Time Capsule Tuesday: Rusty Wallace in the 80s

June 7, 2016

Team Penske will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in motorsports in 2016. To bring you some of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence, Team Penske is running weekly online features highlighting some of our drivers and our key events. We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.


Rusty Wallace 1980’s Biography

The name Rusty Wallace became synonymous with Team Penske in the early 1990s and remained throughout the NASCAR Hall of Famer’s career. NASCAR fans recall Wallace as the driver of the No. 2 black and gold Miller Genuine Draft Ford. Vividly recalling the car affectionately named “Midnight” dominating the competitors on the 36 degree banked concrete corners at the Bristol Motor Speedway. It was under the lights of NASCAR’s toughest short tracks that Wallace carved his legacy, as fans could peer through the windshield lap after lap as the master worked the steering wheel with his signature white gloves, much the way of a master violinist would draw the bow across the strings.

But what most fans don’t know was that Wallace was a member of Team Penske in 1980, before “Midnight” and before his days behind the wheel of the “Blue Deuce”. After Donohue, Allison and Marcus, Wallace drove for Team Penske in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.

Rusty Wallace began making a name for himself in the short track ranks in the late 1970s. The Missouri native won a pair of local track championships in the state of Florida, and moved on to win the United States Auto Club’s (USAC) Stock Car Rookie of the Year honors in 1979.

Wallace had caught the eye of team owner Roger Penske, who entered him in the Atlanta 500 on March 16, 1980. The brash youngster would empress as he finished second to sophomore sensation Dale Earnhardt. While it was unknown at the time, the 1980 Atlanta 500 would serve as a precursor to some of the best on-track battles the sport of NASCAR would see through the late 1980s through the mid 90s. Wallace would compete in one more event for Roger Penske in 1980, the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he would start 25th and finish 14th.

Wallace competed in eight more NASCAR events over the next three years (none of those with Team Penske), but scored no further top-10 finishes until joining the NASCAR Winston (now Sprint) Cup Series full-time in 1984.

However, Wallace continued making a name for himself in America’s short track ranks, notably by winning the 1983 American Speed Association (ASA) championship. Despite the success in ASA through the early 1980s, Wallace and the racing world had no idea what the future would hold and what direction the next roads would lead.