An interview with:
MIKE JOY: Good afternoon and welcome. There’s a bunch of people here besides Darrell Waltrip and Stevie Waltrip that I want to introduce from FOX.
25 years ago FOX Sports was launched with the NFL, our coordinating director Artie Kempner, our coordinating producer Richie Zyontz were there. They have guided this NASCAR ship ever since.
Among the first hires, Darrell Waltrip was David Hill’s first hire when FOX took on NASCAR. Matt Yocum has been here for the 19 years, as has Larry McReynolds back in Charlotte, myself, and a lot of the technical crew and cameramen that you see here have all been part of this long journey.
In addition to our group, Barry Landis has been here the whole way. He’s our race producer, has been since 2007.
I’ll forget a few people. But it’s an emotional day for all of us because 30 people in the TV compound that work on this show, plus the talent, those I’ve introduced, have been here for all 19 years of NASCAR on FOX. Next year that number is going to be reduced by one.
A funny thing has happened over the last week. There have been a lot of stories written and aired on radio and TV, a lot of them positive, some not, but that’s okay because what’s happened in the last two days is the legion of fans of DW, from the beginning to now, have all come forward, and all made their well wishes known. That’s been gratifying for all of us to see, it really, really has.
Bristol is the right place to make this announcement because this is Darrell’s house. Nobody else has close to 12 wins here. Now, that’s a mark that may someday be equaled. Nobody has come close to seven consecutive wins here.
Gary Baker bought this racetrack, said I’ll be in Victory Lane, I’ll get to shake the hands of a lot of famous drivers. He shook one hand in all that time, and there it was.
DARRELL WALTRIP: And he was my neighbor (laughter).
MIKE JOY: Seven wins in a row.
Ned Jarrett is really the only other Hall of Famer to have a Hall of Fame, multi‑championship driving career, then transition to a Hall of Fame worthy broadcast career, either one of which would have gotten Ned or Darrell into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
It’s a bittersweet day for all of us, but doing it at Bristol is the right thing. What I’ve heard on radio and read in the papers and seen in social media over these last couple of days has been just a wonderful outpouring of support.
One person who shared this entire journey with all of us, from the NASCAR side of things, is NASCAR’s vice chairman, Mike Helton.
MIKE HELTON: Thank you, Mike. Yesterday when the word went out, Steve Phelps on behalf of NASCAR made the official statement. I couldn’t agree with him more. The impact that Darrell Waltrip has had on our industry, on our sport, will be felt for generations to come.
I’m thankful to be part of today on a personal note. As a lot of you know, I grew up here in Bristol, tried to race, but that didn’t work out too good, so I was lucky to figure out how to stay in the business one way or another.
You don’t grow up in Bristol and not know about NASCAR. When you hang out at the local tracks, whether it’s in southwest Virginia, east Tennessee, North Carolina, wherever, there’s a lot of talk back then about who was up‑and‑coming. This was in the early ’70s.
There was this guy from Kentucky who showed up in Nashville, and Nashville was a pretty famous stop in the Southeast for a lot of series, but particularly for stockcar racing, particularly for NASCAR. The guy Darrell Waltrip’s name starts showing up.
Well, I’m pretty much confined to Bristol. I remember Darrell’s first race up here. It was, Okay, let’s see what he’s got. Did okay. Come back, did better. Then just went on a tear.
I cast it that way first to be sure that I laid the groundwork, because the impact it had on me wasn’t from how good Bristol did or how good Darrell did or how good the sport did, I was a NASCAR fan, and I was following the routine guys back then, whether Cale Yarborough, Pearson, Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, all those.
For somebody to show up, and there’s a lot of stories, there will be a lot of stories, everybody knows the history of Darrell Waltrip. He doesn’t just show up quietly. He kind of comes in with a bang, so to speak. That bang continued for his entire career, including 10 years from now.
But from a NASCAR fan’s perspective, Darrell made me more of a NASCAR fan than I thought I ever would be. Obviously it also pulled a lot of people into the NASCAR following just because of his style and his personality and his ability, but mainly because of his driving ability and style on the racetrack.
