Roger Penske and Rusty Wallace were at the Fillmore Detroit for the 26th annual Motorsports Hall of Fame of America induction ceremony on Wednesday night. (David Goricki / Detroit News)
Rusty Wallace credits Roger Penske for helping him enjoy an outstanding racing career on the track and an equally satisfying career off it as owner of several car dealerships.
Wallace and Penske were reunited Wednesday night at the Fillmore Detroit for the 26th annual Motorsports Hall of Fame of America induction ceremony.
Wallace, 57, was inducted into the MSHFA with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, Raymond Beadle (drag racing), Ricky Graham (motorcycles), Ole Bardahl (boats), John Bishop (sports cars) and Marshall Teague (historic).
Wallace was a fixture in the NASCAR scene while driving the famed No. 2 Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Beer and Miller Lite cars for Penske. He won 55 Winston Cup – now Sprint Cup — races in 706 career starts, including six times when he won the Cup title by 12 points over the late Dale Earnhardt in 1989 while driving for Penske.
Still, the best stretch of Wallace’s career came in 1993 when he won 10 races while driving a Pontiac for Penske and eight times the following year in a Ford. He finished second to Earnhardt in the ’93 title chase.
“This event is big, very high end,” said Wallace of the MSHFA ceremony. “All the big car companies and their executives are here … people we’ve all read about, and having Roger induct me is really, really special.
“I’ve marveled at what Roger’s done. He was always a mentor to me, always talking about cars and business. I have seven car dealerships now and he’s helped guide me. He’s taught me about a lot of things, really how to treat people.”
Wallace’s biggest rival was Earnhardt, who died in an accident in the 2001 Daytona 500. Wallace retired in 2005.
“He was my biggest rival and best friend,” Wallace said of Earnhardt. “He always stood out and was the one you wanted to beat. When he passed away I felt all the rest of the drivers, and they were all very good drivers, blended together.”
Wallace was thrilled to display his favorite race car “Midnight” at the ceremony.
“My key car was Midnight and we 100 percent restored it and put it on display tonight,” Wallace said. “I had that car in ’92, ’93, ’94 and ’95. I remember Earnhardt always shouting to me, ‘What car are you driving?’ and when I told him Midnight, he’d just say, ‘That car put the fear of God in everybody.’ ”
And, so did Wallace during the late ’80s and ’90s, even winning four races in 2000 for Penske.
Wallace will make a return trip to Michigan next week. He has been an analyst with ESPN for eight years. He will be in the booth when the Sprint Cup series visits Michigan International Speedway Aug. 15-17 for the Pure Michigan 400.