January 25, 1999 Daytona International Speedway FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1973, DARRELL WALTRIP WILL BE BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A FORD. THE THREE-TIME NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPION WAS TABBED BY CO-OWNERS TRAVIS CARTER AND CARL HAAS TO...
January 25, 1999
Daytona International Speedway
FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1973, DARRELL WALTRIP WILL BE BEHIND THE WHEEL OF A FORD. THE THREE-TIME NASCAR WINSTON CUP CHAMPION WAS TABBED BY CO-OWNERS TRAVIS CARTER AND CARL HAAS TO PILOT THE NO. 66 BIG KMART/ROUTE 66 TAURUS IN 1999. WALTRIP SPOKE ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY AND ABOUT TEAMING UP WITH JIMMY SPENCER, DRIVER OF THE NO. 23 TEAM WINSTON TAURUS.
DARRELL WALTRIP -66- Big Kmart/Route 66 Taurus -- HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS OFF NOW THAT YOU'RE NOT AN OWNER ANYMORE? "It's been a great off-season. The girls and I -- Stevie, Sarah and Jessica -- it's the first time we didn't have to worry about where we were gonna have the Christmas party and if we invited everybody and who was gonna be the entertainment. And we didn't have to go to the bank and borrow money so we could pay the bonuses at the end of the year, and we didn't have to worry about if we were gonna have enough money to make it through the winter so we could start the new season. "It's been very relaxed around my house. From the time we left to go to Japan until we went down to Daytona to test, it's the most fun I've had in a long time. Somebody asked me about a rule change. I said, 'I have no earthly idea what you're talking about.' I said, 'Unless they've moved the steering wheel or the seat, I don't think I've got anything to worry about.' And that's the first time I haven't had to worry about that, so it's been really good. It's what I needed. I needed a break." DO YOU THINK IT WILL MAKE YOU A BETTER DRIVER? "I believe it will. I can totally focus on the car, talking to the crew chief. He doesn't have to worry about if I'm gonna fire him or not. It's a different situation for me, and I'm just really anxious to get started. I'm very fortunate to have this deal. "Quite frankly, I didn't know if I'd have a deal or not. It wasn't looking all that great at the end of the year and I'd already made up my mind that unless I found a good deal, a deal that I thought was adequate and help me at least be competitive, that I would just not come back. I was not gonna race under the conditions I had raced under in 1998. I had already talked to Stevie and the girls. They didn't want me to quit. I didn't want to quit, but I was not gonna go back into another year like the last couple I've had, I just couldn't do it. "I was very fortunate for Travis (Carter) and Carl Haas, two great car owners, and the sponsor is absolutely enthused. It's the most enthusiastic bunch of people I've been around. Quite frankly, the last couple of years with Western Auto wasn't that great because they knew they were gonna go away sooner or later. Last year with all the different scenarios I was involved in, that wasn't very good either, so it's good to be back with people who are excited about me being in the car, excited about me being the driver. There's 110 percent support from the sponsor and they've got great marketing plans for the future, not just day-to-day but for the future. "The Ford people, believe it or not, are quite ecstatic about me being in a Ford. Right now, it all just looks so good and after having had the kind of year I just finished, I'm afraid to get excited. There's a huge amount of excitement inside of me, but I'm trying to contain it because I keep thinking I'm gonna wake up and they're gonna say, 'Oh, we were just kidding. You were just filling in for another driver for awhile and he's coming back now.' "I know this is a great opportunity for me and I think it will let me do what I like to do. I don't have to win. I want to win badly, but I don't have to. I don't want to take another champion's provisional. I wish they'd do away with that stupid rule to tell you the truth, and I don't want to not run up front. If I cannot take a champion's provisional and I can just be competitive and run up front, then I'll be a happy camper. I don't care what the rest of them do and I don't care what kind of cars they come out with or nothing else. And I don't care how big the spoilers are and I don't care who the crew chief cares. I don't care what everybody says about me, it doesn't make any difference." HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING WITH A FIRST-YEAR TEAM? "First-year teams always fool people. I think about my first year, I won a couple races. I think about Ricky Rudd's first year, he was very competitive. Kyle Petty's first year, very competitive. Most of the time first-year teams surprise you. I think it's that energy, that enthusiasm, that excitement. Even though they're working 18 hours a day, they're always working on new things. They're building a new shop up at our place. Right beside the 23 shop they're gonna build another shop for the Kmart team, so there's always this energy, this excitement. First-year teams always do better than you anticipate what they're gonna do." WHAT KINDS OF THINGS WOULD YOU LIKE TO ACHIEVE BEFORE YOUR RETIRE? "Just to be respectable, just to be credible. You know, when you come home at the end of the day, whether you won or not, you might have been able to win if things had worked out. Maybe you're up there in a position to win. That's all I'm looking for. I'm not looking to knock Jeff Gordon off of his throne or anything else. I'm just looking for just a teenie-weenie little bitty piece, a little slice, a little corner off of the pie. That's all I'm looking for. I'm not gonna be like I used to be and want to take the whole thing. Right now, I'm just looking for a little place on that pie." AS A TEAMMATE OF JIMMY SPENCER, IS THERE ANYTHING HE BRINGS TO THE TABLE THAT EXCITES YOU? "The biggest thing is we'll be on the same team together, that's gotta be a plus. I'm gonna have to keep reminding him that I'm on his team now. We've had a lot of fun. Opposites attract and I'd say we're probably about as opposite as they get, but we've had a lot of fun. I think Jimmy's excited about what he thinks and what I think I can help him with. Whether it's in the media or whether it's on the race track, I don't really know yet. We haven't really developed a role for either one of us, but the big thing is that in the races where