So, Darrell, from that perspective I want to thank you as an old fan that watched your career start and end on the racetrack, and have been with you through it all, and still love you. I know we’ve had some interesting conversations.
DARRELL WALTRIP: A couple (laughter).
MIKE HELTON: With your uniform on, with your car owner’s license in your hand and with your broadcast permit, and your go‑kart keys and everything (laughter).
It’s been a remarkable impact on a lot of people personally, but on our industry in general. I count my blessings as I get older about those that I’ve been able to share my career with. But you’re right up there among the top, buddy, and maybe it’s because that Tennessee thing, Virginia‑Tennessee connection. You’re a remarkable person.
Stevie, bless your heart. I don’t know what you’re going to do at home with him. Call every now and then, we’ll come take him to lunch, get him out of the way.
Thank you. I love you. Thank you for everything you’ve done and I’m proud of you.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Thank you.
MIKE JOY: Now that I’ve had a chance to look around the room, Pam Miller has been here since the start, our Xfinity producer, pit producer. The FOX PR people are here, if you need any help. Our booth mate Jeff Gordon is here. We’ll all be available for one‑on‑ones afterwards.
Well, my friend, especially at Bristol, you are no stranger to controversy. Sometimes I think you embrace it, like when Cale Yarborough nicknamed him ‘Jaws’, Darrell took that and ran with it all the way to three championships and 84 wins, including 12 here and seven in a row, then hopped into the broadcast booth and it’s been a wonderful ride ever since.
I know this day and this season, these thoughts just didn’t come about recently. Can you take us through the process.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Sure, sure.
A lot of people ‑‑ not a lot of people, but some people have thought that this was a spur‑of‑the‑moment decision, something that I decided to do over the last two or three weeks. That is so far from the truth.
Look, these are my teammates. We have been together for 19 years, a lot of us have. Mike Joy interviewed me when I won the Daytona 500 in 1989. I was grabbing Mike, I don’t know how he survived. I said, This is Daytona, this is Daytona. And it was.
But my bosses have been so kind to me. It’s touching to me to think that I worked for people that care more about me than they do about anything else. Two years ago I told my boss, I said, I think I want to retire in 2017. I thought 17 was a perfect time, perfect number. That would work out well for me.
2017 came along, I said, Bad decision, hmm. I might want to rethink that.
Then Jeff came along, Jeff Gordon, who has been a great addition to our booth. Jeff came along, and what if I bail out now and leave Mike Joy with Jeff Gordon and some other guy that’s never done TV before? That didn’t feel like that was the right thing to do, so I stayed on a little bit longer.
Look, anybody that’s done what I’ve done, whether it’s a driving career or TV career, you can always look back and say, Maybe I should have done something different. Maybe I should have thought about this. Maybe I should have thought about that.
But, folks, this is my home. For 60 years of my 72 I’ve been behind the wheel. I was holding onto something. I was holding onto a steering wheel for 30 years. I let go of that wheel, I grabbed hold of a microphone. I held onto a microphone for another 19 years. I’ve always been holding onto something.
You know who paid the biggest price for me being selfish, my ego, worrying about me? This young lady right here. Stevie has been by my side for 50 years. We got married in 1969. We went to the race on our honeymoon. I had a plan. I thought I was going ‑‑ there was a race in Salem, Indiana, I’ll win that race, it pays $1,000, my part is 250, we’re going to spend the weekend at French Lick, Indiana. Iggy Katona had a different idea.
I’m not going to start in 1972, that’s the first time I drove a car in the Cup. I walked into the garage in 1972 at Talladega, Alabama. I didn’t know diddly squat. I just knew it was a big damn racetrack, one of the biggest I’d ever seen. I had a Mercury that Dick Hutcherson, Hutcherson‑Pagan, Dick put together for me to drive at Talladega. Man, I’m somebody. I’ve made it to the big‑time.
I always loved what Bubba Watson said, it stuck with me: Did I ever dream about winning 84 races, three championships? Did I ever dream about winning the Daytona 500? Did I ever dream about meeting Junior Johnson, driving for Junior Johnson? Hell no. But those are things that have come true and they’ve happened.
I always tell people to dream big because it might come true, so dream big. That’s what I did.
