The following is a Transcript of the speech given by Darrell Waltrip at his NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction.
I’ve got to straighten something out before we can get to any of this other stuff. It wasn’t that I talked that much. Those other guys didn’t talk at all. So it just looked like I was talking a lot. I had to fill in the blanks. If there is something that needed to be explained, DW had to explain it. So it looked like that I talked a lot, but I honestly didn’t. I just want you to know that, for you new fans that have listened to all this stuff tonight.
But Jeff, thank you so much. Hammond and I, we’ve had a great driver-crew chief relationship, and that’s the success in this sport, just like Dale and Richard, Hammond and I, we went through a lot of ups and downs. We won the Daytona 500 together, with Stevie helping us a little bit along the way. We retired from racing together. We started our FOX journey together. Here he is tonight, and he just whispered in my ear, “Don’t kiss me like you did Brian France.” And I can’t get Mike Joy to come out here because he’s afraid I’m going to grab him and start yelling, is this the Hall of Fame.
I left a strong impression on both of them. This is a red letter night. You have to admit. Bobby Allison said I deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. Does anybody in here know how big that is? That’s big. And he swore to me that they weren’t holding a gun to him or anything, he did it right out of the goodness of his heart. So thank you, Bobby.
Richie Evans, I want to congratulate the Richie Evans family, great job tonight. I watched Richie win race after race after race at Martinsville, and in my world, it’s what I call a wheel man, and Richie Evans was the best wheel man I ever saw, and when he raced at Martinsville — guys, old guys particularly, is there not a race car — is there not a first race car that we ever painted that we didn’t have to go get the paint from somewhere, or mix up a whole bunch of spare cans of paint, mix them all together and see what the heck we’re going to get? I know somewhere in Rome, New York, I saw these guys, there’s a men’s shop missing a whole bunch of orange ties. Just like that street department is missing a whole bunch of orange paint.
Dale Inman, I tell Dale this all the time, and I’m serious, if I got into a little run-in with Richard, all Richard ever really did, he just poked me in the chest with — it looked like ET’s finger, so I knew he’d go away. But Dale on the other hand, if I had a problem and Dale remembered I had a little problem with Richard one race at Richmond, I wasn’t looking for Richard to apologize, I was looking for Dale to apologize because Dale Inman would hurt you.
Mr. Wood, Leonard and Glen and David Pearson, my great hero friend David Pearson, when I came into this sport, not a lot of people warmed up to my style. I couldn’t understand why; charming, nice, friendly, very conversational, but a lot of guys didn’t seem to warm up to that. But David Pearson did, and if I had a problem, if I needed help, I could go to Leonard Wood and David Pearson. If I had a problem with my car, Leonard was there. If I had something I needed to know about driving, David was there, and I always appreciated that very much.
This is hard for you to believe, I know, but when Cale said he was going to cut back on his schedule in 1980, he came to me and told me before he told anyone else. He knew that Junior liked my style – thank you, Junior. He liked my style until he hired me, and then he thought maybe I needed to work on it a little bit. Cale has been one of my best friends through the years. He gave me a great tip to go drive for Junior, and how many of you guys in here have had another driver give you a nickname as great as Jaws? I mean, that’s a buddy right there.
You know, this night, these men and the people in this room, they’re what inspire me. They are what inspired me to be a race car driver. They are what inspired me to — Cale said he climbed a ladder. I feel like I climbed a lot of mountains, and the climbing was rough. But these men in this room inspired me to be successful and to be good, and they gave me great examples of how to do that for every one of them from all the inductees from the prior hall classes, Richard, Bobby, David, thank you very much for being patient with me and helping me when I needed it.
You know, before the night started and I was talking to Stevie, and I said, boy, honey, I just hope I don’t get emotional and break down somewhere along the way and tear up, and she said, “DW, when you talk about something you’re passionate about, you’re going to get a little emotional.” Well, I’m passionate about a lot of things. I’m passionate about what I’ve done. I’m passionate about my career, but I’m most passionate about my family.
