Waltrip recalls Talladega highlights

Waltrip Passed on First Talladega Opportunity But Garnered Plenty of Memories in Later Years TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 11) -- If not for a big race in Owensboro, Ky., in 1969, Darrell Waltrip might have celebrated his current 25th ...

Waltrip Passed on First Talladega Opportunity But Garnered Plenty of Memories in Later Years

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 11) -- If not for a big race in Owensboro, Ky., in 1969, Darrell Waltrip might have celebrated his current 25th anniversary three years ago. As it is, Waltrip will make another step in his 25th NASCAR Winston Cup season in the Winston 500 April 27 at Talladega Superspeedway. Waltrip was an up-and-coming racer in his hometown the same year the "World's Fastest Speedway" hosted its first race. The inaugural event at Talladega wasn't all smooth as several drivers boycotted the event, forcing track officials to fill the field with several lesser-known drivers. A friend of Waltrip's was in Talladega, heard what was happening and immediately placed a call to the 17-year-old driver. He knew Waltrip had the equipment, which was basically a driver's suit and helmet, needed to run in the first-ever event. But despite the sales pitch and the opportunity to run a NASCAR race, Waltrip's Talladega and NASCAR Winston Cup debut were put off until the 1972 Winston 500. "I had this friend who went to the first race at Talladega," Waltrip said. "He called me on Friday night and said I'm in Talladega. Get in your car and get down here. All the drivers down here are pulling out and they are putting anybody in the cars. Even Big Bill (France) got out there and drove around.' "I said, Man, are you crazy? We've got a big race here in Owensboro on Sunday. I can't possibly miss it.'" Waltrip learned real fast in his 1972 debut that his hometrack in Owensboro wasn't any comparison to Talladega. He started 25th and finished 38th after engine problems ended his day early. Sunday, April 27, Waltrip will return to the place it all started for his 26th Winston 500. "I drove into that place and I couldn't believe how big it was," Waltrip said. "Talladega was built as if it were being built for the year 2000. Big Bill had a vision to build a race track that we could race on forever at any speed. "There's been some tough races there, but it's easy. I got to be honest with you, if I was going to take a guy that had never been in a race car anywhere, I'd take him to Talladega. "It's almost like driving down the interstate without trees." Waltrip has had some interstate drives at Talladega, grabbing a pair of victories in both the Winston 500 and the Sears DieHard 500 at the 2.66-mile track. With a lot of screaming in his ear, he grabbed his first Talladega victory in the 1977 Winston 500. He backed that up with a win in the Sears DieHard 500 in 1979 then made a clean sweep in 1982, becoming the first two-time winner of the Sears DieHard 500 in the process. "When I was leading on the last lap of the race in 1977, I had Cale Yarborough, Benny Parsons and Bobby Allison all lined up behind me," Waltrip said. "My crew was screaming at me that I was going to get beat and I was telling them to shut up and leave me alone. "I had them convinced that I knew what I was doing. I didn't, but I told them I did anyway." To go along with his four victories, Waltrip has three runner-up finishes. His 1981 Sears DieHard 500 runner-up finish might be his most memorable Talladega experience. In the track's closest finish ever, Waltrip finished second to rookie Ron Bouchard and just inches ahead of Terry Labonte. "I had been racing with Terry all day and it was just he and I -- I thought," Waltrip said. "I was trying to crowd Terry up against the wall coming down the tri-oval and down through the front straight. "I got a little advantage on Terry and as I got to the line I looked over and there was a yellow car going by. My first thought was, how did that lapped car get down there?' I didn't remember seeing him. Then I realized that guy had just won the race." All of Waltrip's Talladega success hasn't been in the past, however. He finished ninth in last season's Sears DieHard 500 and fourth in the 1995 Winston 500. "We've had some decent runs at Talladega the last several years," Waltrip said. "With the draft at Talladega, you can be off during qualifying and still catch up. There's going to be 18 to 20 cars in that lead draft and if you can be in that lead draft, you've got a chance to win. "It would be really nice to go back to where it all started 25 years ago and run good." Advance Auto Parts Qualifying Day to set positions 1-25 for the Winston 500 is Friday, April 25, preceded by practice and second-round qualifying to set the field of up to 43 cars for the sixth Birmingham Auto Dealers 500K presented by EasyCare NASCAR Busch Series race. The 117-lap, 312-mile Birmingham Auto Dealers 500K presented by EasyCare, round 11 of the NASCAR Busch Series, is Saturday, April 26, at 12 noon Central time. Great advance reserved tower seats remain for the event. The 188-lap Winston 500 is Sunday, April 27 at 12 noon Central time. For tickets to any "Track Attack Weekend" events call the Talladega ticket office at (205) 362-9064.

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Benny Parsons , Bobby Allison , Cale Yarborough