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Interview with Darrell Waltrip and Dale Jarrett

10/7/00


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Darrell Waltrip, driver of the No. 66 Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus, is tied with Bobby Allison for the most career victories at Lowe's Motor Speedway with six. He will be making his final start NASCAR Winston Cup start in Charlotte Sunday afternoon from the 34th position. Waltrip spoke about the race, in addition to a variety of other issues.

DARRELL WALTRIP --66-- Route 66/Big Kmart Taurus -- IF YOU HAD TO WRITE A DESCRIPTION OF YOURSELF AND YOUR CAREER, WHAT WOULD IT SOUND LIKE? "It wouldn't be brief. It couldn't be brief. Gee, I don't know. All I can tell you is, from my perspective, it's been fun to be in this sport, it's been fun to be a part of it. It's been good to have had an impact on this sport in one way or another. I sat here in 1972 the first time I ever came here for this particular race, it was called the National 500 then, and I was perturbed -- believe it or not. It was the fifth race of that year for me and I had just finished sixth or seventh, I can't remember. They had an award and, of course, I was into awards at the time, they had an award for the highest finishing rookie and it went to Gordon Johncock and it really upset me. I mean, here's a guy that's won Indy and he was driving Hoss Ellington's car, I think at the time, and he finished sixth and I finished seventh, so he was rookie of the race. I didn't like that. I think I came in here and told a couple people about it. None of them are here now, by the way. I guess if I had to sum it up, I just marched to the beat of a different drum -- I don't believe I was marching to the wrong beat, I just believe that the sport was a beat behind. I think that's really the way I looked at it and they needed to catch up."

SO PEOPLE APPRECIATE YOU MORE TODAY THAN THEY DID THEN? "Well, those people aren't around anymore. They're all gone. That would be an interesting thing for you to do. What happens to all those people? Whatever happened to Bill Gasaway and whatever happened to the guy that used to run the Busch Series? What happens to all these people? Where do they go? What happens to you once you're not a part of NASCAR anymore? You kind of fall off the face of the Earth, I guess, but that would be an interesting thing to find out. I don't know about appreciation. I think the thing I can say is you just make people aware of things. I believe it's what I have learned through my career, it's called the blind obvious and it's so obvious to those that are involved in it that you can't even see it sometimes and you have to step back and take a look at what's going on. Not that they're doing something wrong, but maybe there's a better way. I don't believe, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe I've ever said I don't like something and walked away. I say, I don't like something and here's what I'd do about it kind of thing. That's just my opinion, but I think that's what makes things get better is when people have opinions and they're not afraid to express them. There was a time, and some of you may remember, that you really had to be careful. Drivers were very apprehensive about making any kind of controversial comment about something NASCAR may or may not have done, so you had to be careful with that. Quite frankly, I never learned that lesson. A lot of guys told me I should, but I never did. There was a time when whatever I said, if I said something everybody said, 'Boy, don't go that way because you know you're in trouble if you go that way.' So, I've learned a lot personally and I've learned a lot professionally. You can get things done behind the scenes as well as in the newspaper, so I guess that's what I've learned."

WAS YOUR WORST FEAR FALLING OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH ONCE YOU STOPPED DRIVING? "It could have been. I think, no matter what you do, whether you're a writer or a track operator or whatever you might be, in your view that's your identity. I've talked about this before. You never want to lose your identity. My identity has been a huge 18-wheeler with my name down the side of it, a race car with my name on top of it and a helmet that I put on every Sunday. That really reduces it down, but that's your identity and when you take that away, then you're gonna wonder in your mind and in your heart that, if after that's gone and you're not a part of this show over here, and I see it all the time, where do you go from there? Do you go back to Tennessee and sell cars? What was that song, Eighties Ladies where they all spread out and went their different ways selling apples and cars and living all over the world. That's kind of how you feel. You just kind of lose your identity. You're not who you used to be anymore, you're not a driver anymore, and because you're not a driver anymore -- if I'm not a driver next year are you gonna call me over for this enjoyable breakfast we're having and ask me questions? Probably not. I may wander in and you may look at me and say, 'What in the hell is he doing here?' Of course, you said that this morning (laughter). When you've dedicated your whole life to something and that's getting ready to change. I've seen it happen to CEO's of big companies. They didn't know they were gonna get retired and, all of a sudden, they get their notice that they're gonna be retired and what happens to 'em -- the next time you see 'em you don't recognize 'em. They've lost their health, they look bad. You ask them how they're doing and they say they're doing OK, but they've got this or they've got that. 'Yeah, I play a little golf, putz around the house,' and the next time you read about that guy it's in the obits. That's looking at it pretty grim, I know, but that's the real world. You've been a star and in that position all your life and, all of a sudden, you're not there anymore -- that would be very hard to deal with."

