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Darrell Waltrip

Full Name:
Darrell Lee Waltrip
5th February 1947 (Age 73)
Owensboro, Kentucky
Most recent race (in database):

Darrell Waltrip arrived in NASCAR as a cocky, controversial and often outspoken youngster who was unafraid to joust with stock cars’ established stars on the track or off it. When he retired in 2000, he left the sport as a respected three-time champion who even earned the crowd’s affection – named NASCAR’s most popular driver in 1989 and 1990.

Early NASCAR career

He started racing on Tennessee’s short tracks in 1965 and graduated through the Sportsman division to what is now the Sprint Cup in 1972. He drove a family-run Mercury in five races that year and survived on a deteriorating track at Nashville to finish a distant third. He was second in the 1973 Alamo 500 at Texas World Speedway before switching to Chevrolet for the following season.

Still preparing his own cars, Waltrip revelled in being the underdog against the works teams. He won at Nashville in 1975 after dominating from pole position when Cale Yarborough’s engine blew. That brought Waltrip to the attention of DiGard Racing who had plenty of sponsorship but little success at the time.

Waltrip swapped to the number 88 Chevy for Talladega and started a five-year association with Bill and Jim Gardner’s team. Victory at Richmond that year was the first of 26 together that included Charlotte’s World 600 in 1978 and 1979. He led the 1979 championship for most of the year and entered the final round at Ontario Motor Speedway two points ahead of Richard Petty. However, he finished eighth after a spin and Petty snatched the title.

NASCAR champion for Junior Johnson

His partnership with the Gardners ended in acrimony and an out-of-court settlement – Waltrip paying $350,000 to be released from his contract. He moved to Junior Johnson’s outfit for 1981 and repaid that investment by winning back-to-back Winston Cup titles in his first two seasons driving the Mountain Dew Buick Regal – coming from behind to beat Bobby Allison on both occasions. Those victories justified his self-proclaimed hype – Waltrip making very public pre-race predictions that often came true.

Now sponsored by Pepsi and driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, Waltrip escaped with bruising after a 150mph accident during the 1983 Daytona 500. He finished as runner-up in 1983 when beaten by Allison and his old DiGard team. He won the championship for a third time in 1985 – earning a career-best $1.3m in the process – but left Johnson’s employ after one more season with the team.

Switch to Hendrick Motorsports

He moved to Hendrick Motorsports in 1987 and won Charlotte’s main race – renamed the Coca-Cola 600 – for a third time in 1988. Waltrip scored his greatest victory at the start of 1989 when he used a canny fuel saving strategy to lead a Hendrick 1-2 in the all-important Daytona 500. 1990 was his first winless campaign in 16 seasons and he returned to being a privateer at the end of the year.

Darrell Waltrip Motorsports

He formed Darrell Waltrip Motorsports for 1991 and won five more races over the next two years as driver/owner. However, he also endured another big accident at Daytona when he rolled 10 times on the backstretch during the 1991 Pepsi 400. A black eye and bruised shoulder were the sum total of his injuries.

The 1992 Southern 500 was the 84th and final victory of his career. It ensured that he had won on all of NASCAR’s classic tracks – Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega and now Darlington. Waltrip raced throughout the 1990s without success before retiring in 2000.

He now works as an analyst on television – providing colour and opinion as he did from the start of his driving career.