X Games Austin 2015: Rusty Wallace Tackles Off-Road Trucks

It was Monday morning and I had just gotten out of the shower.

“Babe, you’re phone won’t stop ringing. Someone keeps calling you,” says the girlfriend. 

Who is it?

“I don’t know,” she says.

So I walk over and take a look at my phone. Caller ID says North Carolina.

“Who is calling me from North Carolina?” I ask myself.

I check my voicemail.

“Hey Josh, it’s Rusty Wallace, it’s 10 o’clock, tryin to call ya up for the interview. I’ll try back.”

And that’s Rusty Wallace in a nut shell. The kinda guy you’ve never even met, yet makes you feel like you’ve known him for years.

To make a short story even shorter. There was some slight confusion around our schedules and I was told we would have to chat another day. He called me anyway. And I’m glad he did.

The hall-of-famer is going outside his realm to race off-road trucks at X Games Austin this year, proving yet again that the adrenaline doesn’t need to halt just because you’re approaching 60.

Rusty Wallace: rookie

Josh: I’m 30 years old. I grew up as a kid watching you drive NASCAR. I know some drivers race in other circuits. I had no idea you were racing trucks in X Games. Is this your first year doing this?

Rusty Wallace: Nah man, this is the first year of doing it. I actually quit driving a car and worked for ESPN and left those guys after about nine years. And then when that contract ran out, I’m doing radio now. But I got a call from Rich Feinberg, who is our head motorsports guy here at ESPN, and he’s also running the X Games, and he said ‘come on man, do the truck thing.’ And I said, Rich, I’ve never drivin one of them trucks, ever.

Josh: [laughs]

Rusty Wallace: And he said, ‘I know you can do it. I just know you can do it.’ So I said, ‘let me go talk to Robby Gordon.’ He’s the one who designed the trucks. I got his opinion and all that stuff … he said ‘man I can get you up to speed in nothin’ flat.’

So we started testin and I started doing all these jumps and spins and all this stuff … and I feel pretty confident. We’re goin. We’re ready. 

This will be totally out of my realm, outside of anything I’ve ever done. And I hope I’m not making a mistake, but I feel pretty good. I’m excited about it. A little bit of anxiety, just wantin’ to know how it’s gonna turn out, ya know…

Josh: Uh huh [laughs]

Rusty Wallace: But ya I feel pretty good.

Josh: Do you really feel like a rookie going into this?

Rusty Wallace: Hell ya. I feel absolutely like a rookie goin into it. Cuz I’ve never driven one of these damn things. Everyone else has been runnin’ em for two or three years … Although this is brand new course. No one has ever run it so in a way we’re on the same playing field.

Josh: I know there’s an adrenaline rush in any kind of racing but does this up the ante a little bit, doing these jumps and spins?

Rusty Wallace: It does for me. Because I’ve won 55 Cup races, a championship, a bunch of stuff in NASCAR … but when you go into someone’s backyard to compete with them and expect to beat ’em, that’s tough. 

Mentally I’m prepared. I’ve tested all I can test … I’m ready but there’s some nerves in there. 

Related: X Games Austin 2015: Jamie Bestwick Aims For 10th Straight Gold

Josh: This is the first time I can remember a former NASCAR driver getting into X Games. Have you talked to other NASCAR drivers about it? Have they given you a hard time or have they been encouraging you? What kind of feedback have you been getting?

Rusty Wallace: Nah, I haven’t gotten a hard time from anybody. I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement from Jimmie Johnson. 

Jimmie actually came off of truck racing … he gave me a lot of advice. Do a lot of work with the barrels. Do a lot of work with the grip steering break …

The whole NASCAR world is watching to see how it’s gonna turn out. Whether it’s good or bad they’ll be watching. 

No retirement here

Josh: So what’s Rusty been doing off the track when he’s not trying to get into other types of racing?

Rusty Wallace: Well, off the track I’ve got car dealerships in the Knoxville, Tennessee area … That business is going well. Been spending a lot of my time in Cabo San Lucas Mexico … I’ve been doing a majority of NASCAR races, announcing them on radio.

Josh: So you have a house in North Carolina and a house in Mexico?

Rusty Wallace: Yeah.

Josh: Wow. And now you’re dabbling in racing in X Games. Sounds like it might be a dream scenario for most retirees. 

Rusty Wallace: Yeah I don’t call myself retired, that’s for sure.

