DES MOINES — Nearly every time he is asked about Iowa, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace just can't seem to contain himself.
Obviously being the designer and co-owner of Iowa Speedway gives him a certain amount of stock in the state, but he also state multiple times that Iowa is like a second home to him.
On Wednesday afternoon, Iowa governor Terry Branstad made that idea a legitimate one with a proclamation that made Wallace an honorary Iowan at the state captiol rotunda in Des Moines.
"When I heard what the governor wanted to do, I was really excited about it," Wallace said. "I meant what I said when I said it's like a second home to me, and to see the track be so successful with so many people showing up all the time, it's a really good feeling."
Branstad read the proclamation and allowed Wallace to address to the medium-sized audience that included Iowa Speedway officials, government representatives and even a few fans seeking some autographs.
“Rusty has discovered something all Iowans know — that Iowa is a great state that would benefit from a world-class racetrack facility, and he joined the group that helped bring the Iowa Speedway to fruition,” Branstad read in the proclamation. “He designed the racetrack, played a vital role in the development of Iowa Speedway facility and since the facility opened in 2006, not only Newton, but the entire state of Iowa has benefitted.”
And while the early portion of Wallace’s stay was all about him, he quickly shifted the conversation to the track’s goals of attaining a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Using some recent comments by defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski about racing in Iowa, Wallace seemed to have more firepower on the topic than ever.
“It’s fun coming up here because the atmosphere is always so electric and everyone is so happy. I hope we can keep that going and we’re going to work real hard to get a NASCAR Cup race,” Wallace said. “The nice thing is that all the drivers are wanting it and putting in a lot of good words to get us a Cup date here.”
The question has been asked to speedway officials consistently over the past few years, but Keselowski’s endorsement and Wallace’s newfound enthusiasm are new wrinkles in the explanation that the track has done all it can do and the fans simply have to wait for NASCAR’s decision. However, Wallace didn’t hesitate to say that the Sprint Cup could be in Newton within three to five years.
“I think that’s very realistic and I would be disappointed if it didn’t happen,” Wallace said. “There’s not a day goes by that we don’t actively work on that. It’s a real tough deal since NASCAR announced they would only have 36 races, so if somebody wants one, they’ll have to get it from some other track.”
Wallace also touched on Danica Patrick’s performance at the Daytona 500 and the safety issues that arose during last weekend’s Nationwide Series race. However, due to the advanced SAFER barrier and catch fence at Iowa Speedway, Wallace is confident something like that likely couldn’t happen there.
“Every time something happens, whether it’s good or bad, it spurs some kind of conversation,” Wallace said. “Now, NASCAR is really looking into what caused that car to fail. To get parts through the fence, thank God the fence did its job. Now, NASCAR is wide open in a big investigation trying to figure how they won’t have a car like that fail.”
No matter where the conversation went, Wallace always managed to swing it back to Newton. Besides his enthusiasm for the on-track schedule, Wallace also expressed excitement for the adjusted date of the Iowa Grand Motorcyle Rally, which was changed in an effort to get more riders to Iowa before Sturgis.
“Our very first thing is our motorcycle rally, and that’s going to be a blast,” Wallace said. “I love riding motorcycles, but last time we had a rally, it was like 105 degrees out there and I did the whole thing. It was hot, man.
“But then we have the two Nationwide Series races, two truck races, two K&N races and the IndyCar race, which was our premier race to start with,” Wallace said. “We’ve got a great lineup and we’ve been working with new sponsors for our track since it takes a lot of money to keep this thing going.”
Wallace stuck around to mingle with government employees, take photos and sign a few autographs for fans after the ceremony. Although it probably never was a question before, Wallace could officially say he was among his own people while he was doing it.
“I’ve met so many people here and I’ve always thought about getting a second home here because I like it so much, and I might do that one of these days,” Wallace said. “There are a lot of fun things to do in Iowa and I enjoy coming here, I really do.”