Waltrip interview on his final race

Darrell Waltrip, driver of the No. 66 Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus, will be competing in his final NASCAR Winston Cup race scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Waltrip, who won three series championships (1981,'82,'85), ranks second on the...

Darrell Waltrip, driver of the No. 66 Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus, will be competing in his final NASCAR Winston Cup race scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Waltrip, who won three series championships (1981,'82,'85), ranks second on the sport's all-time win list with 84 and fourth in career poles with 59. Before moving to the television booth next season, where he will work as the lead analyst for FOX, he held one final press conference and talked about his final race as a competitor.

DARRELL WALTRIP --66-- Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus
NOW THAT YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT, WHICH MAKE HAS AN ADVANTAGE? "I was sitting in the trailer when they were qualifying yesterday and I turned to Mike Helton, I said, 'What kind of rule change did you all give those Monte Carlos?' There must have been something going on that we didn't know about. You know, that's kind of an on-going battle. What they fail to realize, I believe, is they take these cars to the wind tunnel, they tape up the grills just like we qualify 'em, and blow the numbers. They leave there saying, 'Yeah, they're pretty equal,' but where the difference is in every one of these race cars is when you un-tape 'em and get 'em ready to race. That's when the balance sometimes goes off on the car and makes it less than satisfactory. But let me tell you something, we used to have to take a car back in the eighties and whatever it was, it was. You didn't change the nose, you didn't change the tail. Aero-push, I've live with aero-push all my life, just didn't know what it was. That's just part of racing. I'm not trying to throw any stones, but it's just like when you start trying to do what they're doing down in Florida with an election. When you start trying to do that same thing with these race cars, it's humanly impossible to get all the cars the same and, besides that, who wants 'em all the same? That's the biggest problem we've had over the last five or six years is parity. It gets out of control. When you humanly try to control everything -- cars, motors, rules, pit road speed -- the more rules you make, the more trouble you've got and the worse the racing is in my opinion."

WHAT'S GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND NOW WITH THIS BEING YOUR LAST RACE? "Oh man, somewhat relief. Of course, we haven't run the race yet, but I'm just glad to finally get here. I've been anguishing about this, not just this year, I've been anguishing about this for several years wondering when the day would finally come -- knowing that it probably should have come a lot sooner than it has and not being able to compete at the level that I was accustomed to competing in. So many things have gone through my mind, but as I get ready to run this last race the biggest thing is that it's finally behind me. I think it's like surgery or as we so often refer to, a root canal, I just can't wait to get it over with. I think the bigger issue for me and most drivers and athletes in general isn't what happens this weekend, it's what's gonna happen to me next February -- when I show up at Daytona and I walk in that garage area for the first time in 40 years without any place to go. No car, no team, no hauler, no driver's lounge, no uniform, no helmet -- maybe even no problems. That's when I'm really, really, I think, gonna get that empty feeling inside because I've been doing this ever since I was 12 years old. It's a way of life. I have lived by a schedule. Ever since I was a kid, I knew every day of every week of every month of every year right where I was gonna go and what I was gonna be doing when I got there. I've been doing that all my life. I just get the NASCAR schedule out and I know where I'm going. I know where I'm staying. I know where I'm eating. I know the guard on the gate. I know everybody and that's gonna be a huge change and something that's gonna be really hard to get used to -- not coming in the garage and going over and checking my car and going down to the big red truck and arguing about the rule of the week. Those kinds of things are gonna be hard to get used to, so right now it's relief. It's kind of like when you've won a race and you're standing in victory circle and you're just relieved that you've won, but now you've got to worry about next week. I really think the bigger issue will be what I feel like come next February."

