Woody: Laugh Or Cry? Waltrip Picks Former
Larry Woody | Senior Writer
A few years ago I interviewed Michael Waltrip for a magazine story about his quick wit and sense of humor.
I asked the Clown Prince of NASCAR where he acquired his funny bone.
“From my mom,” Michael said. “She was the one in our family who always had a joke or a funny remark. My mom was able to make us laugh, and that laughter helped lighten up a lot of dark moments. She taught us that sometimes you have to laugh or cry, and that it’s better to laugh if you can.”
That advice has served Waltrip well during a racing career that has had more jerky ups and downs than a yard-sale elevator, and now he’s taking his act on the road. Mikey, in addition to be being a NASCAR team owner and sometime driver, is going to try his hand at stand-up comedy.
I hope he knows what he’s getting into. As indicated by some of the barbed reader responses to a story by RacinToday.com’s Jim Pedley about Waltrip’s aspiring comic career, he may be facing some tough crowds.
Someone wondered if, based on his track struggles, Michael had ever been arrested for impersonating a race driver. Another said it’s a fitting move, since his entire racing career has been a joke.
Comedy, he’ll discover, is no laughing matter. Crashing in a comedy club can hurt just as
much as crashing at Talladega.
But Waltrip has a thick skin. After all, nothing has ever come easy for him, starting with having to follow in the footsteps of his famous big brother Darrell.
Darrell, 17 years Michael’s senior, was an established superstar when his kid brother was still running dirt tracks around Owensboro, Ky. When Mikey moved up, fans expected him to be as great as his brother. Michael discovered he had an impossible act to follow.
Even his triumphs came with a dark shadow. What should have been the highlight of his career – a victory in the 2001 Daytona 500 – was shrouded by the death of his car owner Dale Earnhardt. Michael’s brightest moment turned into racing’s blackest day.
Like a lot of people who endure hard life experiences, including Pulitzer Prize-winning humorist Dave Barry, Waltrip found refuge in humor.
His natural wit and likeable personality served him well, making him one of the most successful pitchmen in the sport’s history. Even when he wasn’t winning races, his humor-laced TV commercials were a hit.
Darrell likewise inherited their mom’s quick wit and, like Michael, it has served him well over
the years. It helped make DW a perfect fit for the advent of NASCAR’s TV Age and boosted him into a successful post-driving media career.
Darrell once told me that beneath his joking exterior Michael has a sensitive soul. He’s more introspective, not as tough and impervious to stings as his big brother. When Mikey takes the mike and starts cracking jokes I hope he knows what he’s in for. Those late-nigh bar audiences can be brutal.
Out on the stage there’s no rescue crew waiting in the wings to rush to his aid, no Jaws of Life to pry a comic from the wreckage if he bombs and crashes. He’s on his own out there. Hopefully it’ll work out OK, and Waltrip’s comedy tour will prove truly laughable.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments