‘This one’s for you, Dad’ — Kenny Wallace wins 3rd annual Russ Wallace Memorial event

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Kenny Wallace looked up to the skies and thought to himself, “This one’s for you, Dad.”

It was quite the appropriate reaction – and also quite the emotional moment – as Wallace won the third-annual Russ Wallace Memorial Friday night at Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois.

The race is named in honor of the father of brothers Kenny, Mike and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace.

Russ Wallace was legendary on dirt tracks across the Midwest as a racer, crew chief and team owner. Sadly, the patriarch of the racing Wallace family passed away in 2011 at the age of 77 after a short illness.

Russ Wallace spent his life racing at nights and weekends while working a variety of jobs to support his family, including a car dealership mechanic, newspaper deliverer (which his three sons all helped out while growing up) and co-owned a vacuum and janitorial supply business in the St. Louis area.

Kenny Wallace had a stellar field of competitors in Friday night’s race, including Austin and Ty Dillon, Ken Schrader, Justin Allgaier and more than two dozen other racers on the dirt short track. Here’s a few tweets about Wallace after his emotional victory:

In a story on NASCAR.com that reported the elder Wallace’s death on Nov. 3, 2011, Kenny Wallace waxed eloquently on his father’s passing and what he meant to both himself and his brothers growing up as sons of a true racer.

“Let me be very clear when I say this: when I was growing up, all I wanted to be was a superstar race car driver. I wanted to be like my dad, Russ Wallace,” Kenny Wallace told NASCAR.com. “My dad — you can ask anybody in St. Louis — was the best. Dad won 12 weeks in a row one time. He set that record in Granite City, Ill., at Tri-City Speedway.

“I fought my way out of those race tracks, along with my mom [Judy]. … But my dad was good, and all I ever dreamed of becoming was a really, really good race car driver just like him.”

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NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski