Rusty Wallace raced NASCAR circuits from 1979 until 2005, winning 55 NASCAR Cup wins over the course of his career. During this time, Wallace also built his own cars and until recently continued to work with his own racing team at Rusty Wallace Racing. As the keynote speaker at COMPOSITES 2012, February 21-23 in Las Vegas, Wallace will share his behind-the-wheel perspective of the use composite materials on the track.
If you could change one thing about race car manufacturing right now, what would it be?
It’s a huge coincidence that I’m talking at COMPOSITES 2012 because if I could change the manufacturing of NASCAR cars, I’d use more composites. I would use them in hoods, roofs, fire walls, dashboards and a lot of other pieces that would improve the car’s handling as well as make it stronger and longer lasting. Originally the league wanted to limit the number of composites on the vehicle to keep the cost of cars lower, but right now there are so many man hours going into hand forming metal parts that I would rather build molds for lighter, stronger fiberglass and carbon fiber parts.
What are the biggest changes in NASCAR cars during your career as a competitive driver?
Since the passing of the late Dale Earnhardt in Daytona 2001 we’ve seen a huge push for safety. He was our biggest champion at that point so with his tragic death safety has been pushed. It’s amazing how far safety products have come in NASCAR in the past few years. For example, when I was racing we used aluminum seats. Now there are composites seats that are lighter, stronger and fit the driver’s body better. It’s been great to see the seat manufacturers coming along as well as other companies reducing the weight of safety helmets. A couple of years ago, in a long 500 mile race, you take a corner, and the helmets we’re so heavy that the G-forces would put serious strain on driver’s necks. We’re seeing parts get lighter and stronger, seat technology is improving and the aerodynamics are getting better.
We’re watching the evolution of NASCAR get stronger, safer and tougher. Teams are constantly looking for safety, owners are looking for the advantage to make the cars faster and better aerodynamically, and drivers always want the cars to handle better. The Daytona 500 in February 2012 will be the first race using fuel injection in NASCAR. So, it will be a really monumental day. After that happens, I expect we’ll see a lot of new technology taking off in NASCAR.