Legendary drivers: The Modern Era DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 30, 1998) THE MODERN ERA DALE EARNHARDT Colorful old crew chief Jake Elder knew a jewel in the rough when he saw one. "Kid," Elder told his rookie driver early in the...
Legendary drivers: The Modern Era
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 30, 1998)
THE MODERN ERA
Colorful old crew chief Jake Elder knew a jewel in the rough when he saw one.
"Kid," Elder told his rookie driver early in the 1979 season, "Someday you're going to be wearing diamonds bigger than baseballs."
The driver was Dale Earnhardt.
If he wished, Earnhardt could wear diamonds larger than that.
He is the all-time leader in money won for all forms of motorsports, with approximately $31 million in purses.
Earnhardt followed his father, Ralph, into NASCAR racing. The late Ralph Earnhardt drove to a national Sportsman Division championship in cars that he owned and maintained in a garage behind the family home in Kannapolis, N.C.
Dale Earnhardt's father is rated by many as the best driver ever on dirt tracks, which in the 1950s and 1960s were part of the tour that evolved into the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division.
As Elder had foreseen, Dale Earnhardt was rookie of the year in 1979, becoming one of the few first-year drivers to win a race in the series. He was the NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion the next season.
Earnhardt spent part of the 1981 season with team owner Richard Childress, then rejoined him in 1984 to form one of the most potent combos in NASCAR history. The pairing has produced 61 of Earnhardt's 70 victories as well as six championships, enabling Earnhardt to share the record with Richard Petty with seven titles each.
Earnhardt's success generally has been traced to his fiercely competitive nature and intensity. These characteristics, in turn, can be traced to heredity. His father had the same qualities.
During the early 1970s Junior Johnson, judged to have the best eye for talent in NASCAR, was asked to name a young driver with star potential.
"No doubt about it," Johnson said. "That talkative boy over in Tennessee. Waltrip ... Darrell Waltrip."
Johnson's scouting skills didn't fail him.
Waltrip was destined to become one of the major stars in NASCAR Winston Cup Series history.
Growing up in Kentucky, Waltrip idolized colorful NASCAR old-timer G.C. Spencer, who raced on tracks in the area in a car he called "The Flying Saucer."
Many young people migrate to Nashville aspiring to find fame and fortune in music ... Waltrip moved there to race, and soon was a relative "hit," drawing offers from big-time NASCAR team owners.
He joined NASCAR's major circuit full-time in 1975 with DiGard Racing and through 1980 won 27 races with that organization. It was during this span that Darrell got the nickname "Jaws," from Cale Yarborough because of his quickness with a quip, as the two developed a torrid rivalry.
Waltrip joined Johnson in 1981 and for six seasons they formed one of the most entertaining, successful teams ever. Waltrip won 12 races in each of his first two years with Johnson, scoring as much because of his brainpower and strategy as through the force of his right foot on the accelerator. Overall, the combination produced 43 victories and three championships (1981-82, 1985).
In 1989, Waltrip won the Daytona 500 after 17 years of trying. He's the record holder at Charlotte Motor Speedway with five victories in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR's longest race.
Waltrip's 84 triumphs tie him for third on the all-time list with Bobby Allison.
Waltrip is as competent behind the microphone as he is behind the wheel of his own car. A media and fan favorite for "telling it like it is," Waltrip helped attract NASCAR to a new level of national media attention through the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
"Ol' D.W.," as Waltrip now likes to call himself, has high hopes of being among the winners during the 50th Anniversary season as a team owner/driver.
Source: NASCAR Online