Allison took time, helped another legend

On Motor Sports

April 18, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Winston Cup driver Rusty Wallace isn't stumped for a minute when asked: "Are you a legend?"

"Sure," he says. "I hope so. To me, a legend is someone who has been around a long time, done good things for his sport and is well known."

And then he pauses.

"Well," he says. "Legends usually are retired or dead. Maybe I'm a semi-legend."

Today, at Martinsville Speedway, Wallace is going for his 50th career win in the Goody's Headache Powder 500. In NASCAR history, only nine men have won 50 races. Last Sunday in Bristol, when Wallace won on the short track, he became one of only 10 to have won 49.

The legendary drivers include Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Junior Johnson.

"It's an honor to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys," says Wallace, as he considers the company he's keeping. "You know, when I was getting started in racing, Bobby Allison was my hero and he still is. You want to know why?"

You bet.

Wallace, 42, chatted in a telephone interview about his earliest days in racing and how Allison influenced them.

"Every time I went to a short track race, Bobby Allison would be there," says Wallace. "I'd go ask him stuff and he'd always take the time to talk to me. And as I got to know him, he'd let me call him to ask questions and he'd answer them. Not short, `Let's get this over with' answers, but real answers. He'd talk for 20 minutes on one subject, telling me what I needed to know."

Wallace says there was one piece of advice that Allison gave him that he tries to pass along to young drivers when they ask him for help: No matter what happens in your life outside racing, just pay attention to making the car work better all the time.

Allison, retired since a near-fatal 1988 crash, practiced what he preached. Wallace tries to emulate his effort. The results have been multiple seasons of multiple victories. But, each man has just one Winston Cup title.

"I do think about that a bunch," says Wallace, who figures he should have at least two more titles: 1993, when he won 10 races, and 1994, when he won eight. Both times, Earnhardt won because he was more consistent.

When Wallace left home 20 years ago to go Cup racing, his "only thoughts were to get out of St. Louis and do good." Now, the objectives are in sharper focus.

"The goals are to win more races, more championships," Wallace says. "I don't know how many more races I'll win, but 50 is a nice, big, round number to start with."

A legendary number.

Throttling back

Aggression appears to be a major ingredient in all types of racing, but Winston Cup points leader Jeff Burton says it is controlling aggression that pays. Burton has shown a time or two this season that he can do that, but says he has gotten there by taking a path less muddied.

"Most drivers learn patience and learn to be less aggressive as they get more mature," he says. "I'm backward of that."

He started out racing cars cautiously and says he "was criticized for years because I wasn't aggressive enough." He had reason.

"I didn't think I was good enough to be aggressive," Burton says. "I thought that if I got aggressive, that nine times out of 10 I was gonna come out the loser, and I had evidence to support that."

But over the past four years, Burton's confidence has improved. He is putting his foot down more firmly.

"Sometimes," he says. "I've crossed the line because I was having to learn how far I could go. I'm only 31 years old. I've got a lot to learn about being a competitive person. I'm trying to use aggression when you need to and use patience when you need to."

Nuts and bolts

Three past Indy 500 winners -- Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk and Buddy Lazier -- are among the 84 cars entered for qualifying for the 83rd Indianapolis 500. The track opens May 15 and Pole Day is May 22. The race? May 30.

Here is an Indy 500, Coca Cola 600 fact: While several drivers, including John Andretti and Robby Gordon, have driven in both races on the same day, no one has run the entire 1,100 miles. Former Indy Racing League champion and current Winston Cup rookie candidate Tony Stewart will be the latest to try and says completing both races will be his goal.

As Major League Baseball considers placing advertisements on the sleeves of player uniforms, Winston Cup driver Ward Burton sums up the view in NASCAR pretty succinctly.

"What took them so long?" said Burton, who wears a Caterpillar logo on his driver's uniform. "If they do it, it won't be long before football and everything else will be doing [it]. The only sport I see having a problem is basketball -- and that's only because they don't have sleeves."

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