Matt Wallace’s last-minute decision to compete in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing paid dividends for the teenager who recorded a victory, his first pole and a fourth-place finish in the event’s Pro Late Model standings.
“It shows you should never give up on what you desire, keep working because I’m the only one who works at the shop on the car,” said the Concord resident, who has veteran racer Clay Rogers as his crew chief on the weekends. “Sometimes it’s a pain to do it by yourself, but you should always follow your dreams.”
The 19-year-old son of NASCAR driver Mike Wallace, Matt was returning from an event in Cordele, Ga., when at 2 a.m. at a Denny’s restaurant he decided to head to New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway for short-track racing’s speed weeks.
The Rowan-Cabarrus Community College freshman opened the nine-day event with a second place finish. Five days later he captured his first New Smyrna 35-lap feature victory.
The night turned into a Wallace family celebration after first cousin Steve Wallace, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, won a 35-lap super late model race.
“To win on basically the first time I saw the race track, I thought was pretty cool,” Matt said. “It was pretty crazy (with Steve winning the same night). My uncle Kenny (Wallace, FOX Sports analyst and former NASCAR driver) had just gotten there right before we rolled onto the grid for our Pro (Late Model) race. I pretty much led every lap in the race. Steve hadn’t been running good the whole week. The next thing you know we’re through loading up and he’s leading the race.
“So it was kind of crazy. We both won, everybody was there, everybody was a part of it and my uncle Kenny was going crazy; he was wide open.”
In the event’s seven pro late model races, Matt finished outside the top 10 only twice. In addition to his victory and his second-place finish, he had a fifth and two sixths. His worst finish occurred on the second night, when he was involved in a wreck and finished 20th.
“We took an old-fashioned way and straightened the clip,” said Matt, whose older sister Chrissy, also a driver, assisted him throughout the event. “We hooked it to a telephone pole and to under the trailer and ratchet strapped the rear end back.”
Mike believes Matt impressed several people with the way he raced at New Smyrna.
“He learned a lot of things down there,” Mike said. “The racing he did two years ago he never qualified, they drew (for their starting position) and he struggled with qualifying a little last year. He unloaded down there in Florida, was really fast and qualified really well, so that really helped his whole program out being able to do that night after night.
“There were no hobos down there. They all run good. Some of those guys in his class run Florida late models so their engine rules are a little different. They have a little more liberal motor rules and better engines. He won races against those guys. That was pretty cool to see.”
Even though Matt is a third-generation driver, he said he never felt pressured to pursue a career in the sport. He said his father always told him that if he didn’t want to race, he would be fine with it because he knew it was a difficult sport.
“But it’s one of those deals where you start doing it and you just keep wanting more and more. Now you’re so far deep into it you can’t give up nor do you want to give up,” said Matt, who started racing Bandoleros at age 9. “It was all my decision and dad has always helped me with everything.”
The father and son always make Matt’s sponsorship presentations together and his oldest sister, Lindsey, assists with their preparation.
Matt doesn’t plan to seek a series or a track championship this season. Instead, he wants to concentrate on gaining experience at numerous tracks.
In 2012-13 he competed regularly at Lebanon I-44 Speedway in Lebanon, Mo., where he won eight races driving for Mike Scott. Last year, he started his own team under the Mike Wallace Racing Inc. banner and competed in eight events, describing it as a learning season.
This year he plans to run selected races in the JEGS Champion Racing Association, the Pro All Star Series and the Mooresville-based CARS while working on his associate degree in applied sciences.
Matt, who has received support from Lucas Oil since he began racing, attends classes in the morning and late afternoon. In between, he works at his race shop and his father’s small trucking firm. Once he acquires his associate degree, he plans to transfer to UNC Charlotte and study mechanical engineering.
Wilson moves to NASCAR
After competing in the Mooresville-based CARS Pro Cup Series for the past two years, Reid Wilson will move to NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East for 2015.
The 18-year-old Huntersville resident will run a limited schedule in the No. 66 for BR2 with veteran crew chief Mike Herman Sr.
During Wilson’s two seasons with CARS, he had seven top-fives and 17 top-10s in 20 races. He also became the second youngest CARS Pro Cup pole winner and was in contention for the series title last year before a late-season injury sidelined him for two races. He eventually finished sixth in the standings.
Wilson is a freshman in UNC Charlotte’s engineering school.
Ruggles advances to late models
Kannapolis resident Jake Ruggles is moving up to late model racing for the 2015 season. Ruggles has competed with his family-owned team in the Salisbury-based Allison Legacy Series for the past two years.
In 2013, Ruggles’ first season in the Allison Legacy Series, he captured rookie honors and finished third in the point standings. Last year, he finished second in the championship battle. The teenager uses his racing to bring attention to autism. Ruggles’ younger brother, Ryan, is autistic.
IMSA names Forbes-Robinson race director
Elliott Forbes-Robinson has been named race director for the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites powered by Mazda Series, which is sanctioned by IMSA. The Lake Norman resident assumes his new position after working as a driver adviser for Grand-Am road racing and IMSA in recent years, a role he will continue in 2015.
Forbes-Robinson brings more than four decades of experience as a driver and an official in global sports car racing to his new duty. A member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Forbes-Robinson has won championships and races in numerous series since the early 1970s, including sports cars with IMSA Camel GT, the American Le Mans Series, Grand-Am and the SCCA Can-Am Challenge and open-wheel cars in Formula Super Vee and SCCA/USAC Formula 5000.
He also competed in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series on a limited basis in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Deb Williams is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Deb? Email her at email@example.com.