MICHAEL WALTRIP, No.15 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, Michael Waltrip Racing
What has it been like this month with the release of your book? "The book is cool. It's really been fun to see how it's been received, mainly because when we started writing it, I explained to Ellis (Henican), the guy that wrote it with me, that I didn't care at that point if anyone bought it or not. Mainly my goal was if I handed it to my mom or my sister -- and they read the whole thing -- they'd say, `That's like talking to Mike. That's a conversation I could have with him.' We worked really hard, probably for four months to write it. When I was done and it turned out like that, I said, `I hope somebody buys this thing.' It was so much work. You know what's interesting, I've never been an overly confident person -- I always sort of struggle in that area. The thing that I liked most about the book was that I was confident in whoever bought it would like it. I didn't worry what people would think or people would think it was my voice or people wouldn't think it was worth their money that they spent for it. Maybe as much as I've ever been about anything in my life, I was confident about the story that it has. I wanted the motivation and inspiration and laughter and sadness, and there was enough content there to be worthy of a book."
What have you learned from putting your story on paper? "First, I've never claimed to be very bright. Fortunately for me, about a year ago I realized that when I came here this year there was going to be a lot of questions about that day. I needed to figure out how to answer those questions. To be quite honest, any answers I'd given up until I wrote this book were on the surface -- nothing that I would let get into my heart or where I was that day. Writing the book really enabled me to cry and talk and try to piece it all together. The cool thing about me personally is that I'm a Christian, so I believe everything happens for a reason. If I didn't, I think I'd be pretty mad about that day. Human beings aren't designed to go through that range of emotions that I was faced with. I like to think of the positives of that day and that was the last thing Dale (Earnhardt) saw on this earth was me and Dale Jr. (Earnhardt) driving off to win the Daytona 500. As a car owner now, I have a couple cars and if my cars were driving off to win the Daytona 500, that'd be one of the coolest feelings ever. I know that's where he was in the last seconds. Another thing that I'm eternally grateful for -- and I didn't really understand this until last spring when I plugged in the DVD that my sister had made of the race that day. It was pulled out of her DVD player and she inscribed on it all the words that she chose to express her joy from what had happened before she knew ultimately what had happened to Dale. I saw that DVD a bunch of times over the last 10 years and I just couldn't put it in. So, for the first time ever, I put it in and started watching it. I think the thing I'm most grateful for is when I came around for my cool down lap, I don't understand, there's no reason I wouldn't have stopped and got Dale. His approval of what I did was what I wanted more than the trophy or money -- I just wanted him to know that he was right. Why I just drove by -- because I didn't know. I just thought it was a wreck, he's fine. I would have thought I'm going to stop and get him and we'll go to victory lane together. I'd get it right there. Instead I just drove by, which I think you can call it what you want, but I think that's where God wanted me to go."
Is this 10 year anniversary meaningful, or is there more significance because media are asking you questions? "It's not meaningful to me, personally at all. It's meaningful for me because of Dale (Earnhardt) and his fans. That day, like I said earlier, was a quarter-mile away from being maybe the best Daytona 500 ever. It was an amazing race -- it had everything -- an upset-winner, the champion Dale battling those guys, it was just an amazing race. Now, instead it's the worst race ever. You won't ever see that race in the greatest races in Daytona history because it's the worst. I live with that. I'm the winner of that race -- that's what it is. Certainly I'm not here to celebrate that, I'm just here to honor Dale and hopefully through the book and next 10 days be able to make some people smile when they think about Dale. Every one is going to have a heavy heart, but maybe it will give them a chance to smile, too."
What was it like to write this book? "The book was interesting. We settled on an author and I couldn't work with him. He'd written some pretty good books. I hadn't even read a book yet, so I definitely hadn't wrote one when I called the publisher and said we have to do something, I can't do this with him. It was a little tense there with them thinking -- what makes him think he knows so much how to write a book. But, we got through that and then picked Ellis (Henican) to write it. Ellis and I, we had one of those reality show moments where he handed me a chapter and said, `I'm not sure where this goes, but this is everything we talked about.' I read it and went home that night and basically rewrote it. It was framed up right, I just didn't like the way it sounded. Then I came back the next day and handed it to him and said this is what I'd rather it sound like. It was eight pages of my hand writing all over it. He was like, `This is my work and you're correcting it?' I said, `Well, we'll never get done. I don't want a book that doesn't sound right to me.' He read it and said, `Well, that's not bad.' From there he said, `Here's what's going to never finish if I write it and you rewrite and then I have to rewrite again. So, we have to change our style.' That meant we had to work more closely together. I like to tell people he'd be at my desk, his vision isn't great, looking at the computer screen in front of him looking around the edge of it at me sitting on the couch talking. He could type amazingly fast. While he was typing and I was talking, we'd change words back and forth. It became just us, really. Just totally together wrote it. There wasn't a transcript -- nothing ever went to a transcriber. It's funny because when you say things and then someone writes them down, at least in the book experience, that's not what I meant."
Have you talked with Dale Earnhardt Jr. about the book? "When I had the first author I talked to Dale Jr. (Earnhardt), and I said I want to write this book about that day. Mainly it's about my career, but that day is the most talked about day I would venture to guess of my career so that's going to be a big part of it. I'm cool, I'll talk to him. Somewhere between when I got Dale Jr. to talk to the other guy, I got rid of the other guy and then me and the new guy decided we wouldn't talk to anybody. It was my book, we would tell my story. When it was done, I gave it to Dale Jr. and asked him if he would mind writing something for the cover because I wanted his approval. I wanted him to like it and I wanted him to know I did it for all the right reasons. I wanted him to say I'm cool with this, and he did."
Can you reflect on your feelings the day you won the Daytona 500 and the sport lost Dale Earnhardt? "I think at that point, I didn't know, but I knew something was bad. I was just going through the motions of whatever they told me to do. I just wasn't there. After that, let's go to the owner's suite and we're going to do a toast. I said, `I'm not, I'm going to the bus.' When we got to the bus, that was the first time Buffy (ex-wife) and I were alone together. I remember my words, I said to her, `He's going to be okay, right?' I was hoping she was going to say he's hurt really bad. She said, `No, he's dead.'"
Do you think the safety measures that followed Dale Earnhardt's death have saved lives? "I came to Daytona in 2001, three guys had been killed in the year prior to that. I didn't think about getting killed. I just thought I was going to go win the race. I don't know if that's naпve or dumb or bold or what. I've been racing ever since the '80s when throughout those years when you saw a wreck at a certain track, you're like holy crap I hope he's okay. Then he was or he wasn't, you just went on. We have to give NASCAR credit for the fact that they weren't waiting around to see who was going to hit hard next, they were working hard in Nebraska, crashing cars to develop SAFER wall technology, introducing the HANS -- they were doing all this work that enabled it to be implemented quicker. It might have been implemented in the same time frame, but it appeared that Dale (Earnhardt) was killed, we have to do something. I don't like when I hear that, because that's not the case. They couldn't have just started that next day and figured this crap out. They were working hard on it. In the book, I say back then the drivers were in charge of their area -- their seat. We probably weren't doing the best job at it. I remember, I think it was at Bristol in 2000 and Brett Bodine had on a HANS device. I looked at him and said, `You can't race with that thing around your head, how are you going to see?' He said, `Doesn't bother me at all, it's comfortable, I like it.' Well you can't wear that. That just shows you how different things were. You talk about back in the day -- 2001 was back in the day. That's amazing to say, but it's true."
-source: toyota motorsports