INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2000 -- Darrell Waltrip didn't need a press agent during his peak in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, when he earned three championships and the bulk of his 84 victories. His nickname of "Jaws" was well earned. ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2000 -- Darrell Waltrip didn't need a press agent during his peak in NASCAR Winston Cup racing, when he earned three championships and the bulk of his 84 victories. His nickname of "Jaws" was well earned. Now 53, Waltrip this year is making what he christened last August as his "Victory Tour" before retiring to the television booth for the 2001 season. He will make his 797th career start and seventh and final one in the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after recording a stunning lap of 180.923 mph, good for the outside of the front row. Before Thursday, it hadn't been a good farewell for "Ol' DW." He's missed three races, used all of his provisional starting spots to get into several others and stands 38th in the point standings without a single top-10 finish. Younger brother Michael Waltrip, who has raced on the circuit with him since 1985, thinks that any criticism of his brother's tough farewell season is unfair. "As a race driver, whenever it's all written down about this sport, he's going to have a really significant chapter in that book," Michael said. "He came along and did stuff nobody else was doing. "He came in from Kentucky (Owensboro). He was wearing Sansabelt trousers, penny loafers, lookin' good, runnin' his mouth and tellin' everybody he was going to be the best. Nobody ever heard of him and it was kinda like, 'How dare you?'" He was auto racing's version of another Kentuckian, Muhammad Ali. Darrell was extremely confident, but he couldn't get anyone to listen to him, Michael Waltrip said. "But he figured out that the TV camera not only would listen to him, it wouldn't talk back to him," Michael Waltrip said of his brother. "So he was explaining to the world what he thought right there to the cameras. And nobody would argue with him." Sportswriters began listening and passing on his sometimes outrageous quotes to their many readers. He did other things the fans loved like the "Ickey Shuffle" after he won the Daytona 500 in 1989 in his 17th attempt. The more Darrell talked, the more refined he became at expressing himself. He introduced NASCAR to an entirely new audience, his brother noted. At the same time, he showed his fellow drivers the importance of being able to sit in boardrooms and sell racing to major CEO's or provide reporters with interesting quotes. "Not only was he doing all that," Michael said, "but he also was out winning races and championships. He had it all. It lasted a long time. It lasted from 1977 basically until 1993." Darrell was 16 when Michael was born. Michael said he idolized his brother as he grew up and knew that he, too, wanted to be a race driver. He said this provided a direction and focus in life that most teen-agers didn't have. "I've looked up to him since the beginning of time, beginning of my time," he said. "I'm proud he's my brother." Michael, the tall, lanky driver of the Nations Rent Chevrolet, now is upset that his brother has faced criticism this year for his tough season. "How quickly we forget," said Michael, who will make his 448th career start in the Brickyard. "Now sometimes we treat him like, 'What's he doing? Why is he out there?' We forget all that he's meant to us. "He wants it to be more. He sees opportunities for it to be more and gets so excited. But then there have been performances that haven't been there that have been tough for him to deal with." But Michael added that Darrell finds everything worthwhile when he makes a good showing, such as Thursday at the Brickyard and qualifying seventh for the Napa Auto Parts 500 at the California Speedway on April 30. Fans displayed their appreciation in electric fashion at both tracks. "The love the fans have shown him and the gratefulness they have given him this year has made him feel good just being a part of it," Michael said. The brothers still will be at the track together next year. But Darrell will participate in a new role as commentator for the FOX television network, which will split the 2001 NASCAR telecasts with NBC. He'll continue to bring his motorhome to the races and will parade the garages as a reporter keeping aware of what is happening in the trenches and then relating this in his own inimitable style to the viewing public. "I believe that will help him be the best (racing) commentator there's ever been," Michael said.
BRICKYARD 400 NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The Brickyard 400 starts at 12:15 p.m. (EST) Aug. 5. Second-round qualifying at noon Aug. 4. Practice sessions will take place at 9 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. Aug. 4. The IROC at Indy race starts at 2:45 p.m. Aug. 4. *** On the air: ABC will televise the Brickyard 400 live Aug. 5, with the pre-race show starting at 1 p.m. (EDT). ESPN2 will televise second-round qualifying live from 1-2 p.m. Aug. 4. The final "Happy Hour" of practice will be televised from 7:30-8:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 4 on ESPN. The Indy Racing Radio Network will broadcast the race live Aug. 5, starting with a pre-race show at 12:30 p.m. (EDT).