DW ~ Deja Vu All Over Again
If you are a race fan you have by now at least heard about if not read the April 2nd column by the Associated Press’ Ms. Jenna Fryer. Entitled “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity! Fox Sports needs a change”... well, with a title like that you can pretty much guess what it is about. In it she basically said it was time for the 84 Cup win driver, three-time Cup Champion, NASCAR Hall of Fame member, Darrell Waltrip to bring his 19 year broadcasting career with Fox Sports to a close.
Boy, did that set off a reaction among the NASCAR family.
Maybe it was what she said, maybe it was how she said it or that she said it at all, but the reaction on social media has been like most things that have surrounded DW over his driving and broadcasting careers-quick, passionate and divided.
Reactions run the spectrum from “She’s right. He should have left years ago” to “How could she say that about someone who is so good and has given so much to the sport?” Variations of “I like the man but not the job he does” seems to be the middle ground. But for the stock car driver who announced his arrival to NASCAR with something along the lines of “You don’t know me but I’m Darrell Waltrip from Owensboro, Kentucky and I’m here to replace Richard Petty”, the fan response to Ms. Fryer’s article was pretty predictable.
We have seen it before. It’s Deja Vu all over again.
DW arrived on the NASCAR Cup scene in 1972, ran limited schedules driving his own equipment, landed his first two wins in 1975, and ran full time beginning in 1976. As his success grew on the track, his brashness and mouthiness grew off the track, until he was one of the most disliked drivers on the circuit. He was as quick on the track as he was with his stinging one-liners, often aimed at his fellow competitors. Fans disliked his cockiness off the track as much as they disliked his ability to back up his smack on the track.
10, 20, 30, Championship, 40, Championship, 50, 60, Championship, 70, Daytona 500, 75 wins, he was still despised by the fans, even challenging his detractors to “meet me in the (Charlotte) K-Mart parking lot” not to sign autographs, but to settle differences.
For 17 years, DW wore NASCAR’s black hat, but on May 21, 1989, thanks to Rusty Wallace, that all changed.
It was “The Winston”, the Cup All-Star Race. An unheard of $200,000 was on the line for the winner. DW had dominated the last portion of the race and with two laps to the Checkered Flag it looked like all that money was going to be his for the spending.
Young gun, Rusty Wallace had a different idea.
Rusty closed ground and was on DW’s bumper to challenge. Coming out of Turn Four, Rusty made his move dropping to the inside. The two made slight contact, Rusty’s right front grazing DW’s left rear. It wasn’t much... but just enough to cause DW to spin out. Wallace went on to take the lead and win the race. There was a fight between the crews as Wallace drove to Charlotte’s Victory Lane to collect the big payday. DW recovered to finish seventh.
Rusty won the race and the big money. However, the big winner that day was DW. You see, in that one brief moment sliding through the Charlotte infield, he won something bigger, something that had eluded him until that spinning moment... DW won the fans.
Fan reaction immediately ran the spectrum from “I’m glad Rusty spun him” to “That’s not fair. He didn’t deserve that!” and agreed with DW when he said “I hope he chokes on that $200,000.” The middle ground called it “one of those racing deals” and “two drivers going for the same real estate.”
The following week, DW would win NASCAR’s longest race, the World 600. He’d go on to win two more races after that, to finish with a total of 6 wins. For the season, he finished 4th in points behind Wallace, Earnhardt and Mark Martin and won $1.3 million in purses, his second richest season ever.
But in the end, he won the award no one ever expected him to ever earn-the NASCAR fans voted him “The Most Popular Driver.” It would be an award he would win again the following season.
One little tap by Rusty Wallace changed him from the most despised driver on the circuit to fan favorite. Once crowned by the fans with that white hat, DW rode that popularity throughout the remainder of his driving career and into the broadcasting booth with FOX Sports in 2001 and onto the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
For 19 seasons DW has been the face and voice for “NASCAR on FOX.” Over that time he has been DW, a polarizing force behind the mic as much as he was behind the wheel. Some fans loved him for his knowledge and passion for the sport. Others were at the other extreme as they found his broadcast style distracting and annoying. Of course, some were in the middle.
Whether intended or not, tap by “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity! Fox Sports needs a change” has triggered a fan reaction like when Rusty tapped ol’ DW thirty years ago in “The Winston.” Two days later, Darrell Waltrip announced his retirement from broadcasting at the end of FOX’s coverage season which some now view the whole thing as a smoking slide through the sports broadcasting world’s infield. Whether it was intended to add pressure to bring about a change in the FOX booth or it was just “one of those reporting deals” the resulting popularity swing means that by Sonoma, when DW yells “Boogity, Boogity, Boogity” for the final time, he will leave the booth not as a “caricature of himself” as described in the column but as one of the most beloved drivers-turned-TV broadcasters to ever cover a NASCAR Cup race.
Don’t be surprised, if somewhere down the road you don’t see the NASCAR Hall of Fame induct DW into the Hall again... this time as a broadcaster.
Two HOF inductions? Don’t count it out. No one thought DW could win one Most Popular Driver award, much less two.
But all that took was a little tap.
It’ll be like Deja Vu all over again.