he's been fairly competitive, particularly at Daytona and Talladega, a little bit of help and he may have won one of those. Travis knows that and that's one of the reasons why we're working really, really hard. "We have a great baseline to start with as far as getting me a car ready for Daytona and Talladega. Daytona and Talladega, as treacherous as they are, can be a lot of fun if you have a good race car. They're miserable, and you don't want to be out there and you definitely don't want to be up in the middle of all those cars, if you don't have a good race car. But when your car is good, then it's fun. It's like playing checkers or playing a chess game. It's good to be a part of all that, but you've gotta have a car that you can go from one lane to the other and feel like you're still somewhat under control. "We're working real hard to get me a car that I can get up there and help Jimmy. Nothing would be more exciting than to come down to the end of the day with me and him up there fighting for him winning his first No Bull race. I'd really like that. That would be my initial contribution to this team is to help that team (the 23 team) get better. My team will have growing pains and it'll take a little time for it to get where it needs to be, but my contribution immediately could be to help him. I can do that, so that's one of my big goals for 1999 is to help him win a race. I know in turn he'll help me win one. "The other thing I want to be able to try to do, and how I don't know yet because I don't know how good this team will be or where we'll end up, but I want to help Ford win the manufacturer's title. When I'm on your team, buddy, there ain't no better team player, I promise you that. I'm on the Ford team now and my favorite color is blue." CAN YOU COMPARE THIS SITUATION TO ANYTHING ELSE YOU'VE EXPERIENCED? "I see a lot of the same potential here that I saw when I went to Dale's team (the No. 1 Dale Earnhardt-owned team). Was that car that good before I got there and was it that good after I left there? We ran really well, but it was all chemistry. Philippe (Lopez, crew chief), that whole crowd that was there, the engine guys, I mean we clicked. That's why we were successful. I don't think we ever had a disagreement about anything we did. We made good calls, they did, on the car. They made great pit stops and we were able to be very competitive. "I think this team has that same ingredient. I go in this shop, and it's not much to go in right now, but the guys are all up. The biggest thing about being at the 1 team was they wanted me there. They didn't want Jeff Gordon. They could care less about him. They didn't want Dale Jarrett or Mark Martin, they wanted me there. That's how I felt. When I went there, they called me Mr. Waltrip and that was quite a compliment. I had to break 'em from doing that, but they wanted me there. They wanted me in that car. They knew what I could bring to the table and that was a great deal of confidence that I hadn't felt for quite some time and I feel it right now. Darrell Waltrip is the driver they wanted in this situation and in this car. That will make us good and that will make us good real quick." ARE YOU TAKING ALL OF YOUR CHEVROLET JACKETS TO GOODWILL? "You know, it's not an issue with me. I know I drove Chevrolet's for 20 years and they've been good to me, but I've been good to them too. No Chevrolet team -- Dale's or McClure or any of the others -- stepped up and said, 'We'll get you a car to drive.' Every team that called me was a Ford team and every good opportunity I had was with a Ford team. That's what I was looking for. If it had been a Pontiac team and if it was a good quality team and they were offering me a ride, I would have been interested. It just so happened to all be Fords. I think it's kind of fun. We had a dinner at Daytona (after testing) and I took a lot of heat. They had quotes on the screen that I had made and they weren't complimentary. They were rather derogatory to tell you the truth, but I can dish it out and I can take it. I believe the Taurus is as good as I thought it was and I believe I'll have a good time in it." YOU SAID YOU AND SPENCER WERE OPPOSITES. THREE OR FOUR YEARS AGO WOULD HE HAVE BEEN THE LAST PERSON YOU WOULD PICK FOR A TEAMMATE? "Well, I didn't pick him this time. I didn't go around looking for it saying, 'That's the guy I want to teammates with.' But, just like I said about Ford and Chevrolet, when I'm on your team you can believe one thing -- I'll go to the end with him whatever that is. I think we'll work well together. I think that will be a big surprise to a lot of people. He feels that he needs a teammate and he feels that he couldn't have gotten a better one, so with that kind of chemistry already and that kind of relationship already, I mean, we're gonna be good. I don't think there's any question about it. He likes older drivers, you know. He hired Trickle to drive his Busch car, so he's fond of older drivers." HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HOW SWEET IT'S GONNA BE TO BE ABLE AND ACTUALLY INVITE RACE FANS TO THE KMART PARKING LOT? "That is quite ironic. I can honestly say, 'Meet me at the Kmart' now with a straight face. It is quite ironic. I was reading something about that the other day before this deal even took place. We're gonna have a big tent and we're gonna have a big time with Kmart and I think the fans will have a good time with that too. I think it's gonna be a great year. I think what we've all got to worry about is after the 50th anniversary and such a tremendous success that was, and all the hype and promotion that went with that, all of us are gonna have to work real hard to make this year somewhat exciting. Maybe we can get back to some good hard, out on the race track, side by side racing, I hope so. That's what I'd like to see. "We're working on a new race track up in Kentucky (a 1.5 mile facility). Don't forget about that one. I read a lot about new race tracks, but the thing about the one in Kentucky, and I'm involved in that one, it is a race track that is under construction. It doesn't have any EPA problems, it doesn't have any government problems. As a matter of fact, the governor and tourism bureau throughout Kentucky are supporting this venture. This track will be done next year some time and be ready to race on probably by the middle of May. Next year in May we'll be ready to race there, so that's a race track that is under construction and being built, so when you hear about all these other wannabies, this one is for real."