The Lebanon I-44 Speedway has seen many drivers pass through its gates on a weekly basis on their way to NASCAR stardom. The Show Me State Showdown will see one of its hometown heroes return to the track to compete in the CRA-sanctioned event next weekend.
Former NASCAR Xfinity and Truck Series winner Mike Wallace will make his return to I-44 to pull double-duty in both the ARCA/CRA Super Series and JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour races in son Matt’s cars. It continues what has become a small tradition, with the elder Wallace running one Super Late Model race in each of the last couple years.
The Show Me State Showdown comes as a warm-up before he makes his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start since 2015 season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4 for JD Motorsports. The original plan was to have Matt in the cars, but the younger Wallace had other plans.
“This has kind of become a little prelim. Matt was scheduled to race the races and we all going to go over there next week. He looked at me one day and said hey, why don’t you drive these race cars. You need a little tuning up yourself and you like Lebanon so much,” Wallace told Speed51. “I took him up on the idea. I’m excited about it.”
The Wallace family has a deep history at the Missouri 3/8- mile. He and brother Kenny got their starts at the facility, with Mike having won the 1990 track championship at the speedway. More recently, his daughter Chrissy won the Pro Late Model track championship at I-44 in 2011.
Thanks in part to a long-lasting friendship between he and the Willard family, he and his family make sure to support the track whenever they can.
“We try to run just about every race at Lebanon, Missouri because that was the track that gave me my opportunity to go NASCAR racing. The family that owns the racetrack are some of the greatest people in the world in regards to being good friends and they’ve also helped out a lot of people along the way. Not only did I drive for them back in 1990 when I ran the Winston Racing Series, they gave me a launch to become a full-time NASCAR driver.
“It’s a really nice way to pay back short track racing. It’s a facility close to the Ozarks, if anybody wanted to spend an incredible week or weekend at the racetrack they not only have the racetrack to go to, they have the Lake of the Ozarks, which is 30 miles away. You have the Bass Pro Shops corporate headquarters and a huge display facility up in Springfield, MO, which is 50 miles away.”
Now one of just two asphalt racetracks in Missouri, Wallace competed at I-44 at a time when racing in the Show Me State was dominated by a single driver; five-time NASCAR Weekly Racing Series national champion Larry Phillips.
“A lot of people don’t know this about Lebanon I-44 Speedway, when I was competing there on a weekly basis I was competing against the legendary Larry Phillips. Larry Phillips keeps getting brought up with the NASCAR Hall of Fame and for some reason people keep bypassing him. In short track racing in our part, St. Louis, Illinois, Iowa, he was what Dick Trickle was to Wisconsin. He was the very best short track racer there was. He just never really traveled a whole lot away from the Springfield area by more than a couple hundred miles.
Phillips was just one of several drivers Wallace had beaten for the track and NASCAR regional championship in a magical 1990 season that saw him lose just five races all year.
“Getting back to the 1990 era when I was racing against Larry and numerous other cars, we had a 20, 25 car field every night and it was really tough competition. Out of that season I won 22 of 27 races, so I had one of those season that only comes once in your career and you’re lucky to have it happen,” he said of 1990. “Through that, I created some incredible friendships. It was just an incredible time of my life and incredible racing, the racing then was just as good, if not better than it is today.”
As he gets set for his first race since the PASS Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway last April, he is excited to get back home and see old friends while getting back behind the wheel. While he believes his past experience at I-44 will give him a leg up come race day, he doesn’t expect to set the world on fire when he climbs back behind the wheel.
“The overall goal is to have fun and do run competitively. Most of the drivers that are in the field from what I’ve seen has raced on a weekly basis and have been racing for quite a few years, for me to go in there and think I’m going to outrun them in a dramatic way would be foolish. At the same time, we’re taking the best cars that we have and the familiarity of the racetrack, we plan on going there and running well.”
Stay tuned to Speed51 for details on the Show Me State Showdown as race weekend inches closer.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51 National Correspondent – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo Credit: Speed51 Photo