Fast-talking NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace has always been popular. He just didn't realize the extent of his appeal.
That changed when his fans began raising money to send him to the Nationwide road race in Montreal on Aug. 30 because his sponsor, the U.S. Border Patrol, won't back the No. 28 car in events outside the United States.
Wallace's fans learned of his plight when he wrote about it on his Facebook page early this year.
"I was just sitting here thinking if 5,000 fans each contributed 20 bucks, that's $100,000," said 64-year-old Jim Ryan, a retired car salesman from Cullman, Ala. "We ought to be able to get him to Canada to race."
The idea rendered Wallace speechless, an accomplishment in itself.
"This caught me off-guard. It stunned me," he said. "I didn't know, you know. I said, 'No, the economy's too bad.'"
"I think everybody around him was telling him, 'No, you can't do that. It won't ever work,'" Ryan said. "But Kenny's got one of the most positive attitudes of anybody in the racing business. He says what he feels and feels what he says. I think he's genuine. That's really what made me want to go ahead and push him.
"I kept telling him, 'We can, we can. We can do that,'" Ryan said. "Then other people started saying, 'We can do that.' Somebody said he would chip in $20, another said he'd give $50, and it just went on from there."
For a contribution of $20, a fan will have his or her name on the car for the race and after the event will receive a photo of the car with Wallace's autograph.
"It's all the fans' idea. All we did is set it up on kennywallace.com," Wallace said. "I said OK after six months of trying to make it go away."
The unique fan car for the race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve will carry a paint scheme designed by Wallace listing each participating sponsor's name on the No. 28 Chevy. The goal is to raise $100,000 by Friday's cutoff date.
Wallace said the drive lacks about $10,000 -- and he's still amazed.
"All the teams and drivers think it's the most incredible thing," Wallace said.
Ryan is surprised, too, but at something else.
"I am surprised from a standpoint of the fans helping him know [how popular Wallace is]," Ryan said. "The reason I say that is because NASCAR is probably the only sport left where they [the drivers] are not in it for the money. You take major league baseball, football, basketball, it's, 'How much can I make? I don't like that contract, I'm not going to sign it.' It's crazy."
Wallace anticipates this will be a one-shot deal.
"I don't want to do it anymore," he said. "The only way I can see it happening again is if the fans demand it."
However, Wallace added that Michael Waltrip, who announced two weeks ago that he would run a partial Sprint Cup schedule in 2010, might attempt to have fans sponsor him in a race next year.