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING TO MISS MOST ABOUT BEING IN A RACE CAR? "The joy of driving a race car is something that, it's like if you enjoy playing golf or swimming or fishing or whatever it is you have a passion for. The joy of driving a race car, a good race car, and the excitement of that and the feeling of that is something that I will always long for. I don't think it's something I'll ever lose. I don't think it's something that will get away and I'll never want to do again. I'm always gonna be sitting up there watching a race longing to be in that race. The thing that is not fun is when we're watching the cars practice or qualify or race and it's not fun to have a car that's competitive. Like yesterday, I wasn't thrilled with the way I ran, but, nonetheless, my car drove well and it was comfortable. I guess when you're not going any faster than I was it should be, but, nonetheless. Yesterday was the first time I've been on a racetrack probably in the last couple of years, that I was just out there for the pure enjoyment of driving my car. I felt pretty confident I would be in this race. We've worked really hard over the last 10 weeks to save that provisional for this one, so I could come here and not have to walk around with the burden of making this race. I pretty much knew I'd be in it, so I just really enjoyed myself yesterday. Everybody was upset with, 'Well, Todd qualified fifth and Todd did this.' I said, 'I don't care what Todd does. He's fighting for his future. I'm done. I'm history. I'm toast.' So, he better do good if he wants to stay in this business. So, this weekend I just want to enjoy myself. I don't want to talk about how fast my car is or how sorry it is, I just want to have a good time. I wish it was sunny, a nice day. It looks like it might not be, but I wish it was so I could just kind of bask in the sun a little bit."

WHAT ARE SOME HIGH POINTS AND LOW POINTS OF YOUR CAREER? "What I think I've done in my career is I've taken the path that's least traveled. When I came into this sport, one of the things I think I was was a leader and I stayed a leader for a long time. People did what I did. Somewhere in the last few years I got nervous about that. Maybe I should start doing what other people are doing and I haven't been anything but a follower ever since. When I was a leader in this sport and people did as I did, that was exciting. A high point for me was 1981. Racing, by the way, didn't just start in 1995, it actually did start back in the eighties. The first time I went to New York and I was the first driver to be honored at the Waldorf-Astoria, I'll never forget going up there and doing a media tour. I was driving for Pepsi and, of course, they had a lot of connections up there, and I had the chance to go to the Regis and Kathie Lee show and Good Morning New York and David Letterman and all those places. And the most fun thing for me was to leave there and leave 'em with their mouths hanging open because they're perception of a stock car driver from the south was a guy with chewing tobacco in his mouth, dirt under his fingers -- a red neck wearing his cap with a big belt buckle. That was their perception. When I walked out of those places and they would look at me and they would look at each other and they would say, 'Man, I wonder if there are anymore down there like him.' Well, at the time there wasn't (laughing), but we were working on changing all that. That was my goal. One of the things that I realized it, kind of, but I don't think anybody else realized it was one of my goals was I wanted to be mentioned, certainly, in the same breath with Richard Petty. I was envious of Richard Petty from the day I came in this sport. I wanted what Richard Petty had. The only way you get something from somebody else is you've gotta try to take it away from him. I've told Richard time and time again that I owe him a lot of apologies because I wasn't very kind to the man, but, nonetheless, he had what I wanted and I only knew one way to get it and that was to fight for it and try to take it away. Sometimes maybe I didn't play fair, I don't know, but that was what I wanted. And the other thing that I really wanted for this sport was to elevate it. I have fought many, many fights -- not with you people -- but in other areas of this country for our sport. I wanted to be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, whomever it may have been. I wanted stock car drivers to have that same notoriety and we didn't and it really ticked me off because we got no credit for being anything other than a bunch of rowdy roughnecks. "I knew this sport had long way to go, but I also knew it had the people and the ability to get to where it is today -- a big league professional sport, particularly the athletes. I knew there were some personalities out there that when they were given the chance they could step up and they have. So, that's one of the things I'm probably the most proud of is helping change the image of the sport."

