NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace isn't burning rubber at enormous venues around the country anymore. For now, Niagara Square will do.
"I told the mayor, ‘You guys have got a pretty good little race track here,'" Wallace said. "I was joking and told him, 'Hey, you've got a little bump here on the front straightaway. We need to pave it and smooth it out a bit.'"
Wallace roared around the square in front of Buffalo City Hall in his Miller Light No. 2 car Friday afternoon, shaking the surrounding buildings with the rev of his engine. The appearance was made to promote the upcoming Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, the crown jewel of the track's three-day race weekend from Aug. 4-7. Watkins Glen is a track that treated Wallace well during his career. He won there twice, in 1987 and 1989, and finished in the top five seven times.
The key to his success at the Glen was his training on road courses, a track style he mastered by working with Motor Sport Hall of Famer Bob Bondurant. Watkins Glen is one of five road courses on the NASCAR circuit.
“I started training on road courses out in Sonoma, California," Wallace said. "I remember going out to Sears Point out in California and doing extensive five-day training sessions. Straight from there I won at Riverside, California. Then I won again at Riverside. Then I won again at Riverside. Then I won the last two races ever run at Riverside. Then I came to Watkins Glen and won again, and it was all because my road course training.”
Here's Rusty Wallace's arrival. The car is as loud as you'd expect. pic.twitter.com/44qSasVgno
— Jack Goods (@GoodsOnSports) July 15, 2016
The fact that the surface was repaved in May sets this race apart from those of the past for Wallace. Cars are clocking in at near-record speeds according to Watkins Glen president Michael Printup.
"They're telling me the lap speeds are incredibly fast," Wallace said. "This isn’t any Watkins Glen race. This is a big race coming up because what they’ve done to the track.”
Wallace said it would be tough to pick against Brad Keselowski in the Cheez-It 355 with how successful he's been lately. He's coming off victories at the Coke Zero 400 and Quaker Stake 400. The fact that he also drives the Miller Lite No. 2 car is an added bonus.
"Look, I’m a little biased maybe because it’s my own car," Wallace said. "I remember in 1991 Roger Penske and I sat down and said, ‘Let’s go find a car number.’ I said, ‘Well, this No. 2 is available. Let’s get it.’ We got that. Then we took a pizza box and we designed the shape of the No. 2 on an empty pizza box one night. I'll never forget it.”
Wallace hasn't gotten out of the car business. He runs eight car dealerships in Tennessee and announces races on the Motor Racing Network. He'll be calling the race at Watkins Glen next month. Watching him do donuts downtown, you'd think he could buckle in and race too.