When Mike Wallace developed a heart issue that resulted in triple bypass surgery in April 2015, it left the veteran NASCAR driver with unfinished business in his racing career.
Now, nearly four years later and fully healthy, the 59-year-old brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and Kenny Wallace hopes to finish some of that business in the 2019 season with Rick Ware Racing.
“I still have that passion,” Mike Wallace told NBC Sports on Wednesday. “I didn’t quit. I didn’t stop racing in 2015 on my own terms. And I’m very comfortable with life. It’s not like I have to do this to complete it, but I just like racing, I like it a lot, I like to be behind the wheel.”
Rick Ware Racing has two NASCAR Cup charters for 2019, which means both the No. 51 and No. 52 must run every race. Ware has offered one of those rides to Wallace, but the latter has to attract more sponsorship.
“Rick reached out, asked me to drive for him, but we have to find some money,” Wallace said. “Rick’s not in a position to hire a driver straight out. So we have a little bit of associate sponsorship put together. But we need sponsorship dollars to complete the package.
“It could be a great deal for him and his team, a great deal for me and it’s an incredibly reasonable, great opportunity for a marketing partner or partners to get involved, because you probably couldn’t get yourself into this sport and the NASCAR business any more reasonable than you can right now.”
Wallace posted on both LinkedIn and Facebook in the last couple of days seeking sponsors for the No. 52 car that he hopes to drive all season, with the exception of the Daytona 500 (although if a primary sponsor steps forward in the next week, Wallace could potentially still compete in that race).
“I know because of my age, Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs, people like that aren’t going to be calling for me to drive their cars, so why not do it if you can do it,” said Wallace, who turns 60 in March. “I still think I’m alert, healthy, have done every test you can do, have great endurance, eyesight, everybody says I’m good to go.
“Passion drives my desire. I’ve always had a passion for being a race car driver and motorsports and the NASCAR world. NASCAR racing is the coolest thing in the country.”
For now, Wallace said he and Ware have enough sponsor dollars to field the No. 52 for Atlanta, California and Las Vegas for starters.
“We worked together years ago, Rick actually fielded my daughter Chrissy in 2007-2008 era, I’ve raced against him or cars he’s owned forever,” Wallace said. “As he told me, he’d like to have a nice season with a driver like myself who can win races and run competitively and take care of equipment. We just have to make it work (financially).”
Wallace and son Matt competed in Super Late Model competition last year and it whetted the elder Wallace’s appetite to give NASCAR another go.
Wallace has made 197 Cup starts, the last race coming in 2015 (Daytona 500) just before his heart issue. He also has a combined 609 starts across both the Xfinity and Truck series, with a combined nine wins and 55 top-5 finishes.
Mike Wallace lawsuit for injuries suffered in beating moves to federal court
The lawsuit was filed May 30 in North Carolina Superior Court but moved to federal court in late June.
Wallace and his family are suing Pavilion Partners, which owns PNC Pavilion, the concert facility, and Live Nation Entertainment, which owns Pavilion Partners, and Legends Hospitality, which provided food and drink the night of the concert on June 17, 2016.
Among the claims in the Wallace lawsuit is that Pavilion Partners and Live Nation failed to have an “adequate number” of security officers around the VIP parking lot, failed to intervene during the beating and took no action to prevent the alleged attackers and their party from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol in the VIP parking lot. The suit also states that Legends “served copious amounts of additional alcoholic beverages to the alleged attackers and their party during the concert.’’
According to Wallace’s suit, the incident started after the show when Wallace, “in a friendly manner, asked how the group enjoyed the concert.’’
The suit states that Nathan Lucas began yelling obscenities at Wallace and launched himself from the back of a pickup truck at Wallace, striking Wallace in the head. Wallace lost consciousness, according to the suit, but Lucas continued to punch Wallace.
The suit states that Wallace’s daughter, Lindsey Van Wingerden, went to protect her father but she was grabbed and choked by another member of the group and repeatedly punched and kicked. She eventually got up before Paul Lucas, according to the suit, knocked her to the ground and repeatedly kicked her in the stomach and chest. Her husband sought to protect her and was repeatedly kicked and punched.
The civil suit states that Wallace suffered a likely concussion, lost a tooth, had 12 stitches inside his mouth and that his “entire body was covered with bruises for weeks following the assault.’’
