D.W. divides fans, but he is one of the reasons why
I love NASCAR.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Darrell Waltrip (“DW”) is one of NASCAR’s most polarizing and recognizable characters. He is a legend as a racer, unmistakable as an announcer on Fox Sports, and a pop culture icon for his turn in both Pixar’s Cars Movie films. Love him or lump him, root for him or tolerate his existence, it is impossible to ignore Darrell Waltrip.

As a new NASCAR fan in the early 1990s I didn’t have a strong knowledge base of the history of the sport. I had chosen a driver, Dale Earnhardt, and then watched the sport with distaste for anyone who wasn’t my driver! Darrell Waltrip was outspoken, corny, fiery, and a damn good driver. He picked on the younger drivers, seemed too cocky and arrogant, and wasn’t as winning as he had been in the 1980s. My husband and I decided we didn’t like “DW” and gave him a totally derogatory nickname that I am too much of a lady to write in this column! Over the years we watched DW strike out and become a car owner of the car he drove. He literally would wear two different hats in interviews, one as the driver, and one as a team owner. This fascinated me and showed a more humbled, struggling DW. My husband and I totally changed our opinion for the better of DW when he agreed to drive the No. 1 car for the injured Steve Park at Dale Earnhardt’s request. DW wasn’t too proud or stuck up to climb into the racecar owned by his one-time opponent. We watched DW’s career slowly end and, in 2000, fade away. We actually had a healthy respect and awe for DW by the time he sat in the booth for the first time with Fox Sports for the Daytona 500 in February 2001. We’d learned a lot more about his history in the sport, his relationship with Dale Earnhardt, and his overall persona. He was truly a good guy. So, with interest and delight we watched that first broadcast with DW in the booth cheering on his little brother “Mikey” as he powered his way to the lead in the last laps of the Great American Race. DW’s voice was rich with emotion, tears brimming his eyes with pride for his little brother. When Dale Earnhardt’s accident occurred, not until the checkers fell and DW finished his jubilant exaltation for his little brother, did DW’s voice belie the severity of Dale’s crash. Once again DW wore his emotions on his sleeve and foreshadowed the audience’s need to brace itself collectively. “I hope Dale’s okay,” he said in that shaky voice, dripping with fear and uncertainty. In the days that followed, it was DW, I and the rest of NASCAR looked to for cues on how to grieve. If DW was crying unabashedly, then we could. If DW showed up to work, then we could. If DW reminisced about Dale, then we could. When DW interviewed Dale Earnhardt Jr. we all stopped to listen. DW humanized the sport at a time when we were all raw with emotion and unsure of how to conduct ourselves. He was a beacon, a symbol, and connection to Dale Earnhardt and he was a comfort.

As a broadcaster DW brings a rich mix of driver know-how, inquisitive fandom, and know-it-all opinions. He is still brash, says anything on his mind, but entertains constantly! Beginning with his enthusiastic “Boogity Boogity Boogity, Let’s Go Racing Boys!” at the start of every race Fox covers to his analysis and interviews, DW makes NASCAR a fantastical adventure. I still hear many disrespect DW and his style. They find him boorish, conceited, and annoying. I strongly disagree. When you are “that good” you are entitled to a bit of brashness. When you have worked as hard to make it, you are allowed to pontificate, and when you have as much talent as DW, you are expected to contribute. Others think it is too soon for DW to be placed in the NASCAR Hall of Fame (he goes in with the Class of 2012), but I counter that his prowess on the track alone was enough to get him in; 84 victories and 3 championships is quite impressive! In addition, DW is NASCAR’s greatest ambassador. From championing his home state of Kentucky to his cameos in the Pixar’s Cars Movies, and from his broadcasting work to his efforts to bring younger viewers to the sport through his Digger character, DW lives his life for NASCAR. I say it’s a wonderful thing that he’s being inducted and I, for one, will be cheering loudly when it officially happens. DW is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Why I Love NASCAR: DW Why I Love NASCAR: DW Reviewed by Chief 187 on Monday, July 18, 2011 Rating: 5