IS THAT THE REASON YOU SEE GUYS IN OTHER SPORTS KEEP COMING BACK AFTER RETIRING? "Most of 'em are broke. You see a guy like that come back it's because he probably couldn't live on that income he had been used to. That fixed income, I don't know how that's gonna work either. I've never had to live that way myself."

ONE OF THE PROBLEMS WE HAVE TODAY IS THERE ARE NO MORE CHARACTERS LEFT IN THIS SPORT. WHY THE CHANGE? "I guess today you can't have it both ways. Think about it, we could have had the conference in here, when I was talking about 30 years ago when I came in here, there wasn't 10 people in here. Tom Higgins was in here, my buddy from down in Atlanta was here and a couple of other people and that was about it. Today, whatever you say -- and this is one of the lessons I had to learn -- I was from Owensboro, Kentucky and raced in Nashville, Tennessee. The only thing I ever read was what I said in the Nashville Banner. I popped up in a press conference down in Atlanta and ran my mouth off like I always used to do and I read it all over the world. So, I guess that's the thing, we micro-manage everything so much today that, if a guy does say something rather controversial, it can cost him his job. I think the guys walk around with that fear. Sponsors, it's just so much more critical today about what you say and what you do than it ever was before. There used to be time when you could go in a bar and have a beer and nobody cared. You could tell them you're a race driver and they'd throw you out. Now, it might make the six o'clock news, so I think that has a lot to do with it. It's just a produce of what we do, unfortunately. It takes some of the fun out of it, some of the glamour out of it, I think. I always think about my friend Larry Woody and I'll take credit for this. I said it and he wrote it, but nonetheless that we used to have wine for dinner and now we have wine with dinner. That's the difference in our sport today."

DO DRIVERS NEED TO LOOSEN BACK UP? "I wish they could and I wish they would, but I don't see it. I'm starting to see clones, that's about all I see. There was a time when you wanted to be like Richard Petty and there was a time when you wanted to be like Darrell Waltrip. Now there's a time when you want to be like Jeff Gordon, if that puts it into perspective for you. You can figure that all out."

DO YOU FEEL THE NEW FANS HAVE GOTTEN A TASTE OF WHAT YOU USED TO DO? "No, not even close. Maybe Indianapolis was the closest thing I came to being like I thought. This just has not gone the way I thought it would. We've never had the performance. We've just never been there, so, no. When you get excited about making a race, then that's not a very good year."

HOW DO YOU PLAN ON PROLONGING YOUR IDENTITY? "Talk about racing. I can do that. If all else fails, I am going to move to New York and run for the Senate, I've made up my mind (laughter). I think I have an opportunity there, so that could work. No, I have a deal with FOX Sports to be an analyst next year and that's my saving grace, I think. I think if I had to throw to my helmet down and put it in the bag in Atlanta in November and say, 'Adios, I'll see you guys down the road,' that would be hard to deal with. But, fortunately, I'll be right back in the thick of things. I won't be on the race track every Sunday, but I'll be in your living room every Sunday and that will be equally as much fun. I have gotten very excited about the TV deal. As we move into it and as we work with the people and talk about how we're gonna do, what we're gonna do and all that, that has become very exciting to me. It's something I think I can have a lot of fun yet."

DO YOU KNOW YOUR TV SCHEDULE? ARE THEY GOING TO THROW YOU IN COLD THE FIRST RACE? "I hope so. I tell you, I don't like to practice. When I hosted Nashville Now, we didn't rehearse. You walked out on the set, there was a crowd there and you did your thing. I believe that's what people like. I don't think you can rehearse a race. How do we know what's gonna happen? You've just gotta call it like you see it and whatever happens happens and you respond to it. I'm not big on rehearsing anything. I want to be just like the guy at home. I want to be just as surprised or just as excited as he is. That's always been my philosophy about how I do a race. When I do a race it's like I'm sitting in some guy's living room or in a bar with him. 'Did you see that? I can't believe that.' Those kinds of things, those reactions that the guy at home is sharing with you. I don't believe you can rehearse a race. I believe you just go do it. The race will create its own identity. The race will create its own excitement and you're just there to pass it along. I think that what the TV people are gonna do next year is gonna make it more exciting. I think for the avid fan, it may be no big deal, but for the casual fan I believe we're gonna wake up some people. I think that's where the difference is gonna be."

WHAT ABOUT TODD BODINE TAKING OVER FOR YOU NEXT YEAR? "It's funny, he got out of the Tabasco car and I got in, now I'm getting out of the Kmart car and he's getting in. I hope he has better luck than I had, but he's been around us the last couple of weeks -- at Dover and here. I think it'll work out fine."

IS THE TIRE SITUATION HERE A BIG DEAL? "No. I think it's one of those things that they dealt with in the proper kind of way. I 'm sure it threw some people a curve. The Busch guys came over here and tested and qualified, but I think I'd rather see them do something like that than for us to be embarrassed tomorrow by having to park our car because we're out of tires or have a tire problem tomorrow. They're not gonna have a tire problem. It creates some trouble for them getting their cars ready to race, I assume, but by the same token it's the lesser of all the evils. You've got to kind of applaud them a little bit for doing something. They could easily sit back and not do anything and let the chips fall where they may, so I think it was a good move on their part and on everybody's part to do what they did. Even on their worst day, I can't be real critical of Goodyear, none of us can. They're the only tire supplier we have. They've been here all these years and through thick and thin that's a good company. They try to do the best they can do for us and they always have, so I can't be critical of Goodyear. Even when things don't look too good for 'em, I still have to support 'em because I know that they're heart and everything is in this thing with us. I've always felt that way."

HOW HARD HAS THIS YEAR BEEN? "I don't know. Probably if I had it to do over again I wouldn't do it, I would have made '97 my last year and stood around and been a substitute driver every now and then or something to that effect. I don't know. I've just never gotten the success here that I was hoping I would and I'm not blaming anybody, it's not anybody's fault, it just never has jelled together for me with this outfit like I hoped it would."

WITH SIX RACES LEFT ARE YOU GOING KICKING AND SCREAMING OR IS IT TIME TO RETIRE? "If I was qualifying in the top 10 and racing up front, I'd be saying 'I don't know boys, I don't want to give it up now,' but the way it's gone. I mean, obviously, to me and to my fans and you guys, I mean, what's the use? You don't want to keep going out there every Sunday and putting yourself in jeopardy if there's nothing to be gained. I have always been kind of a risk-reward kind of guy and the risks are much greater than the rewards right now. That doesn't mean I've quit trying. These last six races I'm gonna give it all I've got, but I have to be realistic too. I keep thinking that this team showed its potential at Indy, that's what we could do, but I don't understand why we can't do it every week. So, because of Indy, you come every week thinking that maybe this is gonna be one of those Indy weekends. That keeps you going, so we'll go right up to the end and we'll move on. We have the pieces there. Maybe when Todd gets in the car the chemistry will be there. I like my crew chief. Larry Carter has done everything I've asked him to and we've had pretty decent race cars. We're just always are missing something -- a little something here and a little something there. That's chemistry."

Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, will start fifth in Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup race. He also comes into the event fourth in the point standings, trailing leader Bobby Labonte by 251 points.

DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus -- WHAT ABOUT THE TIRE SITUATION? "It's hard to imagine how we can have a shortage of tires. We've known we were gonna race here all year, so I don't know. I don't know the total situation, so without knowing all of what's taken place, I probably shouldn't comment on it. It's unfortunate that we have something like that that's gonna create strategies for us. We had to be careful of what we used in practice and everything, but I'm sure Goodyear has a good answer. The tire that we have here is working pretty good, I guess we just need a few more of them."

DID YOU CUT BACK ON TIRES IN PRACTICE? "We just ran on the same set of tires the whole time. We were fortunate, I have a Busch team so I ended up being able to get a set of tires from them because they're running a different tire now in the race than what they qualified, so that helped us out a little bit."

IS THIS ANOTHER STRANGE EPISODE IN A STRANGE YEAR? "Yeah, every weekend seems to bring a little something different and you just adapt to it. There's not a lot we can do about it, so we just go on about our business and make the most of it."

WHAT ABOUT YOUR CHANCES TO WIN TOMORROW? "The car is good. I'm pretty happy with what we have. We'll make a few changes just to try some things this afternoon in practice, but I'm pretty happy with what we have. The car seems to stay pretty well and I'm a little more excited here than I've been the last few weeks because I think we're learning some things and getting our program in better shape."

ARE YOU LOOKING TO NEXT YEAR YET? "We're racing to win here and whatever we learn and whatever we can do here at the end of 2000 is only gonna benefit us for 2001. It's kind of a two-way street because what we can learn now is gonna be good for us, but we're still trying to win these races. We're looking at breaking a streak of ours of finishing in the top three and also we've never won less than three races with this team, so we've got to get on the stick if we're gonna keep that going."

DOES NASCAR NEED TO CUT THESE WEEKENDS DOWN? "Obviously, we don't need to be at Charlotte on Wednesday, but my understanding is we're taking a whole day out of it next year, we're not coming until Thursday, but we've got to do whatever we can to make life a little bit easier for these guys that are on the road all the time. Thinking that you're starting in February and not finishing until the end of November and in between that you've only got three weekends off, that's asking an awful lot of these guys, so we're looking at a lot of different ways and NASCAR is doing their part in looking at what they can do to help us too."

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