The suit also states that Wallace continues to suffer from blurred vision in his right eye and is unable to race because of the eye injury. The suit states Wallace had to turn down an opportunity to drive multiple Monster Energy Cup races and missed on the chance to earn $200,000.
Wallace’s daughter suffered a broken wrist and broken ribs. The suit states that she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and “has had an enormously difficult time readjusting to ‘normal life.’ She lives in constant fear of being attacked in places where she otherwise would feel safe.’’
Van Wingerden’s husband, Thomas, suffered a dislocated shoulder, cut lip and abrasions. Wallace’s wife was bruised.
Wallace and his family are suing for gross negligence. They seek actual and punitive damages.
My NASCAR memories start to come into focus around 1996, a year before I attended my first race at Texas Motor Speedway as a 6-year-old. Even now, most of my NASCAR recollections prior to 2001 get fuzzier by the day.
But boy, did I love NASCAR in the 1990s.
The names, the races, the paint schemes. It’s embedded in my DNA as deep as the Top Gun soundtrack.
But was it really that great? That’s the question I hope to answer with this series, while learning more about the sport.
Why start with the 1995 Goody’s 500? With having covered the STP 500, I’ve had Martinsville on the brain for the last two weeks. The half-mile track is one of five Earnhardt claimed more than five wins at, and the 1995 race was the last one.
Also, the NASCAR of 1995 and 2017 have a couple things in common. Both seasons follow one where a driver won their seventh championship (Dale Earnhardt vs. Jimmie Johnson) and they’re the coming-out parties for the sport’s “youth” (Jeff Gordon vs. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, etc.).
Before we start, here’s a fun fact: There were two Goody’s 500s in 1995. The pain reliever also sponsored the Aug. 26 race at Bristol Motor Speedway (aka Dale Earnhardt vs. Terry Labonte, Part 1). Goody’s first sponsored the fall Martinsville race in 1983 and continues in 2017.
Setting the Stage
When the Winston Cup Series rolled into Martinsville on the weekend of Sept. 24, 1995, Bill Clinton was in his third year as president of the United States.
The air was filled with the sounds of Tim McGraw’s “I Like it, I Love It,” which was enjoying its third of five weeks as the No. 1 country song. Brad Pitt was asking Morgan Freeman “What’s in the box?” in David Fincher’s second film, Seven.
The Goody’s 500 was the 26th of 31 points races on the Cup schedule. Jeff Gordon, in his third full year on the circuit, had been in the points lead since the July 9 race at New Hampshire, 10 races prior.
Dale Earnhardt’s reign of terror was in its twilight. Despite three wins (North Wilkesboro, Sonoma and Indianapolis), he trailed Gordon by 309 points after the No. 24 won the previous week at Dover, his seventh win of the year.
On the afternoon of Sept. 24, the two defining names of NASCAR in the 1990s were on the front row after rain canceled qualifying. Gordon’s “pole” was his ninth of the year. At the time, Earnhardt had five career wins on the short track. Gordon had none.
With ESPN airing the race, Bob Jenkins had the call along with Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett.
What’s Different – Part 1
In 2017, there’s been a lot of hand-wringing over car counts. After the Daytona 500, only one race has reached the field maximum of 40 entries. Just a few years ago, the maximum amount was 43 cars.
But in the mid-’90s, short tracks had their own rules. A full field was 36 cars. For this race, six entries went home.
ESPN’s contributions to auto racing and how it’s presented on TV are immense. But in 1995, the practice of constant on-screen graphics depicting race position was still in its infancy. Here during the opening laps, Jenkins explained to viewers that new contraption up in the left-hand corner.
The race broadcast went to its first commercial on Lap 14 of 500. When it came back, Jenkins read ads for Ford, AC Delco and NASCAR’s 1994 season-in-review VHS tape. This tape can now be bought on eBay for $13, plus shipping and handling. As with any 22-year-old advertisement I see, I’m always tempted to call the toll-free number.
So I did.
It was disconnected.
On Lap 32, the first caution came out due to rain. Earnhardt had a commanding lead over Rusty Wallace, who had won the last three Martinsville races.
I’m all for bringing out the tarps to stay dry when there’s a little moisture, but this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough movies to know Richard Childress Racing is hiding an alien or an ancient artifact under there somewhere. My money is on an alien.
