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Remember when NASCAR standout Kenny Wallace raced for Batesville’s Bill Davis?

by Celia Storey | March 27, 2023 at 2:16 a.m.
Kenny Wallace, driver of the No. 23 Dodge Winston Cup car, waits for the track to open for practice March 29, 2003, at Texas Motor Speedway. (Democrat-Gazette file photo/Staton Breidenthal)

NASCAR driver and reporter Kenny Wallace retired in 2015 after driving in the national series since 1988. His 25-year career included nine wins, all in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Wallace grew up near St. Louis in a large family of racers and took up the sport in the 1990s, racing at small venues like the former I-30 Speedway just north of the border between Pulaski and Saline counties.

In March 2003, a reporting team from the Democrat-Gazette followed Wallace and his teammate Ward Burton to the Winston Cup series Samsung/RadioShack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Bill Davis Racing of Batesville built new cars for Wallace and Burton for the event. Wallace drove Car No. 23. During practice, he didn't like how it felt entering turns. He qualified, in 40th place. He was not happy with the car.

The primary areas of concern were the front-right and left-rear of the car. The team used simulated qualifying runs to work through a series of adjustments to improve the car's handling: they stiffened the right-front shock and softened the rear end, mostly through adjustments to the track bar. Also known as the panhard bar, the track bar is a lateral bar that keeps rear tires centered.

Wallace and crew chief Philippe Lopez made other adjustments throughout the event. At times, their tweaks worked. In fact, during the closing laps, Wallace's car was the fastest on the track.

But while the crowd of more than 200,000 roared as Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed eventual winner Ryan Newman for the lead with 45 laps remaining in the 334-lap race, Wallace was battling a very loose car just ahead of the leaders. And in the end, a 23rd-place finish was not cause for celebration.

Another element of this event was a NASCAR first: Winston Cup champion Tony Stewart's car was impounded because it didn't meet specifications, a punishment never before handed out. Stewart, known as the bad boy of the sport, was forced to use his backup car at the opening practice. Moving into the backup prepared hurriedly by his team, Stewart qualified 22nd in the 43-car field.

Wallace drove Car 23 through August 2003, when Todd Bodine collided with him during a race in Brooklyn, Mich. Both drivers walked away from their wrecked cars and weren't seriously injured.

Bill Davis, who owned Bill Davis Racing from 1987 until 2008, was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

[Gallery not showing? Click here to see photos:]

 Gallery: Car No. 23

Print Headline: Remember when, Arkansas?


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