My mom, sitting right up here on the front row in her wheelchair, Momma, thank you for being here tonight. What an effort it took for her to be here. I called mom and I said, “Mom, are you going to be okay? It’s a long evening. Do you think you can hang in there?” She said, “Son, I’ve been with you all the way. I’m not going to miss this for anything in the world.” So Mom, thank you for being here.
I can tell you a quick story about mom. When I started racing, we started racing go-karts. We had a little storage room that we worked on the go-kart in. It wasn’t even a garage. So in order to build the engines for the go-kart, we needed a place to work on them. So it always ended up being in the kitchen, in mom’s kitchen. Daddy would wash the parts in the sink. I know now why that fried chicken always tasted like gasoline, by the way. We’d wash the parts in the sink and then we’d take the parts over to the kitchen table. You ever see one of those yellow formica kitchen tables back in the 60s? We chipped it one time, and that just about ended my go-kart career, messing up mom’s kitchen table.
But you know, she let me follow my passion, and she was there for me, her and dad, and they did a lot. They went to every race. But the other part of my family is my brothers and sisters. Five kids, dad drove a Pepsi truck, mom worked at the IGA and we didn’t have a lot of extra cash. So it took a lot to keep me in business. It took a lot for me to be able to race my go-kart and pursue my dream, and my brothers and sister, Caroline who’s worked for me for 30 years, Bob Wall who helped me start the race team in 91, my sweet sister Connie. And by the way, Michael and I, we’re the only two brothers that have ever won the Daytona 500, so I appreciated him for that.
And then it’s been the most important people in my life are right here on the front row. This has been a big week for DW. Not just tonight. I mean, this is huge for my career, but in my family life, we found out that Fausto and Jessica, my oldest daughter and her husband, are expecting their first child. So I’ll be a grandfather. And if you ever want to see DW speechless, my Sarah, who was on a mission trip in the Philippines, as early as Wednesday, we talked to her earlier in the week, Dad, I wish I could be there, I know it’s a big night, I’m sorry I can’t make it. When I checked into the hotel room last night and I opened the door, my Sarah was there. She flew 25 hours to be here tonight, and she’s got to turn around Sunday and fly 25 hours back to the Philippines. That’s sweet. That means a lot to an old dad, trust me.
And then there’s the redhead. If there was a Hall of Fame for drivers’ wives, Stevie would be in the first class. We’ve been married 42 years, and like a lot of drivers and people in racing, it was tough back in the day. I mean, it was just one week to the next. What you won one week, you paid enough bills so you could make it to the next week. I’ll drop this in right here, Cale: You said about starting your own team. Well, I started my own team, as you well know, but I was eating those black eyed peas before I was in the business very long, like you said.
But the funny thing about Stevie is when she came to the sport in 1972, I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but there could be no women in the pits. You could have no women in the pits, in the garage. There just was kind of a — it was men only.
I didn’t like that, Stevie didn’t like that. So I talked to I think the competition director was Bill Gaswin. I said, what do I got to do. He said, you can have car owners and crew members, and that’s it. The next week, Stevie was the car owner and she was a crew member.
Now, to say it went smooth would be an understatement. My very first race in the Daytona 500, we had only run short tracks all over the country, a lot of short tracks. Hundred lappers were about as long a race as we’d ever run. We get in the Daytona 500 and it’s not going very well. I’m getting slower and slower, and Jake Elder was there, and Jake said what’s wrong with him, and Stevie said, “I think he’s hungry,” and Jake said, “He’s hungry?” She said, “Yeah, he’s never driven a race this long, I’m pretty sure he’s hungry.”
So Jake kind of blew that off and went about his business, and Stevie figured she’d better run to the truck and make me a sandwich. So she ran to the truck, got some ham and cheese, made a sandwich, ran back out to the pit, and when I came in the pit to make my green flag pit stop, guess who came over the wall. Stevie Waltrip handed me a ham and cheese sandwich.
Now, can anybody in here top that? Handed me a ham and cheese sandwich. Jake and them are changing tires and I take this sandwich, and I look at her, and about that time the jack dropped and I knew I had to go, so I just threw the thing out the window, and as I drove away they said Stevie was standing there shaking her head going, I thought he liked ham and cheese.