I walked in the garage in 1972, and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been to every track, every race. But I took to this race. People say, Why did you pick today, why did you pick Bristol? Someone must have twisted your arm, said this is when you got to do it. That’s not true.
If you walk outside, the grandstand over here in turn four, there’s a grandstand. I think it’s 43,000 people. I think it’s the biggest grandstand. They haven’t reduced it yet, I don’t think. It’s one of the biggest grandstands in this sport.
Outside that grandstand is a picture of me on the wall. I won 12 races here. This was my sanctuary. I couldn’t wait to get here. I would hear guys complain about this place. I heard I think it was Kyle Petty said they need to plug it up, fill it up with water, call it a fishing hole. But I never felt that way.
I love the high banks. I love the speeds of a short track. This is home to me. Follow me in Tennessee. That was how I felt when I came here. This is a perfect place for me to tell you, not the rest of this year…
Look, it’s hard for me to get too upset or too emotional because I got a race to do Sunday. We’re going to do 500 laps here on Sunday. Am I going to worry about what I’m going to do next year? Do you know when I’ll worry about that? When next year gets here.
Next February when all of you are in Daytona, headed down for the Daytona 500, and I’m not with you, that’s when it will hit me. But between now and then, we’ve got races to do. Our last race in June at Sonoma, maybe when I walk out of the booth at Sonoma, I look at all these wonderful people that have been there the whole time, and I’ll think about not seeing them any more, that’s when it will hit me. That’s when it will hurt.
It’s like when I had a race team. It wasn’t the cars, and it wasn’t the sponsors, it was the people. It was the people that made the difference. My team, I miss the camaraderie. I miss team meetings. I miss going to dinner with my buddies, having a beer with my buddies, talking about racing.
That’s what this group has been to me. This is my team. Barry Landis in my ear, screaming at me about something. Artie jumping in every now and then with some direction. Or Pam, whoever it may be. The camera guys up on the booth trying to get the pictures that I’m talking about that nobody at home sees yet.
Look, I’m not a journalist. I didn’t go to journalism school. I’m a racecar driver. I love racing. I love the sport. I love NASCAR. They say you get what you give. Well, I gave a lot, but I got a whole lot more in return.
I devoted my time, my energy, my effort, my passion to this sport. This sport has rewarded me time and time and time again, not just with trophies and the success I’ve had on the track, but with friends, people that I’ll never forget, people that if I’m in trouble, I got every one of them’s number. I could call any one of those people over there, over here, and say, I need help. They’ll say, Hang on, I’ll be right there. Those are friendships you can’t replace.
Mike Helton, I love Mike Helton. I don’t know. He’s a pretty big wheel in NASCAR. But I never looked at him that way. Mike Helton has always been my friend, my buddy. He’s chewed my butt out many a time, and I needed it. You know that old saying: You don’t know what to say but you keep on talking. I was pretty guilty of that.
So a lot of times I got called on the carpet, and I needed it, whether it was Bill Jr., Mike, whomever it was. But it made me a better person. When I stand up there on Sunday and do this race, I am in one of those cars. I don’t know which one I’ll be in yet. Most people think I’d be in Kyle Busch’s car. I love Kyle Busch, I think he’s fun to watch. Am I biased? You’re darn right I am. Everybody in this room is.
One way or another, when you write a story, when you tell somebody something, you always have to put your own kind of spin on it, your own personal opinion. We’re all guilty of that. I don’t care if you say, No. I went to journalism school, I sit on my hands, I don’t clap. That’s bull crap because that’s what we all do. That’s what I’ve done. This is what I know.
I’m a race fan. I love it when the guys put on a show. When they get out on the track and somebody’s putting on a show, I’m going to talk about them. I always tell everybody in the garage, it’s pretty simple, If you’ll do this much, we’ll do the rest, but you got to do this much.
We’re guilty sometimes of making up stuff, but we embellish, kind of embellish. It’s not radio where there’s bumper‑to‑bumper side‑by‑side door‑handle‑to‑door‑handle. When it’s on TV, it is what it is.
I love live TV. These guys will tell you, I don’t like to rehearse. I hate rehearsal. Let it go. I learned that from Ralph Emery, Nashville Live Show. That was a live TV show. If you made a fool of yourself, guess what? You made a fool of yourself. If you said something you shouldn’t, guess what? You had the shoestrings hanging out the side of your mouth.
