Through Michael Waltrip, the world of NASCAR receives a heavy dose of enthusiasm, humor and experience every weekend of the 38-race Sprint Cup season. Working as a full-time racing analyst, the two-time Daytona 500 champion is part of the three-person group who calls each Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series event on the FOX family of networks.
But his work doesn’t stop there. The 53-year-old has become well-known for his “Grid Walk” moments before each Cup Series start. It’s a segment where he grills, jokes and does whatever else it takes to bring a smile to all the fans watching while interviewing a potpourri of personalities about the upcoming race.
Does that mean Waltrip, still a part-time driver on the restrictor plate races is refusing to take his on-air job seriously? Not at all, he says. There’s a fine line between being funny and also getting across the important analysis and tidbits fans want to hear from him each week.
“You have to understand; people want to be informed, and they want to be entertained,” Waltrip said. “And you can do both at the same time. They’re not two separate paths. You can be entertaining and informative. Entertaining means being enthusiastic and appreciating what you see.“I’ve done this so long, I know how hard it is [to drive these races]. I know what those guys are up against. It’s all real and I love it. Makes me happy. We try to do our best up there to talk about everyone on the racetrack.”
Waltrip at this point is used to life behind the camera, fully transitioned after a long career behind the wheel. But a fairly new addition to the FOX-watching experience has been a group of driver commentators, “rookies” joining Waltrip and lead announcer Adam Alexander for select XFINITY and Truck events. These men and women might be looking to follow in Waltrip’s footsteps one day and are getting their feet wet through these broadcasts.
The list is a strong one with Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards, all of whom have put their thoughts and views on air in the past year. Together, they combine for two championships and 127 wins on the Cup stage.
The driver rotation has led to mixed reviews from race fans, a merry-go-round that can change up chemistry on any given week. However, for Waltrip the added know-how has had a positive influence on his experience in the booth.
“It’s probably been the most fun part of it,” he said. “Having the different drivers come up and join us, they get to see that world. I got to take my hat off to the FOX executives who thought that maybe me and Adam [Alexander] could handle all these stars coming up there, being a part of our show and making that show fun.”
The Menards 250 at Michigan International Speedway next weekend will see a new name on the list in Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who makes his broadcasting debut for the XFINITY race. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver should add a little extra intrigue to an experiment that’s entered its second year.
“I think when the other racers come up and experience that and see what all goes into it, it gives them more of an understanding of what it’s like when a TV camera heads their way,” he continued. “I think, because of their brains and their ideas, that’s worked really well for us.”