Although Waltrip was successful as Jaws, he knew that deep down, it didn't represent what the man stood for.
"It didn't fit," Waltrip says. "I think it did fit at the time, but that wasn't who I was. What happened was being the new kid on the block; I was just looking for an identity of some sort. I hadn't won that many races. Nobody knew that much about me. I wasn't The King. I wasn't the Silver Fox. I wasn't any of those things, so I had to find my own little niche there, and that was to be Jaws. That is where I was at the time.
"As I became a Winston Cup champion, and as I became a representative of the sport, I didn't want to be standing in a boardroom somewhere and be introduced as Jaws. I didn't want to be introduced, 'Here is that dirty driver they call Jaws.' I couldn't represent the sport in the manner that it needed to be represented at the time with that kind of a reputation."
Waltrip is a man who has accomplished some extraordinary things in racing, but with today's new NASCAR fan base, many of those people simply don't appreciate what drivers such as Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, and David Pearson were able to do.
"Just this day, we were Christmas shopping at a store over in the mall, and a guy came up to me and said, 'Are you Darrell Waltrip?' I said, 'Yes, I am,'" Waltrip recalls. "He said, 'I never realized how you dominated this sport. All I ever heard about was Jeff Gordon, but you have done the same things that Jeff Gordon has done.' I said, 'I did, but I would appreciate it if you would say he has done the same things I have done. If you look at what I did in the '80s, it is no different than what he has done in the '90s.'
"I'm 52 years old. When I was winning races and dominating the sport, that was 20 years ago. There are some fans in the stands now that aren't much older than that. Our fan base has gotten much younger. The older fans that saw me do what I did, that saw me win races every week in Nashville and saw me win championships and dominate the sport in the early '80s, they don't go to races any more. They are too old.
"If a guy was 35 or 40 years old and I was winning races then, well he is 60 years old now, and he isn't travelling to too many races anymore.
"A good example to me was a couple years ago during my 25th-anniversary year, when Bristol Motor Speedway honored me by naming a grandstand at Bristol after me. There were 120,000 people there that night, and they dedicated that grandstand in my name. There were people that I could feel saying, 'What did he ever do?' There were people there that didn't see me win seven races in a row at Bristol. Not seven races every now and then, not seven races in my career, but seven races in a row.
"You go to that racetrack today, and people will tell you that is the toughest racetrack in the world to win on, and I won seven in a row there. That is unheard of. It was unheard of because there were people in that grandstand that didn't know that. So when they are dedicating that grandstand to me, and I haven't won a race since 1992, they were wondering, 'What are they doing that for?'
"It's a different fan base. The one thing I was proud of and happy about was the 50th anniversary of NASCAR because that, in a lot of ways, opened a lot of people's eyes to not just what Darrell Waltrip had done, but what so many other drivers had done. David Pearson, for instance, I don't believe David Pearson's name would be mentioned as frequently today as it is if it hadn't been for people realizing what he did and the 50th anniversary brought that to a lot of people's attention."
A New Level
Although Waltrip's career may be unknown to many of today's fans, he is very proud of how he helped elevate the sport to a level where drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart can take it even further.