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NASCAR legend Kenny Wallace isn’t letting the old man in

At 60, 'Herm' is only slowing down a little bit

And I knew all of my life
That someday it would end
Get up and go outside
Don’t let the old man in

It’s apropos that on a week in which the whole country is celebrating the life and legacy of Toby Keith that motorsports veteran Kenny Wallace is taking lyrics from a 2019 song to heart and entirely embodying its spirit.

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn

Wallace is 60 years old and knows there is far more in his rear-view mirror than his windshield. That figurative mirror includes 904 NASCAR national touring starts with nine victories in what is now the Xfinity Series at a time where those wins were the hardest to come by.

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He transitioned to a television analyst role during NASCAR’s peak popularity and his infectious personality played a large part in growing the sport while also tying it back to its roots. In a sport where so many disagree about so much, Wallace was for everyone.

Retiring from FOX after the 2018 season, Wallace has spent the past six years all-in on his UMP dirt modified and has genuinely had the time of his life chasing victories and sharing stories in pit areas from coast to coast.

But at some point over the past two years, he started to contemplate what life after racing would look like, and he wasn’t even aware of it.

And I knew all of my life
That someday it would end
Get up and go outside
Don’t let the old man in

“I never knew that I was going through that process until after it started,” Wallace told Sportsnaut on Wednesday at the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway.

“I went out to Sturgis because my brother Rust has this new motorcycle company, Southern Country Customs, and I was shocked because some of the world’s greatest race car drivers were out there. There was Don Prudhomme, who has won everything in drag racing, and Walker Evans, who won Baja and his stats are off the chart. We had Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer up there one night and I let it slip out that I was thinking about making that my last year racing.”

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Wallace said Prudhomme and Evans jumped from their seats and protested in unison. Evans told Wallace, then 59, that he won his last championship at 62 and it stuck.

Wallace said he credit his accountant, Ashok Chudgar for being something similar to a life coach, and that even the CPA pushed back on the topic of retirement.

“Ashok has always preached to me that all of his clients would financially be well off and they would quit and their heart would quit,” Wallace said. “They’d call Ashok back a year, maybe two or three years later and say, ‘I’m so bored. I want to start my company back up’

“And then last but not least, there’s this Toby Keith song from the Clint Eastwood movie, you know, don’t let the old man in.”

Wallace has lived those many moons, and he says he aches the most when he’s working on the car by himself or having to pull it down off the hauler. So, he gets in the hot tub, and it loosens all the aches and pains away, and then he has the hardest time letting go.

He missed the DIRTcar Nationals in 2023 to spend a week in Cabo San Lucas, his effort to both spend more time with his family while also winding down his racing ambitions.

There’s a lyric for that too.

Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sundown with wine
Don’t let the old man in

Then Wallace went to Volusia in March of 2023 for the annual Bike Week event for the World of Outlaws at Volusia. He served as grand marshal alongside his brother Rusty and nephew Stephen, where the whole ordeal reminded him of just how much he loved the competition and community.

He couldn’t retire, not yet, not after Bike Week at Volusia and not after what his circle of friends told him. The thought was done the moment that his closest friend, Kenny Schrader, told him not to stop.

“When we left Volusia, I had to calculate the plan,” Wallace said. “How am I going to do this? The only thing that wear me out is working on the car, unloading it by myself, grooving the tires, all the maintenance stuff I do by myself.”

He joked, but very seriously, that he has reached the age now where he just needs a mid-afternoon nap and there’s no shame in that.

“But I’m like, I can run 30 races a year, mostly around home and make it work and that’s what happened last year,” he said. “What’s crazy is that when I stay busy, I’m not tired. If I get up in the morning and start working on my car, I only know I’m tired hat night.

“I used to be like, at 10 o’clock, hey honey, let’s go to Denny’s.”

Those are becoming delivery or take out nights now.

But he most important component to this is that his wife, and daughters, the whole family supports him wanting to keep racing. In fact, they can’t conceive a universe in which he stops. Like, what else is Kenny Wallace supposed to do? Anything less invites the old man to catch up.

When he rides up on his horse
And you feel that cold bitter wind
Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

“I’ve just been asked to not miss the birthday parties,” Wallace said. “Like my oldest daughter says, ‘you can’t not have a race car.’

So right now, at Volusia, he is racing a UMP Modified prepared by popular Late Model racer and legendary chassis builder Nick Hoffman. He won earlier in the week for his first DIRTcar Nationals win since 2012.

It’s an effort in which Wallace has a lot of help and just gets to take it easy.

The other part of this component is the Trackside Live show that he will do for a second season at all the Speedway Motorsports tracks and at Gateway with John Roberts. The stage show replicates wildly popular the one they co-hosted on SPEED back in the day.

Combine that with his 30 or so races and Wallace is still living the dream.

“I get to do two Bike Weeks with Rusty, I’m a better family man and I still get to race 30 times a year,” he said. “Everything is just great.”

Wallace doesn’t know how much longer he has in him behind the wheel. He is pretty confident that he isn’t going to do it as long as Schrader but only because that’s a different level of commitment. Schrader still does hospitality visits with Federated Auto Parts and has a full-time racing shop with multiple full-time crew members.

“I just don’t want to start doing that and then feel like it’s time to quit and then I have to let them go and feel horrible about it,” he said. “I don’t want to start something I can’t finish.”

He’d rather just pay some buddies daily to help him off and on whenever it’s convenient for everyone to unload.

“Schrader keeps racing because he just operates at a higher level than me,” Wallace said. “I’ve right-sized. Everyone talks about downsizing and I like to think I’ve right-sized.

“I got a house, shop, three vehicles that got 180,000 miles on them. I kept everything small. I don’t collect anymore.”

It’s a simple rewarding life that Keith and Eastwood would endorse.

Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

All told, Wallace is so proud of everything because he feels like he has lived a far more rewarding life than he ever deserved. While he has a handful of professional regrets, the rewards have far outweighed the struggles.

“My nine NASCAR wins mean the most to me,” he said. “My two Martinsville clocks, my three Richmond wins. My green-white-checkered at Rockingham. Loudon was such an incredible win.

“I didn’t deserve 905 NASCAR starts. I made it happen. I run my mouth. I asked John Force what he had physically or mentally that other drivers didn’t have. He thought about it for a minute and he said ‘I’m full of it.’

“We’re good at running our mouths, getting sponsorship and partnerships. And so, I’m just really proud of my longevity. My wins. Yeah, I’m disappointed that I didn’t win in Cup. Those three second places.

“But god, I did a good job, worked hard and it’s been a blast.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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