But this is the best one yet: So Jake Elder, who was old school like Herb and like Leonard and some of them, he kept saying, we’re never going to win a race as long as that woman is in the pit. I said, really? You can’t have a woman in the pit.
I said, all right, let me put it to you this way, Jake: We get 4.2 miles to the gallon of gas. This is a two-and-a-half-mile track, and it’s a 500-mile race. How many miles can we go on a tank of fuel? Go get that woman.
You know, Stevie says this all the time, not so much anymore, but she likes to say she’s been married to two men with the same name. For you folks who are maybe new to the sport, I hope you feel the same way. I have had two lives, and I’ve had two careers. When I came onto the scene, I was not a nice guy. I was an antagonist. It just seemed to work for me. Nobody else seemed to — I always thought that a lot of people say they take the path of least resistance. I took the path I couldn’t resist. You know why? There ain’t nobody on it. So a lot of times I was off on my own.
But through a lot of hard work, and Richard Petty, you may never remember this, but he put his arm around me one day and he wasn’t even mad at me, and he said, “Boy, keep going like you are, you’re going to have a hard time finding a sponsor.” Does any of this sound familiar? Antagonist, hard time to find a sponsor, a little trouble on the track? If it doesn’t, it should. And I took that to heart, because Richard Petty, he gave you good advice. When he told you something, you take it to the bank.
So I worked hard on changing my image, and by golly, in 1989 and 1990 I was able to win the most popular driver of this sport, and that’s one of the biggest awards in my whole career.
A lot of people have been with me on this amazing journey. Junior, I could have never — I wouldn’t be standing here tonight. I was just some big-mouthed driver from Tennessee that Junior calmed me down and taught me how to win a lot of races and how to win championships. He gave me some good advice, too, when I started my own team. Somebody asked him about it, and he said, yeah, well, he’s finally got an owner as smart as the driver.
But one of his favorite things to do to me, he inspired me a lot, he called me Cale a lot. When I first started driving for him, he’d come on the radio and he’d say, “Pit next time by, Cale.” I’d say, “Dadgummit, Junior, my name ain’t Cale.” “10-4, Cale.” I loved driving for Junior Johnson. He taught me a lot. It was fun to work for him, and of course went on and did other things. But it’s kind of interesting that I drove — I rode on that Pepsi-Cola truck with my dad selling Pepsis and Mountain Dew, and by golly we had Mountain Dew and Pepsi for a sponsor. I always just thought that was such a cool deal, from a little boy on a Pepsi truck to them sponsoring my race car.
And I had Rick Hendrick, and Rick told me, DW, if we get the right people we’ll build the right cars, and Richard Petty was a big people person and he gave me some good advice. He said, always remember this: You can be multi-rich but you can’t be multi-broke. Think about that.
He’s not here so I can tell you this. I tell David Hill all the time, and if you don’t know David Hill, I wish we could have a meet and greet tonight and you could meet him. This man is a genius, not because he hired me, that was just a stroke of luck, I think. But he gave me a chance for a second career, and it’s something I’m equally as passionate about. Working on television keeps me in the sport, and it lets me share my passion with all the great fans that we get to tune in every week on NASCAR on FOX.
I’ve got the greatest team. I tell the guys all the time on the NASCAR on FOX team, and most of them are here tonight, and thank all of you for coming, this is the best race team I’ve ever been on. They do the best job week in and week out, and they like me, and I think it’s contagious. Larry, who is a passionate crew chief, Jeff, who is a passionate crew chief, I’m a passionate driver, and I think that enthusiasm and the love for this sport is contagious, and it shows every week when we go on television, so thank all my NASCAR on FOX buddies for the great job that y’all do.
I’ve got a little mafia back here, a little posse, the Nashville posse, John and Ed and Melvin and Gordon, these are people that have been my friends. They flew over for this tonight. Thank y’all for coming.
I’ve got to mention Floss because Floss took good care of Stevie and I and gave us a place to lay our head down a lot of nights when we didn’t have somewhere to go, so thank you, Floss.
Joe Carver, my good buddy from Nashville taught me a lot about how to do interviews and how to work with media, and thank you, Joe.
