Thursday, August 23, 2012

How Earnhardt's death contributed to Rusty Wallace's retirement

   On Thursday night, many NASCAR media had the chance to talk quite a while with NASCAR veteran Rusty Wallace and the driver who now wheels the No. 2 Dodge at Penske Racing, Brad Keselowski.

   I have always been curious on how Wallace came to the decision to walk away and retire as a driver - while he was still on top of his career - and how unlike many others, he has never returned to NASCAR competition in any form. So, I asked Wallace about it Thursday night and his answer I found quite interesting. I'm not sure he had shared such details before.

   Here was his response:

   "There are many reasons why I quit driving the car. Really, I had accomplished all I could. I have just kept running and kept winning, but I had won at just about every track. That particular year I made the Chase. I remember going to Richmond - had a great race that day - and remember moving into second in points behind Jimmie Johnson. But there was one thing that was lingering in the back of my head while this whole thing was going on. And it was when Dale (Earnhardt) got killed. Mr. (Bill) France came up to me before Dale passed away and said, 'Rusty, how much longer you going to keep doing this?' He actually took his hand and did something - he told me in his office about a month before Dale died, he said he was watching my career. He said I was still getting it done, still winning. He said, 'I watched you go up, and you got to the very top and now you're teetering back and forth.' He said he thought I needed to hang this up and work for NASCAR or work with TV. He said, 'You can't prove any more. I don't want to see you get hurt.'

   "So, we were at the hospital the night Dale passed away and I looked across the room and there was Bill France and he looked me right in the eye and held his hands up like this (Rusty made a T with his hands and had the top hand teetering back and forth). It made me think. I ran the rest of the year. We put together a proper go-away - Rusty's Last Call. I thought about the next chapter of my career. Then I got a phone call from ESPN asking me to be an analyst for them and I said I need to do that. It was a great offer and it was a good time to do it.

   "When I go to certain tracks, like Richmond or Bristol, I wish I was out there. When Talladega happens, I go, 'Oh my God you can have it.' I think about it at different tracks."