Woody: Waltrip Induction Into Hall Is Well-Deserved
By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
When I first met Darrell Waltrip in the late 1960s his favorite saying was, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
D.W. was definitely a squeaky wheel and he got tons of grease, in the form of media attention and publicity.
It paid off, starting with his record-busting early days at Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway and culminating with this week’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Darrell never met a microphone or a camera he didn’t like.
“When I came into NASCAR I was an unknown kid from Ownesboro, Kentucky, competing against superstars like Richard Petty and David Pearson,” Waltrip said. “I needed some way to stand out. I learned pretty quickly that if I said or did something controversial it would get my name in the paper.”
Darrell picked at established Fairgrounds veterans like Coo Coo Marlin and Flookie Buford just as he later gouged at the Pettys and Pearsons of the sport. He called it “stirring the pot.”
Waltrip drew attention not just to himself but to the sport in general. Fairgrounds promoter Bill Donoho said Waltrip was the best thing ever to come down the pike in terms of generating fan interest and selling tickets. He packed the grandstands on Saturday nights. Some came to cheer and some came to boo, but when Darrell was on the track the fans flocked.
He fanned that same flame on a bigger stage when he moved into NASCAR’s major leagues. At first nobody knew what to make of the young hot-shoe who ran his mouth as fast as he ran his motor.
D.W. was smooth and glib, looking, talking and acting more like a golf pro than a prototype Good Ol’ Boy stock car racer. No cowboy hats, boots and big belt buckles for Waltrip. No smokes or chaws. No dirty fingernails or shaggy hair.
He talked as sharp as he looked, a tempest in NASCAR’s tea pot, going out of his way to mischievously roil the waters. And when the sport’s new TV audience began to tune in, Waltrip was ready and waiting.
It was racing’s version of Harmonic Convergence – Darrell and NASCAR’s TV age. The perfect driver at the perfect moment.
Richard Petty will probably go down in history as NASCAR’s most likeable and popular racer and Dale Earnhardt as the toughest and most competitive, but in terms of influence on the sport I rate Waltrip and Junior Johnson alongside Bill France Sr.
He wasn’t just a motormouth – Darrell was a heckuv racer. Eighty-four wins. Three championships. During his prime in the 80’s nobody was better.
After retiring following the 2000 season, Darrell shifted career gears and entered the Fox Sports broadcasting booth. His influence and impact continued – maybe increased. Nobody gets more ink and air time than D.W., 65 and going strong.
Sure, he has his critics, has had, since he burst onto the scene in the late 1960’s. Back then fans would show up at the track wearing “Anybody But Waltrip” t-shirts. But the bottom line was, they showed up. Some loved him, some loathed him, but nobody ignored him.
Back then he liked to say “I’m not just part of the show; I AM the show.”
And what a show it was. And still is.
– Larry Woody can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments