NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Darrell Waltrip
Topics: Darrell Waltrip, NASCAR
January 20, 2012
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
THE MODERATOR: Darrell Waltrip is here with us. Darrell, certainly quite a passionate speech you made here tonight. I know you speak from the heart and are very passionate about this. When you found out that day that you had been‑‑ you were going into the Hall of Fame, what did that mean to you?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Well, it was one of the things I didn't get to talk about, unfortunately, but it's‑‑ when you drive, when you race, every week you try to win the race, and every year you try to win a championship. And so that's a‑‑ I call it a mountain. Every year you've got to climb that mountain, and every year you've got to do it all over again and do it all over again. This is the last mountain you have to climb. You're at the pinnacle. You've made it to the top.
As far as I know, they won't kick you out. You don't have to go through any inspection or anything. That's all been done before you got here. So this is the last mountain to climb. This is the top. Cale said he climbed the ladder. I feel like I've just had to climb a lot of mountains. They got higher and tougher every year, and looking back, though, this is the‑‑ this is it. You don't have to do it again.
That was the first thing I thought of. It's not about one race, one championship. I said it from day one; it's about your body of work. And what made me the proudest and what makes me the proudest is you're voted on by your peers. It's not a popularity contest, thank goodness. It's basically 50 guys that you've worked with, raced against, raced with, whatever the situation may be, and they recognize what you've done, and they reward you by nominating you and inducting you into the Hall of Fame. And that speaks volumes to me.
Q. Could you ever have imagined coming up that everybody you've accomplished and where you're at in your life, sometimes do you just pinch yourself and wonder if it's real?
DARRELL WALTRIP: It's funny you ask that because Colley and I and Jeff were just talking, I look at my life, not just my career, I look at my life, and I am a blessed man. I have a wonderful wife that's stood by me for 42 years, and we have two beautiful daughters. One of them just came home from Brazil, went down with her husband, she's been married about a year now, went to Brazil to visit his parents, and they returned on Wednesday night and said, Dad, you're going to be a grandfather. I mean, I cried like a baby.
Then Sarah was in‑‑ she was in Manila, outside of Manila in the Philippines Tuesday, and I talked to her over the weekend, and she said, dad, it really‑‑ I hate I can't be there. I know how important this is and how big a deal this is. And I'd give anything if I could be there, but it's just not possible. And I said, I understand, Honey, you're doing what you do, and don't worry about it. I checked into the hotel room yesterday, opened the door, and she was standing there. Of all the things that have ever happened to me in my life, I never had anything affect me the way that did, that little 19 year old kid flew 25 hours to be here with her dad tonight. That's huge. That's about as good of a compliment as a dad can get, that she would do that.
And here's the other thing: She's got to go back. She's leaving Sunday and going back to her group that she's with on her mission trip that she's on, and she'll be in the Philippines where the flood wiped out a large part of a town there, and that's where she is, volunteering and helping with whatever she can do.
I have two great kids. I have a great son‑in‑law. Fausto is the sweetest guy in the world. I've got great friends. I've had two careers. I can't imagine. I couldn't do anything else.
People always say, would you change anything. I said, I can't. If you change anything, it changes everything. And I can't do that.
Q. How impatient did you get over the last three years to be able to have this night come, and how hard was that to wait?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Yeah, you know, people kept saying, oh, you know you'll get in sooner or later, and I said, well, if it's all right with you, I'd like for it to be sooner. You never know how‑‑ it could go on for a long time. One of the things with me is I'm still so visible. I didn't quite driving and go home never to be heard of again. Whether it's my fault or the people I work with's fault, you don't have to look up my record. We talk about it every week. Every time we go to Bristol and do a race on television, we talk about the winningest driver.
I worried a little bit that less is more sometimes, and I was afraid that people were going to get the impression‑‑ and as a matter of fact, a lot of people, some I think in this room say, well, he's not old enough to be in the Hall of Fame. I say, well, wait a minute, how old do you got to be? I'll be 65 February 5th coming up, and that's‑‑ so anyway, I was relieved. It's a big relief. If I compare statistics to statistics, I'm about where I should be, I think.
Q. You were a bridge from one era to the next. Can you explain a little bit what you saw in the changing times of these eras in NASCAR?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Mostly‑‑ not so much at the track. Racing has pretty much been green‑white checkered. It's been pretty simple, what we do on Sunday. But it's what's happened away from the racetrack, the number of people, the technology, the shops, the amount of money. When I started my team in 1991, I had 12 people working for me, and we won two races and finished fourth or fifth in the points. The next year I added three people, and I was‑‑ in 1995, I had gone from 12 people, 15 people to 55 people on a single‑car team, and that's about what these teams have on them today.
Here's the difference: Every man I hired was what I called a generalist. He could do everything. Today every man you hire is a specialist. I heard a‑‑ a new specialist. I don't know if any of you watch the speed coverage or not, but they now have an interior specialist. I said, an interior specialist? What the heck is that? He's the guy that takes care of the inside of the car, the pedals, the seat, the mirror, creature comforts for the driver. They don't call him the seat boy anymore. He's the interior specialist. And of course with the title specialist comes a very nice salary in most cases.
So that's the thing that's changed the most. Certainly with the car we're racing now, technology, safety is‑‑ I say this, and I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I'm just telling you the truth, okay. When I bolted myself down in that race car and I put those seatbelts on and I drove off down pit road and I looked back at my wife was waving goodbye, I didn't know if I'd see her again or not. I didn't think that way, but as I look back on my career and the era in which I raced, you didn't‑‑ there was no guarantee that you'd come back.
I think these guys today, and I'm not diminishing the fact that it's still a very dangerous sport and the cars can hurt you, but that's the difference; they can hurt you, not kill you.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Well, see, I'm a detail freak, and every race car I ever had or had anything to do with was perfect. It may not run perfect and it may not drive perfect, but it was detailed out. I grew up in Owensboro working for a car dealer, and I worked in the detail department, and we cleaned up the cars and got them ready to go out on the lot.
And so I'd clean the corners to get all the dirt out of the corner of the dash or I'd be sure that the carpet was perfectly clean, not just where you‑‑ but all‑‑ so I was always a detail freak. So when I went to Junior's, what Junior Johnson had was an engine. Junior didn't care about that car, that car was just something to carry his engine in. The car wasn't necessarily as neat as it could have been. It wasn't as slick as it could have been. They didn't paint the inside white with epoxy paint like I liked. They painted it with a spray bomb.
But here's where we compromised: I said, Junior, the car is ugly, we've got to make the car look better. We want it to run good, but we want it to look good, too. The thing about painting the inside of the car with a spray bomb, there was a method to his madness. He didn't do it because he didn't have the money. That little light coat of black spray paint they put on there every week, it didn't weigh anything. Epoxy paint, when you did a car with the white epoxy the way they do them now, roll bars, chassis and everything weighed 30 pounds. Junior said, we're not going to put 30 pounds on this race car.
And a lot of the things‑‑ that's a lot of things I learned. But where we compromised was we also learned to do it Junior's way but it do it a little bit nicer Junior's way. And I think every team, and Jeff will tell you, when I went to work somewhere with somebody, I was all in, and I wanted you to be all in. I didn't want you to be slacking off on me. I'm going to do 100 percent, and I want you to do 100 percent, and if you give me two, I'll give you two and we'll end up with five, and that was my theory.
Q. I remember a race at Darlington, and this is sort of along the same lines, the engine blew up in the car, and you jumped out screaming bloody murder and you suggested someone might be working somewhere else the next week. Was that kind of stuff sort of spur of the moment for you? Was it calculated? How much, I guess, pre‑thought went into what you were doing trying to make a team better?
DARRELL WALTRIP: Well, that's just a passion you have. And by the way, that guy was working somewhere the next week. It was uncalled‑‑ if something happened‑‑ racing is unpredictable and anything can happen, and I can accept that. But when something is preventable or you have a problem over and over again, same guy, same problem, you've got to fix that. And I always felt like‑‑ Junior taught me this: If one link of the chain breaks, we'll fix that one, and when the next link breaks, we'll fix that one, until you have a chain so strong it won't break. And that's how I looked at things.
If the engine is blowing up, we've got to fix the engine; if a car won't handle, we've got to get somebody to make it handle. If the crew is no good, you have to fix whatever is keeping you from being successful. And that's really all I ever‑‑ I was hard. I was hard on the guys. By golly, I ain't going to let you down, don't you let me down.
And that's not to say that every week I was perfect. I made some mistakes. I took it like a man. I manned up and said, hey, I screwed up, and I can handle that. But don't keep messing us up week after week after week. We've got‑‑ a driver's career, even though it seems long, you've only got a small window of opportunity. I say this all the time, if you look at drivers 25 to 35, that's your window. If you're going to win a lot of races and a lot of championships, you're going to do it from 25 to 35. You're going to learn and then you're going to accelerate and then you're going to stay up there for a little while and then you're going to start sliding down the other side, and it's usually that ten‑year period, if you look at every driver I've ever raced with, we've all had ten unbelievable years, pretty good before, okay after, but ten good ones.
THE MODERATOR: Darrell, congratulations again, and certainly a great honor for you, and we thank you all for everything you do for NASCAR. Appreciate it.
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