Darrell Waltrip, Stock Cars, Class of 2003
Flip through the NASCAR record books and you'll find Darrell Waltrip's name scattered throughout - often at or near the top of various lists.
Waltrip won three Winston Cup championships (1981, 1982,1985) and his 84 victories are tied for third all-time, trailing only Richard Petty and David Pearson.
But Waltrip's impact and contributions to the sport go much deeper than his racetrack achievements. He is unquestionably one of the most influential individuals in the history of stock car racing.
Waltrip was at his peak in the 1980s, at a time when television was beginning to air more and more NASCAR races. He was the sport's perfect spokesman at the perfect time. Clean-cut, well groomed and articulate, he defied the stereotypical "good old boy" image. Witty and well-spoken, Waltrip could conjugate a verb as well as he could negotiate a high-banked turn at 200 mph.
A national TV audience got its first up-close look at NASCAR drivers and Waltrip was an ideal ambassador. He was someone the audience could identify with, the perfect pilot to ferry NASCAR's thousands of new passengers into a new era of racing.
But beneath that cosmopolitan exterior beat the heart of a rugged racer; on the track Darrell was as tough and tenacious as the reckless moonshine runners who were his sport's forerunners. He went wheel-to-wheel with the best NASCAR had to offer, asked no quarter and gave none. One of his old rivals, Cale Yarborough, nicknamed Waltrip "Jaws" because of his brashness, but, as Waltrip said, "It's not bragging if you can do it."
Fans at times were tough on Waltrip because of his tendency to "stir the pot" of controversy, but he eventually won them over. In 1989 and 2000 he was voted NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.
No racer was more dedicated and determined. Waltrip once started a race with his left leg in a cast after a crash at Daytona the previous week. In another race, he suffered a badly-burned foot that required surgery. His crew had accidentally left a heat shield out of the floorboard of his car and midway in the race his foot began to sear. Later, as he limped from his car, Waltrip was asked why he kept racing in such wrenching pain. "Because I was leading," he replied.
Born in Owensboro, KY, on Feb. 5, 1947, Waltrip began racing as a teenager. He quickly conquered the little tracks around the area, and in the late 1960s he and his new bride, Stevie, migrated to the Nashville suburb of Franklin, TN, so he could pursue his career at Fairgrounds Speedway. He won Nashville track championships in 1970 and 1973 and used that success as a springboard into NASCAR's big leagues.
The Waltrips still reside in Franklin with their daughters, Jessica Leigh and Sara. Waltrip retired as a driver at the end of the 2000 season, but he didn't retire from the sport. He became a racing announcer for Fox Sports, and his impact and influence as a spokesman continues. Millions of new fans have begun following NASCAR, and Waltrip with his blend of insight and glibness, has proved the perfect person to make the formal introduction.
Darrell's broadcasting can best be summed up the same as his many years as a championship driver: Few, if any, were better at the task and nobody did it with greater flair.