Josh: They say retirement is when you actually get to do what you really wanna do. So are you doing just that?

Rusty Wallace: No. Hell no. Not right yet. What I really wanna do is lie on my ass and have a good time playin golf, man. [laughs]

First car

Josh: You said you’ve always been a car guy. What was the first car you owned … or drove?

Rusty Wallace: My first car I ever drove was a pickup truck. A C10 pickup. I had it all hopped up, a big Chevrolet engine in it. Fat tires. An incredible stereo system. And that’s how I met my wife, Patti [laughs].

Right now I got some really great cars. I have a really badass ’66 El Camino … we rebuilt a ’78 Corvette that’s really cool … I’m personally driving one of those GO7 Corvettes. 

I got some of my past race cars. One of them is in the hall of fame right now. The car I won my 50th victory at Bristol, it’s sittin’ there … I’ve kept some cool cars and restored some cool cars.

Dale Earnhardt Sr. 

Josh: Over your NASCAR career, which fellow driver did you have the most respect for?

Rusty Wallace: It’s always been Dale Earnhardt sr. I mean he got killed in a big wreck in 2000. But he was the guy who was the best driver in my opinion. And I was always head to head with that guy. 

He would win, I would win. He would win, I would win. And we became pretty good friends off the track, because of that. And then on the track he acted like he didn’t know me. Off the track we had a great time, but he was just an incredible talent. 

Josh: Do you think Dale was in a tier of his own or would you put Jimmie Johnson up there, and with Jeff Gordon retiring this year, would you put him up there as well?

Rusty Wallace: Yeah I would definitely put them up there, absolutely. But they’re two totally different people. Dale sr. was a real rough and tumble guy. Old school guy. He was like an alleycat. And Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, they’re great drivers … real polished dudes. They perform well, and Earnhardt wasn’t like that.

Earnhardt was the mean guy on the race track. He’d bump and bang ya and spin people out .. always wore the same cowboy hat and sunglasses everywhere he went. But we got along really good.

But if you look at the numbers at what Jimmie Johnson’s been able to accomplish, you say yeah, and should be able to compare him to Dale Earnhardt sr. But you can’t because they’re two totally different driver styles. Jimmie’s career has been very, very technical driven. And Dale Earnhardt sr.’s was real seat-of-your-pants.

Josh: You said you and Dale had a good time off the track?

Rusty Wallace: Yeah

Favorite Dale Earnhardt story

Josh: So what’s something you can tell us that’s PG-13?

Rusty Wallace: We’d rent boats down at the Bahamas all the time and spend time in the water down there. Had a great time, drinkin’ beer and just hangin’ out.

Would go to his shop occasionally, his race shop. And he taught my kid how to shoot a bow and arrow … He took me outside and wanted to show me this brand new bow and arrow that he built. It was supposed to be this crazy ass thing with a lot of power or somethin’. Inside his garage was a brand new race car that he was personally getting ready to take down to the Daytona 300 — there’s a race that runs on Saturday before the Daytona 500 … So he says I wanna show you this bow and arrow …

So we go out there and he puts this thing, pointing in the area he wants to shoot it. He pulls that thing back and let’s go, and he didn’t have it aimed right. And it went right through the side of his garage and right through the radiator of his brand new race car. I hear ’em go ‘Oh, shit!’ And he ran inside the garage and he starts hollerin’ ‘Oh my Gawd! That’s a brand new radiator man, I can’t get any of these anywhere!’

He shot his own race car with this own bow and arrow right before a Daytona race. [laughs]

I laughed my ass off. [laughs] It was so funny. 

He was that type of dude, ya know.

Josh: So was he able to race the next day?

Rusty Wallace: Oh ya, he raced. He figured it out. I think he actually won the race the next day. [laughs]

Josh: Wow

Rusty Wallace: Yeah he was an incredible guy. That was my rival. 

What you don’t know 

Josh: What’s something your fans might not know about ya that you think they should?

Rusty Wallace: Ah, man. I don’t know … Golf is probably the thing that calms me down the most. When I’m all crazy and goin’ nuts, when I get to a golf course, the peace and tranquility of it is something I really like. 

Josh: And you’re gonna go from peace and tranquility to being an extreme athlete. 

Rusty Wallace: Yeah, peace and tranquility, wide ass open, goin freakin’ nuts.


Josh Helmuth is the editor of CraveOnline Sports.

Photo Credit: Getty