During the caution, everyone’s favorite pit road reporter, Dr. Jerry Punch, interviewed Childress. Andy Petree was Earnhardt’s crew chief at the time, but it already was known he wouldn’t be back the following year. Punch asked multiple questions about who would lead the No. 3 team (David Smith, Earnhardt’s longtime jack man, would get the job, and 1996 would be his only season as a Cup crew chief). An owner giving a midrace update on a crew chief search would be weird in 2017.
The race went back to green on Lap 51 with Earnhardt still in the lead. He lost it for the first time when Wallace passed him with 438 to go.
What’s Different – Part 2
In the 22 years since this race, NASCAR has developed a quicker trigger finger when it comes to throwing cautions. The following accident, just shy of Lap 80, would undoubtedly cause a caution in 2017. In 1995? Move along, nothing to see here.
As a result, everyone pitted. On top are 1995 pit stop times. Below, Martinsville pit times from 2016.
The next significant caution occurred on Lap 232. Every once in a while, Martinsville will catch you off guard. Such as this instance when Ted Musgrave went for a ride ON the backstretch wall courtesy of Robert Pressley. The broadcast showed a replay just as Musgrave went sprinting down pit road to confront Pressley at his car.
Remember what I said earlier about NASCAR throwing cautions? With 102 laps left in the race, Mike Wallace caused a fog drift to form when he spun exiting Turn 4. Jenkins, Parsons and Jarrett sounded just as baffled as I that it didn’t warrant a caution. Not that it mattered. Within three laps, there would be a caution involving Elton Sawyer’s No. 27 Hooters car and the No. 8 of Jeff Burton right in front of the leaders. Rusty Wallace lost a bunch of spots while avoiding a collision with Sawyer.
With 38 laps left, Earnhardt assumed the lead for the fifth time. Given the outcome, the following moment sent a jolt through me. Lake Speed, driving the No. 9 Spam car, spun in Turn 4. As Speed came down the track to get going, Earnhardt’s car flashed into view, seemingly avoiding hitting the No. 9 just in time.
During the resulting caution, the battered No. 2 of Rusty Wallace stayed out while the rest of the leaders pitted. In 1995, double file restarts among lead lap cars still were 14 years away. Earnhardt restarted behind Wallace, while the lapped car of John Andretti was the first car on the inside.
There would be one more restart with 20 to go after an accident with Dale Jarrett and Derrike Cope (the latter is the only driver in this race still competing in the Cup series in 2017).
Eleven laps later, “The Intimidator” made his presence known. The No. 3 forced Wallace to make a mistake entering Turn 3.
Nine laps later, Earnhardt took the checkered flag with ease. It was his sixth and final win at Martinsville.
Though Earnhardt significantly narrowed the points margin over the next five weeks and won the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the championship belonged to Gordon. Earnhardt missed out on an eighth title by 34 points.
Heilig-Meyers – Sponsor of Mike Wallace’s No. 90 Ford: Heilig-Meyers was a furniture company founded in 1913 in Goldsboro, North Carolina, by Lithuanian immigrants, W. A. Heilig and J. M. Meyers.
The company was the primary sponsor of Cup series entries driven by Bobby Hillin, Jr., Wallace and Dick Trickle from 1993 – 1998.
In August 2000, after becoming one the largest furniture retailers in the United States, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. All of its stores were closed by the end of the year, except for its RoomStore branches, which would be liquidated in 2012.
The charges stemmed from a fight June 17 at PNC Amphitheater in Charlotte, North Carolina. Paul Lucas had four misdemeanor assault charges against him dismissed. Two misdemeanor assault charges against both Nathan Lucas (Paul’s brother) and Randolph Magnum were also dismissed, according to the ESPN report.
A new trial was never set and the district attorney’s office dismissed the charges Friday after Wallace and his daughter requested such, ESPN reported.
According to the ESPN report, a court filing quoted prosecutor William Biggers: “In this case, the State is filing this dismissal based on the wishes of the victims.”
Although the criminal charges have been dismissed, Wallace and Van Wingarden still have options for a potential civil lawsuit.
An attorney for Wallace told ESPN that neither he nor Wallace would have any public comment. Wallace, who took to Facebook after the June 17 incident, has not made any additional comment on social media.
Wallace responded to an email from NBC Sports and replied, “Rather not make a comment.”
Mike Wallace, who has not driven in a NASCAR race since 2015, is the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and racer/broadcaster Kenny Wallace.