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Woody: Waltrip Had The Sizzle and the Steak As Driver

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 8 2009
Darrell Waltrip probably will not get in Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but perhaps he should. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

Darrell Waltrip probably will not get in Hall of Fame on the first ballot, but perhaps he should. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Darrell Waltrip has been – and continues to be – one of the most influential individuals in NASCAR history.

Likewise, there’s no argument that Waltrip deserves to be in the new NASCAR Hall Fame.

The only question is, when?

Waltrip is one of 25 nominees for the HOF, whose inaugural class will be announced later this year. The problem is, only five of the 25 can go in. (I don’t see why the initial class can’t be bigger, but that’s another column for another time.)

I think Richard Petty and NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. are shoo-ins, and it would be hard to argue against Junior Johnson and Dale Earnhardt. Each in his own way helped NASCAR get where it is today.

A strong case can be made for Waltrip for the same reason.

Darrell was hitting his peak just as television began to take the sport seriously. No driver in the sport’s history was a better prime-time personality than D.W., with his debonair manner and silver tongue.

Waltrip, groomed and glib and with a Letterman-sharp wit, shattered stock car racing stereotypes. He looked more like a pro golfer than a Good Ol’ Boy. He was someone with whom mainstream America could identify.

Waltrip won his first championship the first year that NASCAR held its awards banquet in New York. Nobody could have done a better job taking center stage at the Waldorf and steering NASCAR from the backwoods to Broadway.

It was harmonic convergence at 200 mph: the perfect driver at the perfect time.

France willed the sport into being; Petty won the most races and drew the most fans; Johnson was a successful driver and car owner who pioneered corporate partnerships; and Earnhardt for years was the steely-eyed icon of stock car racing.

But it was Waltrip who was the king of the tube – and still is.

In his role as a Fox Sports commentator and in various other media functions, Darrell is more than a communicator – he is the face and the voice of the sport, a diplomat and a good-will ambassador.

And during his driving days Waltrip – brash motormouth that he was — didn’t just talk a good game; he won three championships and his 84 victories tie him with Bobby Allison for third all-time.

Nobody was smoother, on and of the track, than Waltrip.

Along with Petty, Johnson, Earnhardt and Waltrip there’s a pack of drivers deserving of the Hall of Fame: David Pearson, Jeff Gordon, Allison, Cale Yarborough, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts, Rusty Wallace, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett, Bill Elliott, Tim Flock … the list goes on and on, and every one is a cinch to make it eventually.

But under the rules only five can be inducted for starters, and that makes it tough. I think Waltrip deserves to be included in that initial roll call.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 8 2009
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • Ronald Natzel says:

    I think the hof is something that’s been needed for a long time. Should DW be in that hall? Absolutely! When is the question. I think there is another question that NASCAR in their infinite wisdom should probably address. How many people do you think are going to make a special trip to visit a hall of fame with 5 members? I could wait until next year and at least see 10, or wait another year and see 15 and on and on. How long can this Hall of Fame survive with little or no revenue coming in. If you want people to spend their vacation time to visit the Hall of Fame, you better have something for them to see.