During a Friday press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he won 12 Cup Series races as a Hall of Fame driver, the Franklin resident talked about spending 60 of his 72 years in the sport of auto racing.
He added there wasn’t pressure for him to step away as some critics had suggested.
“I don’t have to be sitting here. Nobody told me that I had to do this,” Waltrip said. “My bosses have been so kind to me. People have said he’s not relevant anymore, he’s not been in a car in so long. I know what it feels like to win a race here.
“Do you want to listen to someone who hasn’t won a race before? I don’t think so. I’ve promoted races and I’ve driven cars. I’ve done everything in this business and for the most part I feel I’ve done it pretty well. Nobody told me it’s time to give it up. I’m 72 and could do it until I’m 90 because I do everything with passion. I do it to have fun and I think for the most part, the people around me have fun.”
When it comes to his favorite and most memorable races as a broadcaster, a few come to mind.
“I always think about the exciting finish between (Ricky) Craven and Kurt Busch at Darlington and the great race they put on,” Waltrip said. “I remember Carl Edwards trying to put a video game move on Jimmie Johnson at Kansas. He dive-bombed him and almost made it work. I can think of some I didn’t think were so pretty. We have to check ourselves and I’m a driver, not a journalist, but we can all be opinonated.”
About his famous catchphrase, “Boogity, boogity, boogity,” he said some fans love it, while others don’t care for it. It was created from the Ray Stevens song, “The Streak,” as a more enthusiastic way to announce the start of the race instead of, “They’re coming to take the green flag.”
Asked about the modern driver who reminds him the most of him as a driver, Waltrip named Kyle Busch.
He said the hardest part of the job over the past two decades has been criticizing those he raced with and other friends in the garage area.
“I’m a member of the driver fraternity and those drivers are my friends,” he said. “When I have to say that guy made a mistake, that was reckless or that was uncalled for, I hear about that. They might call me, knock on my motorcoach door and let me know they didn’t appreciate that.
“That’s the hardest part — to keep friendships and do my job. That’s one of the hardest things to deal with.”
Some modern fans don’t remember Waltrip as a driver. An even younger generation knows him as the character “Darrell Cartrip” in the CARS movies. Waltrip talked about some of his roles off the track after his contemporary Kyle Petty asked him how it felt to be known as a man that says “Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys,” more than driving a race car.
“That’s a dilemma I find myself in sometimes,” Waltrip said. “I’ve written three books. I’ve been in the all the CARS movies. I’ve had bit parts in about every movie (about NASCAR) in recent years that has been made. I’ve gotten to speak at the Prayer Breakfast for the President of the United States. I’ve campaigned for senators, governors.
“I’ve done it all, although I don’t like to say that and I tell you why. In 2001, I did an interview with Dale Earnhardt where we were talking about the safety issues in NASCAR. It rings in my mind almost every day where he said, ‘DW, I’ve got it all. I’m happy. I’m competitive and I’ve got a great family. I’ve got it all.’ When that leaks out of my mouth, I think about my old friend Dale Earnhardt and him saying that and then he was gone a couple of days later.”
WHAT OTHERS SAID
His wife, Stevie, said it was a hard announcement, but one she supported. He reflected on her husband’s retirement and how she’s hoping to spend more times on trips that don’t revolve around racing.
“He has lived and breathed racing,” Stevie Waltrip said. “He’s seen how important the relationships are with our girls and son-in-laws. It’s a mixed bag of emotions, but I’m proud of him. I’m sure we will still go to Bristol, Talladega and Daytona, but I hope we got to some other places.”
Mike Joy has been FOX Sports lead announcer for all 19 years with Waltrip in the booth. Before that, he covered some of Waltrip’s biggest wins as a driver, including a famous interview after Waltrip won the 1989 Daytona 500. Joy compared Waltrip to another Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett for their impact on the track and on television, and talked about the instant chemistry they had.
“We very quickly hit our groove,” Joy said. “Darrell quickly established himself as the centerpiece of the broadcast, whether he was explaining something or telling a story. He was pure entertaining. It’s been a thrill ride, a fun ride and I can’t imagine anyone coming to the broadcast booth having that instant charisma and respect of the fans.”
FOX Sports Vice President Erik Arneson believes Waltrip’s impact reaches beyond the NASCAR ovals. He sees Waltrip with a natural ability to connect with the viewers and his co-workers.
“The one thing that Darrell brings to the table is he makes the room comfortable,” Arneson said. “Everyone is always business-like and on edge waiting for something to happen. Darrell comes in with a smile, a pat on the back with encouragement.
“He always has that sense of calm, comfort and no matter how big the situation, he’s up to it. You don’t feel like everyone you work with is like that. He has that with any situation, whether it’s a positive or negative, a confidence that makes a difference.”