By Johnny Jackson
Chrissy Wallace grew up with dreams about playing collegiate softball.
The 20-year-old St. Louis, Mo., native played in high school and was awarded a full scholarship to play at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. , where she planned to major in business and marketing.
However, at age 17, Wallace decided on a different career path. She told her parents, Mike and Carla, that instead of going to college she wanted to become a professional racer. She raced for six years leading up to her decision to join the professional racing ranks.
"It's really cool growing up around this, and now I'm in the big leagues," said Wallace, who races the No. 3 Toyota Tundra for Germain Racing's auxiliary team.
She made her NASCAR debut in March, finished 43rd in the Kroger 200 Craftsman Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway. She plans to compete in her fifth such race this Saturday in the Atlanta 200 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Saturday's race will be her fifth NASCAR race and she plans to compete in one more before year's end. Next year she hopes to be a contender for NASCAR's Rookie of the Year. And she is quietly building a resume to do it.
In 2007, Wallace earned four wins, 15 top-five finishes, and two top-ten finishes in her late model stock car. She won at Hickory Motor Speedway, which earned her most popular driver honors and third place in the points standings. She became the first female to win in a Late Model Stock Car in 57 years, boosting her to the ranking of 187 among 5,000 drivers in the Whelen Late Model Series.
Wallace said she hopes to repeat some recent successes. She finished ninth in the Truck Series race at the Talladega Superspeedway, after starting 28th in the pack. "Hopefully, we can go out there, qualify really well and finish in the top 10 or top 15."
Wallace spent much of the week leading up to the race, preparing by watching film from last year's Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"I want to see how everybody raced," Wallace said.
She admits, while she has raced in Atlanta's Thursday Thunder, she has never officially raced on Atlanta's 1.54-mile oval for the Truck Series. She earned her first-ever victory, during her first visit to Atlanta Motor Speedway, racing in a Bandelero car. She later returned to the speedway to win in her Legends car.
Wallace said she gathered most of her inspiration from her parents and mentors, who taught her how to win and lose on and off the race track.
"The biggest help to me is my parents - and my dad," she said. Her father is 18-year veteran NASCAR driver Mike Wallace, who races the No. 7 GEICO Toyota Camry for Germain Racing. Much of her racing advice comes from her father and her mentor NASCAR racer Tony Stewart, who drives the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.
"It makes me want to try harder and encourages me a lot," she said of having their support.
Wallace considers herself one in a league of capable females in a traditionally male-dominated sport.
"I think that females can make it in NASCAR as well as males do," she said. "If females had the opportunity, they would probably run really well. But because they haven't been given as many chances, they aren't running well."
Wallace has competed in seven races for Germain Racing so far this season, including NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series' at Martinsville, Milwaukee Mile Raceway, Kentucky Speedway, and Gateway International Raceway, as well as its ARCA RE/MAX Series at Talladega and Pocono Raceway, where she finished a personal best fourth place in qualifying.
Wallace plans to arrive at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Thursday.
"There will be a good bit of hanging in the infield," she said, adding her hopes for another top-ten finish and her goals for even more long-term. "I want to run the Nextel Cup Series, and win."