Darrell Waltrip remembers first race at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 28, 2000) When many NASCAR Winston Cup Series fans think about Darrell Waltrip and Daytona International Speedway, they remember his animated celebration after winning the 1989 Daytona 500. But Waltrip has another...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 28, 2000) When many NASCAR Winston Cup Series fans think about Darrell Waltrip and Daytona International Speedway, they remember his animated celebration after winning the 1989 Daytona 500.

But Waltrip has another memory on his mind as he prepares for Saturday night's Pepsi 400, his 55th and final driving appearance at the speedway before he retires at the end of the season.

Waltrip's victory in the Daytona 500 was his only triumph at the speedway, and he celebrated the occasion by dancing, shedding a few tears of joy and even playfully slamming his helmet to the ground in Victory Lane.

On Saturday night, Waltrip will pilot a Route 66/Big Kmart Ford around the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

But the winner of 84 series races still vividly recalls his first time at Daytona, and he shared his memories of that day in the latest of many Waltrip stories.

"I went there for the first time in 1966 with a '58 Ford for the Saturday race at Daytona," he said. "That was my first time I had ever been to a big race track. I may have been to Nashville a few times, but I'd never been anywhere like that.

"I was 17 or 18 years old then, I guess, and that car was gonna finish fifth. With about 20 laps to go I was running sixth and, just right after I fell out, the car that was running fifth fell out, so I would have easily finished in the top-5.

"That would have been an incredible feat because that car had never raced on anything but a quarter-mile. There were big 'ol wheel openings because of the big tires we ran on the quarter-mile. Every time cars would go around me, it would pick my back tires off the ground. I thought the clutch was slipping, and it took me forever to realize that my back end was lifting off. There was no spoiler, those big wheel openings and little bitty tires, it was just getting too much air up under it.

"We worked on that car for a week to get it legal. We went down there and had work on the gas tank, the hood and the trunk. We didn't have a fuel cell, we had a gas tank. My gas tank was mounted either in the trunk and it had to be underneath or it was underneath and had to be in the trunk, I can't remember, but it wasn't mounted properly.

"I didn't have any liners, any sheet metal in my hood or my trunk. We had to go to the junkyard. Pete Keller, he was the technical director, loaned us his car and we went to the junkyard with a pair of tin snips and cut out the liners and pop-riveted them into the trunk and hood. Also, my window didn't roll up and down, so I had to go get a mechanism to make my window roll up and down. We worked on that thing night and day and finally got in the race.

"The first thing that happened in that race, I'll never forget. They started off and I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. We hadn't run very long and we came off of turn two and I passed a car that was going upside-down. Johnny Rutherford had flipped over and he was sliding down the straightaway upside-down. I said, 'Man, I've never seen anything like that in my life.'

"All that said, of all the places we go I have more good memories, bad memories, fun memories, sad memories of that place. The only place I've ever gotten hurt was there. It took me 17 years to win the Daytona 500. There are so many things.

"Now, to go there and run at night you never thought you'd see that. Of course, there have always been big crowds at Daytona. They're bigger now than they ever were, but there are many things. To see how this sport has transformed and to think about it -- no matter what Indianapolis or LeMans or any other great race track you can think of does -- to a stock car driver Daytona is still the greatest track in the world."

-nascar.com-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Johnny Rutherford