I learned something from everyone I worked for, worked with. There’s life lessons. This sport has taught me so much. They’re all life lessons. We just had our first grandchild, Louisa. She’s beautiful. She’s 14 months old. I wish she was here right now because so much fun.
I had two daughters to grow up at the track. Stevie homeschooled those girls at the track. Everything we did we did at the track. Everything we did revolved around racing. We didn’t have much of a family life. Both my girls are grown up and married, now we have our first grandchild.
I can’t let that happen. I can’t let that happen again. I need some quality time. This is quantity time. I get a lot of quantity time because I’m at the track a lot. I need some quality time with her, 50 years of marriage, and our daughters are getting older, grandkids are coming along.
I’m never going to run from this sport. I’m never going to turn my back on this sport. I love it too much. It meant too much to me. But I do have to let it rest. That’s what today is all about.
I wanted to do it today because I don’t want people hounding me about when am I going to retire, if I’m going to retire, is somebody making you retire, what’s going on. If you want to know those kind of things, you can come and ask me, I can tell you straightforward what’s going on.
I’ve had the best bosses in the world. David Hill was one of my best friends. Eric Shanks is right there beside him. Mike and Mike. It’s been a great run. It’s been a great run. 30 years in a car and almost 20 years behind a TV camera, you can’t ask for any more.
But it’s time for me to step aside. It’s time to make room for somebody else. They can’t make plans for their future if I don’t tell them what mine are. That’s why I wanted to clear the air today. Retiring at the end of this year, not done yet, got a few races to go. At the end of this year I’ll retire. Somebody else will get to get up here and work with Jeff Gordon and Mike Joy and have as much fun as I had.
I could tell you a million reasons why I think today is the right time. But the biggest reason is because I think it’s time to make room for someone else, let somebody else do what I’ve done all these years.
I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve learned from every person I ever worked for. Many things I’ve told you, don’t beat yourself. I did that and I learned the hard way that that’s the worst kind of defeat you can have. Hear me now, believe me later, unintended consequence, things I harp on all the time. Those are things that everybody in this room needs to take to heart. You get what you give.
The biggest thing I think I learned, I learned this ‑‑ I always told Richard Petty and Pearson, those guys, I don’t think they respect me. Richard Petty with his long index finger said, Boy, respect begets respect. I had to think about that. He was right.
I remember thinking when I started in this sport, What the hell? What’s the big deal with the King? What’s the King anyway? Who is the King? Then when it was all over with and I looked back, I know why he’s the King now. He was the man, and has continued to be.
If I have a legacy, I wish it was as good, would parallel his. Richard Petty has meant a ton to this sport. People talk about him. He’s still here. I don’t like to tell him this because get all mushy and stuff, but he’s one of my heroes. I’ve appreciated him very much for what he’s meant to this sport.
That’s all I got for you. I’m retiring at the end of the year. Somebody said, What are you going to do? I said, I don’t know. I don’t have a plan. I’m a day‑to‑day guy. I got up this morning, it was raining. Quit raining, it was sun shining. That’s my kind of day.
MIKE JOY: We are going to take questions.
- What’s harder, leaving this or leaving driving?
DARRELL WALTRIP: You know, I thought when I retired from driving, I always thought that was my identity, those cars, those uniforms, being at the racetrack, being on the racetrack. I always thought that was my identity. That was just my platform.
This is the hardest thing. I’m older so it’s harder. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Race team, people come, people go. But a lot of us have been together the whole time I’ve been here. Familiar faces, familiar voices coming to you and telling you, I don’t think you should have said that. I think you might want to think about what you said or say it in a different way.
Those are things that I’ll never forget. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I didn’t look forward to today by any means. But because I still have the rest of this year to go, it doesn’t seem quite as bad that it will be later on.
But by far and away, TV, I was a racecar driver, but then when I did TV, I thought of fans and fan clubs, fan mail, I thought that would all go away. It didn’t. It just increased.
This has been the greatest experience of my life.
