back to how he got started in racing so many years ago.

"It was a '69 Chevy Chevelle," Wallace said he used to race on dirt tracks. "Big, ol' wide, dirt tires on that baby. We had a 327 Chevy engine, shaker screen on the front. It was orange and blue, No. 66.

"I won a lot of races in that baby. Those professional dirt track guys put it on me every now and then, but I was pretty happy how we were able to, as a mom and pop operation, still get it done."

Wallace is in town to be the grand marshal of tonight's World of Outlaw Late Models show at River Cities Speedway. The show begins at 7 p.m., and Wallace may sign autographs there.

Wallace signed autographs at ACME Tools earlier in the day, too.

Wallace said he's also looking forward to the show on the quarter-mile, short track known as The Bullring.

While Wallace eventually moved to asphalt racing—he won 55 NASCAR races and the 1989 Winston Cup—he never lost his fondness for his roots, especially the short tracks.

He never won a NASCAR race at Talladega or Daytona, two of the longest tracks on the circuit, but he made his mark as a dominant driver on the short tracks.

He won nine times at Bristol and seven times at Martinsville.

Because of his dominance on short tracks, Wallace was later asked to help design a short track in Iowa.

"When you get to short tracks, it's all about getting that car to handle on a racetrack," Wallace said. "It's all about really getting aggressive behind the wheel. A lot of bumping and banging goes on. A lot of tempers start flaring. There are a lot of families involved in it that really take things to heart and really get upset when things go wrong. I've seen all of those personalities in short-track racing.

"I have more fun short-track racing than I do going to the bigger tracks, because it's right down in people's backyards. It's where I learned, so it just feels comfortable to me."

Wallace is frequently asked by young drivers for advice.

His message is consistent.

"Understand every single aspect of your car," he said. "Really get under the hood of that thing. Really understand your shock absorbers, understand your air pressure settings, really understand all the moving parts, because if you're just a guy that says, 'Hey, I can be a good driver,' but you don't know anything about your car, you're not going to be successful.

"I don't care what kind of car you're working on, just understand all the mechanics of it. If you can do that, you'll be able to set your car up and get that baby running fast at the track. You'll control your own destiny instead of putting your destiny in someone else's hands all the time. That's what I never did do. I always worked on my cars, always worked on the chassis. That's what I tell my son. That's what I tell my friends, who are drivers, to do. I never tell them how to speak or act or talk. I just tell them to get their head under the hood of that car."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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