Darrell Waltrip Career highlights at a GlanceFirst Winston Cup race: '72 Winston 500Winston Cup rookie year: 19733 Winston Cup titles: 1981, 1982, and 198584 career Winston Cup wins589 career top 10 finishesOnly five-time winner of Coca-Cola 6007 straight wins at Bristol
Darrell Waltrip is much more than a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion-he's a man who has made a difference in the sport. If NASCAR ever decided to have its own version of Mount Rushmore, Waltrip's face would be carved into the mountain alongside such greats as Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Herb Thomas, and others who have left a lasting impact on the sport through various eras.
Waltrip once said that most drivers participate in a time that belongs to someone else, but "at least I had my era." And that era was in the '80s, when Waltrip won all three of his NASCAR Winston Cup championships and represented the sport as its most articulate spokesman at the time.
But time marches on. This is now an age of younger drivers such as Jeff Gordon, and in the future, Tony Stewart and possibly Dale Earnhardt Jr. So as NASCAR Winston Cup racing enters a new year, decade, century, and millennium, it will be the final season of Waltrip's glorious career. It will also be Waltrip's final opportunity to regain a bit of luster to a career that has suffered tarnish in recent seasons through a variety of circumstances that have left him uncompetitive.
"I appreciate and I have a great deal of respect for people that make a difference," Waltrip says. "I've said this before, and it's how I feel about my career and myself in general and what I've done in the sport; I've made a difference. I didn't just come strolling through, took home a few checkered flags, took home a little money, and was there. When wrongs needed to be right, I was there to fight to try to make it right, and when something was good, I tried to make it better. That's all a guy can do.
"I've done that for 30 years. I've dedicated my life every Sunday. I've gotten up every Sunday since I was 12 years old and put on a helmet and gone out and drove my heart out to try to be the best at what I was doing at that particular time."
A Man Of PrideEven during the low point of his NASCAR Winston Cup racing career, Darrell Waltrip has always been a man of pride. Early in his pursuit, when he was fielding his own race cars and was this new, brash kid from Owensboro, Kentucky, ready to knock off Richard Petty and David Pearson, that pride was perceived as arrogance and cockiness. When Waltrip actually had the audacity to back up those words by dethroning Petty, the pride and self-confidence turned many fans against him.
Waltrip used that attitude to his advantage when he raced for Junior Johnson by winning two Winston Cup titles in 1981 and 1982, scoring double-digit victories each season. His pride and assurance led to psychological warfare against another man of pride, Bobby Allison, who finished second to Waltrip in both seasons before finally winning the war and his only Winston Cup title in 1983.
Waltrip turned up the heat on Bill Elliott in 1985 to wrest the Winston Cup title away from a driver who dominated the sport that season by becoming "Million Dollar Bill."
His Own DestinyThere was a period of time where it appeared Waltrip could do no wrong, that no matter what he did, he would be successful. So when he started his own Winston Cup team in 1991, it was accepted that when Waltrip retired as a driver, he would remain a successful team owner.
After leaving a successful operation with Junior Johnson, then dealing with the politics of a multicar operation at Hendrick Motorsports, Waltrip wanted control over his own destiny, so in 1991 he began his own team as one of the first owner/drivers. He didn't miss a beat by winning three races that season and two more in 1992.
He thought he had found the answer with a combination sponsorship from Builder's Square and SpeedBlock. But the checks from the two companies never arrived, and Waltrip had to sell the team.