Bill France, Jr., one of my biggest honors ever was the night I got the Bill France Award of Excellence, and Bill in 2000 when he was so sick came all the way to New York sitting in his wheelchair right there to see me accept that award. That was a huge, huge deal for me. We started our careers together in 1972. It was kind of known as the modern era.
They always told me, if you’re going to dream, dream as big as you possibly can because you know what, it might just come true. And tonight, I’m living proof of that.
I do want to point out one thing real quick. Stevie’s sister and her family are all over here, Carol and the kids. They went to the races with us all the time. I’m glad they’re here tonight.
I wanted to mention my grandmother who took me to races when I was a little boy, seven years old. I got bit by the bug. G.C. Spencer was her hero, he became my hero, and I told granny one Sunday when we were standing in victory circle with G.C. Spencer, I said, “Granny, someday I’m going to do that,” and she said, “Boy, that’s impossible.” I took that word and I broke it down, I’m possible, I’m possible, and I took that with me everywhere I ever went.
The picture that’s up there is the 1975 race, my first win, and guess who was in victory circle with me, my granny. My grandmother was there, Jake has got his arm around her. Robert G. is over here, he’s on the right, that’s Dale, Jr.’s grandfather, Stevie up there, and that’s my grandmother and grandfather, my mom and dad are back there, and that was on Mother’s Day weekend in 1975, and by golly, that’s where the dream started, and here’s where it ends tonight.
’85 was a great year, ’82, man, we dominated everything in ’82 as Jeff said. ’85, we didn’t dominate but we were able to turn the heat up on Bill a little bit and we were able to win the 1985 championship. That year we made up 206 points after the Southern 500 to win that ’85 championship.
When Junior Johnson, when he turned up the wick, like Hammond said, when he said get it done, we all went to work and got it done, and that was the motivation that I had, one thing when I drove for Junior, I never wanted to disappoint him. I always wanted to do the best I could. In 1987 I went with Rick Hendrick in the tide ride and everybody said, finally a sponsor that will clean up his act, and by golly, they were right. And on my 17th try driving car No. 17 and the purse was $1.7 million and I got 17 letters in my name and my 17 handicap is 17, so on and so on, and in my 17th try I won the Great American Race, the Daytona 500.
I started my own team, and not too sure that was a good idea, but kind of hard-headed, had to try it. Rick Hendrick always told me if I would have stayed with him — like Cale said if he would have stayed with Junior, if I would have stayed with Rick Hendrick he said I would have won 100 races and ten championships. Based on he’s doing and how I did, I’m inclined to agree with him. I think he’s probably right.
It all comes down to this, folks: I’ve had a marvelous career. My faith is important to me. One of my biggest accomplishments that I never get a chance to talk about is Motor Racing Outreach. Our president is here tonight, Billy Malden. I had a lot of things out of order, and my priorities were one of them. I loved racing. It’s all I cared about. I didn’t care about anything else, and it bit me. After a while it got me, and I finally realized that I had my priorities wrong. It was God, family and racing, and when I got that straight, I became a much better man, and I actually ended up being NASCAR’s most popular driver. I was blessed; I was given a second chance.
In closing I’ll say this: It’s not about me. It’s not about what I’ve done. It’s not about wins, statistics or anything else. Tonight it’s about family, thank the good Lord that they’re all here. It’s about all my friends who came from miles away to be here, and it’s about all the fans that are back there that have supported me all through the years, and it’s about NASCAR and what they’ve been able to do with it sport, and I’m just glad I was able to be a part of it.
I’m probably running a little bit long but I’ve got to tell you this quick story. Just one more story, I promise. You see this ring right here? In 1982, I won the championship, and Bill France — in ’81 I won the championship and they gave me a ring and it was a little rinky-dink ring. I didn’t think it was very pretty and it wasn’t very big, and I thought, man, that’s really not very indicative of how hard you have to work to get this thing. So in ’82 Bill France called me up and he said if you win the championship again this year, you can pick the ring. So I picked this ring, and if any of the champions here have got their ring on tonight, it started in 1982.
I’ve worn it every day since I got it, but tonight I’m taking it off and I’m putting on the Hall of Fame ring because this is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
Thank you very much.