- 19 years in the booth now. Is there a driver that reminds you of you? Who is it and why?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Well, yeah, I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go in 19 years. Carl Edwards was fun to watch. I thought he was pretty aggressive at times. Matt Kenseth. Tony Stewart is quite a character.
I honestly believe, and people get on me all the time because they think I’m on his payroll or something, because he drives a Toyota, but Kyle Busch is the most exciting driver I’ve ever seen drive a stockcar. The things I’ve seen him do…
We were at California. He come through the pack, and he went three‑wide, place where there wasn’t room but for two. I saw him do it at Texas this past week. The man puts on a show.
Look, like I told you, I used to say, Are you with the show? No, I am the show. Well, he can say, when he’s in the race, he is the show. We keep a camera on him. We keep an eye on him because he know he’s going to do something that’s going to be exciting and fun to watch.
I think Kyle has grown up a lot. I think he’s changed a lot. But his driving has not, he hasn’t let up. He’s got a lot of wins ahead of him, a lot of wins. I’m a Kyle Busch fan.
- You talked about you had been thinking about this for quite some time. As it drew closer, did you think about changing your mind again? If so, why or why not?
DARRELL WALTRIP: You sound like my boss (laughter). At the end of last year, he came and we talked. He said, What do you think about next year? I said, I don’t know, boss. That’s in June. It’s a long time till February.
I hope you realize that I don’t have to be sitting here today. Nobody told me that this is the day you got to do this, this is the year we want you to do this. They’ve been so kind to me. They’ve left it up to me. You decide, you’ll know when the time is right. We don’t have to coach you or tell you, you’ll know when the time is right.
Listen, you know this, everybody in this room knows this, the sport’s changed. It’s changed a ton. People say, He’s not relevant any more, hasn’t driven a car. I’ve been in the cars. I know what they feel like. I know what it feels like to win a race here. You want to listen to some guy that’s never won a race somewhere tell you how to drive a car? I don’t think so.
I have the knowledge. I have the experience. Look, I don’t sit at home Monday through Thursday twiddling my thumbs. I talk to crew chiefs. I talk to drivers. I know about the data they have. I know about the technology they have. I know how they do it. I could build the damn car myself if I had to. Tell somebody else, some of these guys, build a car, see how it runs.
I’ve owned teams, promoted races, driven cars. I’ve done everything you can do in this business. For the most part I think I’ve done it pretty well.
Nobody shook me and said, Man, it’s time of to give it up. It’s just that time. 72 years old. I could do this till I’m 90. I do everything I do with passion. I do everything I do to have fun.
I think most of the time people around me have fun. I might have a dud every now and then, tell a joke that doesn’t go over very good. This is what I know, this is what I do best. I’ve loved every minute of it. I think I’m pretty damn good at it, to tell you the truth.
MIKE JOY: I want to invite Jerry Caldwell with Bristol Motor Speedway to the podium.
JERRY CALDWELL: Darrell…
DARRELL WALTRIP: What are you going to do with that (laughter)?
JERRY CALDWELL: I think I need to give this to Stevie so she can use it on you.
On behalf of Bruton and Marcus, all the team here at Bristol Motor Speedway, and all of the fans, we just want to say thank you for everything that you have meant to us at Bristol.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Yes, sir.
JERRY CALDWELL: 12 races, seven in a row. For three and a half years there was no one else in Victory Lane. I’m glad I wasn’t promoting races then because you would have gotten some complaints.
DARRELL WALTRIP: It was pretty boring. I told Jeff Gordon the other day, It must be easy to win nine races here (laughter).
JERRY CALDWELL: Shots fired.
You’ve got lots of big trophies, we know that. We thought it was only appropriate to present you with one of the swords we now present in Victory Lane.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Holy smoly. Look at that.
JERRY CALDWELL: It simply says, Bristol Motor Speedway legend Darrell Waltrip, because that’s truly what he is. Thank you for all you’ve done.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Thank you. That will slice through some butter.
JERRY CALDWELL: We have one other thing. It would be our honor if you would be willing to climb into the flag stand and start the Food City 500 for us on Sunday.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Oh, man, I’d love to do that. Thank you very much. I thought you were going to say, Climb in the car and run the race.