Old DW: Waltrip has found whole new audience to entertain

Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2005

When Cale Yarborough dubbed Darrell Waltrip ''Jaws,'' it certainly was not meant as a compliment.

Yarborough, who often battled bumper-to-bumper with Waltrip on the racetrack and jaw-to-jaw off it, liked to say: ''That guy just never shuts up.''

Waltrip, who often refers to himself as ''Old DW,'' chuckles when reminded of those long-ago run-ins with his fellow three-time NASCAR champion, and his reputation as one of the most outspoken drivers in the sport's history.

''It's funny if you think about it,'' Waltrip said. ''Now I make a pretty decent living talking.''

That he does.

Waltrip, who retired from NASCAR's top stock car series following the 2000 season, is a color analyst on Fox Sports TV's coverage of Nextel Cup racing.

Combined with the latest in high-tech electronics and cutting-edge graphics, Fox commentators' ''down home'' style of humor and their relaxed approach in the booth — they often sound like race fans sitting and jawing about their favorite sport in a sports bar — has reinvented TV race coverage.

Waltrip, who went from a hated villain in his early driving days to a revered elder statesman before he retired, has been a big part of that.

His inventive ''Boogity, boogity, boogity!'' — shouted as the field takes the green flag for the start of the race — has become a signature line.

''I heard the word boogity a lot as a kid growing up in Kentucky but, a combination of three of them together, I don't think I'd heard that before,'' Waltrip said. ''That 'Green, green, green! Go, go, go!' didn't do it for me.

''I just blurted that out one day and Mike (Joy) and Larry (McReynolds) both looked at me like, 'Where in the world did you get that from?'

''We at Fox are supposed to be provocative, supposed to be cutting edge, a little different,'' Waltrip added. ''There's people who love 'Boogity, boogity, boogity!' and there's people who hate it. You can't make everybody happy. When you're driving a car, you've got people who like you as a driver and you've got people who dislike you as a driver. I'm accustomed to that.''

Waltrip insists he never expected to remain in the spotlight once he stopped racing on a full-time basis — he still races a NASCAR truck once or twice a season.

''You don't usually get a chance to go from one successful career to another successful career,'' he said. ''It's kind of unique. It's not an easy transition.

''The thing about when you drive, you can have a lot of fans. I had 10,000 members in my fan club. That's a big fan club. Now, I've probably got millions of members in my fan club, because that's how many people watch the races.

''I'm not saying everybody agrees with what you do. I'm not competing against anyone, so I am one with an audience of millions. Your face is more recognizable because you're not hiding behind a helmet. People see you on TV and they recognize you.''

Waltrip said one thing he gets a big kick from is that more people now recognize his voice than his face.

''I can be walking around in a mall or in a grocery store or airport or anywhere and people will come over and say, 'I thought that was you. I recognized your voice.'

''It's been rather amazing to me,'' Waltrip said. ''I figured that after I retired, I'd be done and people would forget about Old DW for a while. Then, someday, they'd induct me into a Hall of Fame and remember that I had a great driving career. But the TV thing has actually turned out to be bigger and better than my driving career ever was.''

And, as he expected, Waltrip, tied for third on the career victory list with Bobby Allison with 84 wins — one more than Yarborough — made it into that Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., on April 29 in his first year of eligibility.

Michael Waltrip, Darrell's younger brother and a current Cup driver, presented Old DW for induction.

''He's a wonderful person, a great role model on and off the track,'' Michael said in introducing Darrell. ''He broke the mold on what a race driver was supposed to be about.''

Now, the elder Waltrip is breaking some ground in TV, too.

''The thing that's so neat about it is I'm having more fun now than I've had in my life,'' Old DW said. ''Whenever I start thinking about what's coming next, I just think, 'Boogity, boogity, boogity! Let's do it.'''

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