One-on-one with Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip, younger brother of NASCAR Cup champion Darrell Waltrip, began racing stock cars in 1981 and entered the Cup series in 1985, at Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe’s MS). He didn’t win his first Cup race until 2001, 463 starts later, at the Daytona 500, the same race where his boss, the late Dale Earnhardt, lost his life in a crash as Waltrip crossed the finish line.
Last year, Waltrip announced that he was starting his own race team, Michael Waltrip Racing, and would be partnering with Toyota as that car manufacturer entered the NASCAR Nextel Cup series for the 2007 season. It’s been a rocky road for Waltrip, who is dealing with being a driver, team owner and spokesman for NAPA auto parts while fielding a foreign auto make in “the All-American” sport, a sport that is introducing its “Car of Tomorrow” in a few weeks.
Waltrip and I spent a few minutes together in Las Vegas last Friday, where the Nextel Cup and Busch races were held. All three Waltrip teams failed to qualify for the race on time and only one team made the show: Dale Jarrett received a past champion’s provisional and started 43rd, finishing 33rd.
Question: You’re wearing quite a few hats this season; how’s that working out for you?
Waltrip: “It’s a lot of fun. I love racing, it’s something that, anytime you’re into your job, or into something like I have, I’ve been racing my whole life, it’s nice to have all the stuff going on that I’ve got going on. It just feels good to be so involved. I’ve got good people working for me, it’s just fun, I love it.”
Question: Starting with a new manufacturer in Nextel Cup, sometimes that first year is a little rough. What are your expectations?
Waltrip: “Well, we expect it to be better than it’s been so far. We feel like with their (Toyota’s) support and the quality people we’ve hired to be a part of our organization, we feel like our learning curve, while it’s very steep, will also grow very quickly, so we expect success this year, and I think success this year is an important part of success for the long haul. We gotta show people that we’re capable of going out there and performing.”
Question: How’s the Toyota Camry working with the Car of Tomorrow? NASCAR may be moving full use of the COT up to the 2008 season.
Waltrip: “Well, they should, I mean, it’s just a really good project. I think it’s smart, I think it’s exactly what the sport needs to do. When you think about the Car of Tomorrow, it’s safer, so, therefore, let’s do it. It also has the promise to make things more competitive, that’s good, and from the grandstands, after a week or two, you’ll never notice the difference.”
Question: Tell me about Waltrip RaceWorld (part of Michael Waltrip Racing’s new shop in Cornelius, North Carolina).
Waltrip: “It’s gonna be a lot of fun. We’re gonna have a shop where the fans can come and be a part of it. It’s gonna be like Daytona USA or Disneyworld, where you can come and learn about the sport, be entertained by the guys working on the cars and by what the guys do. We’re gonna offer for free as much or more than a traditional race shop offers, but then you can buy a ticket and go behind the scenes and really see some fun things. We’re going to open some time in May and we really look forward to the fans coming to check us out.
Note: Waltrip RaceWorld will also feature a food court, gift shop and a theater that will show racing-related entertainment.
Question: What is The Michael Waltrip Challenge and why did you become involved?
Waltrip: “My grandfather died with Alzheimer’s and his last years were really tough on the family and so a wonderful group out of New York, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research, reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in participating with them. They’re just very, very good people raising a whole lot of money for that disease, so I told them if I could somehow figure out a way to help them raise some money, then that’s what I wanted to do. We’ve been really successful so far with the Waltrip Challenge and it’s a grass-roots appeal to the people to raise money and send it to us on their own, have events on their own. Every now and then we’ll pick someone that did an event that we think is special and we’ll go out and say hello and ‘thank you’ for that.
Question: Is this the fans starting their own fundraiser and then donating?
Waltrip: “It is, and you can do it whether you live in Idaho or Wyoming or North Carolina or New York, you can participate by arranging and organizing a fundraiser and we’ll send you some help with doing that and then, like I said, we’ll pick a couple of those during the course of the year where I’ll go out and say ‘Thanks for the money”.
More information about Michael Waltrip Racing is available at http://www.michaelwaltrip.com. Information about The Michael Waltrip Challenge is available at http://www.waltripchallenge.com/?mtc=mwaltrip.
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