Rusty Wallace wears several hats — track designer, track owner, television analyst, Iowa Speedway “ambassador.” Plus this week, he admits he has been “weather man.”
“All week I’ve watched the forecast and we should have perfect racing weather this weekend,” Wallace said Thursday afternoon. “We got hammered with rain the first Nationwide race this year and our Indy race. We’re one of the tracks that sell out our races all the time.”
Wallace, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, spoke of his passion for Iowa Speedway, the race track he designed. He is also a minority owner of the track. The Speedway hosts NASCAR K&N Pro Series Pork Be Inspired 150 on Friday night and the NASCAR Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 on Saturday.
“We’re so excited right now for Saturday’s race. We’re really close to a sellout,” Wallace said. “That’s great. This race is big for several reasons. We’ve got a heck of a points battle going on in the Nationwide Series.”
Wallace said Regan Smith had been leading the series early on but Austin Dillon has jumped into the top points spot now. He said Smith and Sam Hornish Jr. are right on Dillion’s heels.
“Austin is really popular and one reason is he has the No. 3 — Dale Earnhardt Sr.‘s number — on his car and fans like that. We call this an opportunity race. There’s only one (Sprint) Cup driver competing in this weekend’s Nationwide race, Brad Keselowski, because of the owner’s championship points race,” Wallace said.
Wallace said Roger Penske’s No. 22 car has been winning a lot in the Nationwide races with several drivers behind the wheel. It has put Penske in a position to win an owner’s championship so Keselowski will be driven No. 22 Saturday then fly out to the Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono on Sunday.
Wallace said Smith, Dillon, Hornish, Brian Vickers, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, who are some of the key drivers in the Nationwide competition, are glad the Cup drivers aren’t here this weekend.
“Winning Iowa is big for these guys. It is one of the most popular Nationwide races of the year and the guys want to win here,” Wallace said.
Sprint Cup in Iowa
The question Wallace always hears: What about a Sprint Cup race for Iowa Speedway?
“We will get a Sprint Cup race. I know we will because I’m going to push and push to make it happen. But, in order for us to get a Cup date, we’re going to get one from a track that has two Cup dates,” Wallace said. “We’re talking to some tracks we’ve identified as ones interested in either selling us one of their dates or partnering with us.”
He does admit not obtaining an $8 million state grant the track pursued earlier this year put a crimp in the run to obtain a Sprint Cup race. Wallace said when the Iowa Statehouse did not approve the grant in May, he was disappointed.
“We had great support for the project from the governor and the state senate but the house didn’t share the passion and love we have for this track. We didn’t do a good enough job of educating them on our facility and what this track and the events we have here do for Iowa,” Wallace said.
Wallace said Iowa Speedway currently pumps $60 million into Iowa’s economy annually and estimated that figure could double with the addition of a Sprint Cup race.
“We know that NASCAR doesn’t give anybody anything until everything is in place,” Wallace said. “It’s a little bit of a setback because we wanted to put the infrastructure in place to prove to NASCAR that we’re ready for this race and we’ve got it handled. Now they’ve got to go on our word and our goodwill of what we’ve done in the past.”
Wallace said there is a need to lengthen the runway at the Newton airport, which is just across the road from the Speedway. He said another 1,500 feet on the runway would allow all the NASCAR team planes to fly right into Newton.
“Newton has been great with us. These teams will buy a ton of fuel and a ton of services,” Wallace said. “That would be one project we’d like to get done in preparation of getting a Cup race here.”
On new TV deal
AS AN ESPN race analyst, Wallace said he was sad about the new television deal NASCAR has reached with NBC, which begins in 2015.
“It’s good for the drivers, good for the owners and really, really good for the race tracks. Race tracks should have close to a 50 percent gain in revenue from the TV money,” Wallace said. “For our little big track, as I refer to it, it will be tremendous. We sell more tickets here than the tracks in Chicago and New Hampshire do for their races. We’re watching every penny.
“But then I take off my track owner’s hat and put on my ESPN hat, I’m sad that ESPN won’t be around for the races after 2014.”
Wallace shows a lot of passion for Iowa Speedway and the Newton community.
He gives the track management team accolades for its efforts to provide a quality racing facility for drivers, the racing teams and for racing fans.