The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past : Darrell Waltrip by John Potts -- Friday April 18, 2008

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Driven to the Past : Darrell Waltrip

John Potts · Friday April 18, 2008


I first met Darrell Waltrip when he was still in his teens, racing on Sunday evenings at Kentucky Motor Speedway near Whitesville. A bunch from Louisville used to go down there every weekend, and, when I didn’t have to be somewhere else with ARCA, I went with them.

It was pretty obvious even then that the kid had a lot of talent, along with a ton of ambition. One night when he crashed his own car—the result of a blown engine, if I recall correctly, he ended up in the backup car of a guy named P.B. Crowell from Franklin, Tenn. P.B. had two 1955 Chevrolets when I first started going down there but by this time had updated to 1964 Chevelles. When he mentioned that he had offered the second car to Darrell, he wondered out loud if it had been a good idea. My response was that he was going to find out just how fast that car would go, but there was a chance he could get it back in a bucket.

Well, he didn’t get it back in a bucket, and DW started driving for him regularly. That stretch included a track championship at the Nashville Fairgrounds (I’ve still got a model of that Chevelle).

Darrell Waltrip, former driver of P.B.Crowell’s 1964 Chevelle.

In the early 1970s, we started running some “open competition” races on the high-banked half-mile at Salem, Ind., and Darrell won three in a row. In fact, he was undefeated on that track and was a big draw for the first ASA Circuit of Champions race planned for October 29, 1972.

This was also the first “Midwest 300” with upwards of 70 cars entered. The original concept of the Circuit of Champions was to have rules which fit most short tracks in the area, and which would bring competitors from all over to the same place.

The field, in addition to DW, included Jim Cushman, Terry Bivens, Joy Fair, Don Gregory, Rick Knotts, Dennis Miles, Larry Moore, Moose Myers, Joe Ruttman, Jack Shanklin, Herb Shannon, John Sommerville, Ed Vanderlaan, Dave Wall, and a slew of others—all names recognizable to short track fans of the day.

The race didn’t come off that day. In hot laps, Don Seaborn and Lonnie Breedlove got together and ripped out roughly 140 feet of guard rail in the third and fourth turns. It was obvious that there was no way to get it repaired before dark, and officials were not really willing to try – and mercifully, it then rained and saved them the trouble.

DW had a verbal commitment to run a Late Model Sportsman race somewhere in the Carolinas the next weekend, so we didn’t expect him back. However, as he was changing clothes to head home, ASA competition director Milt Hartlauf commented on his perfect record at Salem and the field which was assembled and said, “Waltrip, if you can beat this bunch, you’re really the Daddy!”

This must have touched a nerve, because Waltrip called Salem promoter Steve Stubbs on Tuesday and said he was coming.

The race format called for two 100 laps with 24 cars each, and the Top 15 in each 100 to make the feature. Darrell was leading the second 100 when the transmission locked up on him and put him out. He had a team car there which had qualified for the first 100 with another driver and made the feature, so he climbed in.

Because of the driver change, he had to start scratch, of course.

We had a quick drivers’ meeting before the final 100 and explained to the drivers that we might cut it short because of approaching darkness. I told the drivers I’d give them 10 laps of warning with a blackboard when I thought it was time to do so. Since we had scheduled 300 laps, we were well past halfway, of course.

This obviously lit a fire under Waltrip, because he came through the field in just over 30 laps – and there were no pushovers in this group, as Hartlauf had noted.

At 33 laps, with Moore leading and Waltrip gaining on him, I told Rex Robbins I couldn’t read the numbers on the backstretch anymore and it was time to do something in the name of safety. He told me it was my call. I put “10 Laps” on the blackboard the next lap and every one of the drivers acknowledged it. This was before full-face helmets, and I swear they were all smiling.

Particularly Moore, who later said he “…damned near fell out of the seat” when he saw Waltrip in his mirror.

On lap 38, Waltrip went around Moore, but Larry wasn’t ready to give up the fight. He got right to the rear bumper before I finally pulled out the white and then the checker, and DW won by a car length.

As he pulled up to the finish line, he was greeted by Hartlauf with an outstretched hand saying, “You ARE the DADDY!”

Steve Stubbs still calls it “…maybe the damndest race I’ve ever seen.”

A postscript – while I was walking through the pits after the race, I heard someone say “Hey, Flagman!” I turned around and it was Moore.

I thought I was about to catch some flak, but he stuck out his hand and said, “Man, was I glad to see that white flag. My right front tire was going down.”

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
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Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
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©2000 - 2008 John Potts and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

04/18/2008 09:16 AM

Mr. Potts,we hear enough of DW touting himself on tv without you taking up his cause also. For the most part, l like your writings but your subject matter this time S.U.C.K.S!!!

04/18/2008 09:28 AM

What a cool article! I loved reading it.

04/18/2008 12:01 PM

Johnboy60 is typical of someone who dislikes a certain person, no amount of facts will change their mind.
I like reading about the old days, and even the drivers I don’t like, I accept that some were great at what they did, or in todays sport, what they are doing now

04/18/2008 12:38 PM

even if I didn’t like Darrell, I would have loved the story. Our past is great and Salem is my favorite track, by far!

Mr. Provisianal
04/18/2008 07:09 PM

Remember when the only way ‘Ol DW could make the race was with the Past Champions Provisianal? Remember when the only way ‘Ol DW could get air time was when he wore the Silver drivers suit and Unglasses? Remember when ‘Ol DW would be lapped within 25 laps? Remember when ‘Ol DW was so bitter at Tide that he would not speak the word but spell it out T-I-D-E? Remember the time before ‘Ol DW was reduced to a schill for T-O-Y-O-T-A?

hank lee
04/21/2008 09:58 AM

you remember when ol’ DW was in subpar equipment so that even he couldn’t drive it to the front. How easily everyone forgets Darrell running up front and nearly winning in that Pennzoil car