They drive fast racecars in
dangerous situations, but the fact remains that drivers,
just like the rest of the population, are not perfect
It doesn’t take long to figure out that racecar drivers can
be as insecure as a five-year old heading off to his/her
first day of kindergarten. Just like the young child, all
smartly dressed up for his first day of school, race car
drivers need the encouragement of their team to be
Just ask Michael Waltrip.
It took the belief of Dale Earnhardt to assure Waltrip he
belonged with a top organization. Moreover, once there, it
took the belief of Slugger Labbe, named his crew chief late
in the 2001 season, to convince the race team Waltrip could
win in their racecars.
“Michael just needs encouragement,” said Labbe, on the
morning after the Daytona 500. “He needs you to hang out
with him and tell him he can get the job done.”
Photo: by Ford
Those words brought to mind an
incident at Lowe’s (then Charlotte) Motor Speedway. It was
the weekend of the Coca Cola 600 and Darrell Waltrip
(brother of Michael) was about as beat up, emotionally, as a
driver could be. As a car owner, he was quickly failing. His
team was falling apart and he seemed helpless to glue the
pieces back together. It didn’t help that the team was
privately telling everyone Waltrip was washed up. As a
driver he was done.
Waltrip heard those whispers. He heard it in the actions of
the team. However, on this day his crew chief hadn’t given
up on his driver. The leaders were bearing down on his
driver, about to put him a lap down. He had to do something
fast or the entire day was going to go to hell in a hand
“C’mon Darrell, you’re the man,” echoed over the radio. “You
can do it. Ride that horse.”
Amazingly, Waltrip sped up. The gap between the rear bumper
of his Chevy and the front bumper of the leader’s racecar
“C’mon Darrell, ride em cowboy. Whip that horse.”
The gap widened. Waltrip’s lap times increased, proof the
leaders weren’t slowing down. Quite the opposite was
happening. Waltrip was running faster than the leaders.
All day long the crew chief coaxed his driver around the
track, lap after lap. It’s not important where Waltrip
finished that afternoon, although it was a bright spot in an
otherwise dismal year.
The importance of that day was that the crew chief
discovered another way to get the most out of his driver.
“Hell,” he said over the radio at the finish of the race,
“If I had known that would have worked I’d have done it
years ago. Good job Darrell.”
Like most athletes, racecar drivers are individuals with the
ability to do something the average Joe lacks. They have
more determination, more desire, but they are just like that
average Joe in so many other ways.
One wrong word, one misunderstood statement can destroy all
the determination and desire in the world.
Michael Waltrip was on his way out at Dale Earnhardt, Inc.
Had he been fired his career as a Winston Cup driver would
surely have taken a downward spiral. Thanks to Slugger Labbe,
Waltrip believes and his performance is starting to show
just how much he believes.
We all have to believe in ourselves but it never hurts to
know that others believe in us just as much or more.
Would it surprise the world if Waltrip contended for the
Winston Cup championship? Yes, it would.
Would it surprise Michael Waltrip, Slugger Labbe, the crew
of the #15 NAPA Chevrolet and all the other people at DEI?
No, it won’t.
The author can be contacted
to discuss this article