IS THERE ANYTHING WE DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU? "Well, gee I don't know about that. I can't think of anything. I've been pretty open and pretty honest all my life. It's been detrimental to me at times, but I believe in the end it's who I am and what I am. You ask me a question about just about anything and I'll share my opinion with you. One thing I've got to tell you folks, no matter what you write about me or what you ask me, I've always felt that we were on the same team. We may not always agree and you may write things that I say are unnecessary, but I've always felt like we were all trying to do the same thing and that was none of us want to kill the goose. We're all in this thing together and that's what makes it work. Everybody in this room, we've all got a job because of. I'm here because of. And we don't ever want to forget that and I think most of us have done a real good job of maintaining that. Now, with that said, that doesn't mean we've got to turn our head everytime something goes wrong or something's not right. I think we've all got to do our job as journalists and I've got to do my job as a competitor and we've got to hold the powers that be to the fire when they need to be. But I've always felt like we were all on the same team together and I've always been brutally honest with most everybody and I've always told more than I probably should. One of the things that somebody told me some years ago was, 'You talk too much.' Well, I knew that. But then they went on and that's how you get yourself in so much trouble. If you would just stick to the script, you wouldn't get in so much trouble. But I always take it one step further. My momma always told me that was so you would see it my way and that's probably true, but nonetheless, I've enjoyed working with everybody all through these years and I've never held back anything. You ask me a question, you're gonna get an answer."

DO YOU WISH YOU HAD RETIRED A COUPLE OF YEARS EARLIER? "Yeah, sure. I swear, if you asked me if I could be King for a day of NASCAR what would I do. I've said it would take more than a day to straighten this mess out (laughing), but if I was King for day one of the first things I'd do is I would make a mandatory retirement age of 50 years old. That way it would be good for everybody. If you're out here and you're 20 years old, 30 years old or 40 years old, if you knew 'when I get to be 50 I've got to quit.' Otherwise, unless you're made to quit or there's some reason for you to quit, you won't quit. You can't and why would you? You can walk in and you can walk out, so there's no reason to really quit. But, if I had my way, I'd make a mandatory rule that when you're 50 years old you've got to retire. If we had a place to go when that happened, I guess that would make it easier for everybody other than sitting on a boat fishing or whatever people do. Nonetheless, I wish I'd have quit a little sooner. These last seven or eight years have been brutal, but there have been some high points. It's not a bed of roses. It's not always as easy as it looks and things don't turn out the way you thought they were going to, but I've survived."

YOU HAVE BEEN SUCH A PERSONALITY OVER THE YEARS, ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT THERE MAY NOT BE PERSONALITIES LIKE YOURSELF IN THE FUTURE? "That's a good question and I think I share that concern some too. I said this and I don't mean it to sound like I'm boasting or prideful, but people keep asking me what I'm gonna do and I keep asking them what are they gonna do. I know that may sound obnoxious to you, but, to some degree, I worry about that. There's got to be somebody. There needs to be more than one, there needs to be a group or a lot of somebodies to keep this thing on course. Somebody has to come in here like I am right now or when you go to the truck, you've got to get something besides a politically correct answer. You've got to look at the big picture. I don't know. I know there are plenty of people that can fill my driving shoes, I'm not sure about my everyday shoes though." DO YOU FEEL YOU CAN HAVE A GREATER IMPACT ON THE SPORT, THOUGH, IN THE TV BOOTH NEXT YEAR? "I believe it's a clean sheet of paper. The good news about both television networks is they don't want it to be like it was. Now, there's nothing wrong with the way it is, but they want to wipe the slate clean and take it to the next level. It's been at this level long enough, let's take it to the next level. So that opens a lot of doors. That's a great opportunity for someone like me or whomever is involved. That's gonna be the exciting thing about next year. I don't think you'll see status quo coming out of the television booth. That could be good, but that could be bad. That's just one of those fine lines you've got to walk. I have no idea about what next year is gonna be like, I really don't. I don't know what it's gonna be like to sit up there for three-and-a-half hours every Sunday and talk about this sport and the people in it. You can't be overly critical. You've got to really be careful. You've got to watch what you say to some degree, as best I can (laughing), and hopefully make it better than it's ever been before for everybody."

FINAL THOUGHTS. "I've had a great relationship with all of you people (the media) all these years and I really am thankful for the way you've treated me and I appreciate it. Everytime there's a changing of the guard, and I'm just the tip of the iceberg, but everytime there's a changing of the guard we always say, 'Oh man, what are we gonna do?' But somehow, someway, someone always steps up and things continue on. The more they change, the more they stay the same. I'm sure me not being in that race car or being out on the track will have very little effect on what happens to this sport."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Richard Petty , Mike Helton