Woody: Waltrip Doesn’t Miss Racing
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
You know what they say when the end of a painful journey mercifully arrives: “Well, now he’s in a better place.”
That was definitely the case in the twilight days of Darrell Waltrip’s driving career. Since his racing retirement almost nine years ago, DW has been in a much better place: the broadcast booth.
When Michael Jordon was induced into the NBA Hall of Fame he said it was a bittersweet occasion. It was a reminder that his glory days were in the past tense.
I don’t recall Waltrip expressing similar sentiments upon his induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The end of his driving career was marked by more of sigh of relief than a murmur of regret.
The final years of Darrell’s once-dazzling career were painful to witness. After piling up 84 victories and three championships, Waltrip trudged through his final eight seasons without a win. When he finally called it quits, he had gone 256 races without a victory.
He often discussed his travails during that grueling stretch. Waltrip said the decision to form his own team and serve as owner/driver was, in retrospect, a mistake.
He said his biggest regret was that hundreds of thousands of new NASCAR fans never got to see him race in his prime. The only Darrell Waltrip they saw was the guy in the back of the pack, scrambling to keep up.
Darrell insisted he could still drive if he had a good car. But he said he couldn’t wrestle an ill-handling car up to the front by sheer will-power and want-to the way he once could.
And most of Darrell’s cars in those days seemed to be ill-handling. Several times he had to rely on a past-champion’s provisional to make the race.
“I went from being the show to trying to make the show,” he said at one gloomy point.
I was trackside on a chilly, windswept November afternoon in 2000 at Atlanta Motor Speedway when Waltrip crawled from his car for the final time. His wife Stevie was waiting with a smile and a hug, as she was so often over the years. DW’s eyes glistened. Must have been the wintry glare. Or the stinging wind.
He career was over. Make that one career was over.
Racing’s loss proved to be broadcasting’s gain. DW and TV were made for each other.
I always felt that Darrell and television were NASCAR’s version of harmonic convergence. DW was the sport’s first ready-for-prime-time racer – poised and personable, glib and articulate, quick with a quip.
Darrell never met a microphone he didn’t like.
He was influential as a driver, helping usher in NASCAR’s TV Era, and he’s been just as instrumental to the sport as a broadcaster. He and his Fox Sports boothmates consistently deliver Emmy-winning performances to millions of race fans.
The transition from cockpit to booth has been a smooth one for DW. It helped ease the pain of severing a 30-year driving career.
At least, he explained at the time, he’ll still be going to the track. He’ll be hanging around the garage, listing to the engines sing and smelling the perfume of burning rubber. He’ll still be part of The Show.
It’s a symbiotic relationship: DW needs racing and racing needs DW.
Regrets? He’s had a few. But then again, too few to mention … sounds like an old Sinatra record.
But the words are appropriate. Ol’ Blue Eyes just as well could have been singing about DW and his remarkable discovery of life after racing.6 Comments