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[Photo: Zach Catanzareti]

Michael Waltrip On FOX: The Balancing Act Of Analysis & Entertainment

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.

michael waltrip
Michael Waltrip prepares for his grid walk, a staple of NASCAR On FOX prerace coverage. [Photo: Zach Catanzareti]
“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.”

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About Zach Catanzareti

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Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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20 comments

  1. Avatar

    I wonder who DW considers the greatest driver in NA$CAR history?

  2. Avatar

    How can the people “in charge” not see the drivers cringe when he does that stupid pit row walk? And then dragging poor Bryson along, that kid even looked embarrassed.

  3. Avatar

    Well NASCAR turned it’s racing into a circus act . DW is the Ring Master and Mikey the head clown

  4. Avatar

    The Waltrips are a big part of why while still following NASCAR all week on SiriusXM and staying on top of news on Jayski i barely bother watching the races…i’ll tape the Busch (no sponsor sent me a check yet to promote them…so still Busch) and Truck races and watch on the rare occasion i hear about something worth going back to watch. And i leave the video for the Cup race on but listen on the radio. I sure hope Jeff Gordon doesn’t learn bad examples being in the booth with Darrell. I’m hoping Fox realizes the errors of their situation and starts to fix their booth problems so i can enjoy watching a race again. I did actually listen to a handful of races this year just to see how Gordon was…and he didn’t grate on my nerves…that’s a good start compared to alternatives

  5. Avatar

    I have to say Larry Mac is easily as bad as the Waltrips. Technology has passed him bye, nobody gets their “picture made” outside of Hard Road Alabama. Update the personalities from top to bottom.

    • Avatar
      Biff Baynehouse

      Larry’s command of the language & technology leaves the Waltrips in the dust. But naturally, Focks puts the most professionally qualified commentators in the dog house.

  6. Avatar

    At least you can understand what Mikey is saying even if it is wrong. Me, I’m just still trying to understand what a “caw-shun” is.

  7. Avatar

    Those increasingly small number of us who still watch the races on TV, watch in spite of the Waltrip brothers and not because of them. Their constant self-promotion drives me nuts as well as their constant inaccuracies about both the track action and their pretend knowledge of the drivers. I wish they would be forced to talk only about things they actually know about. The silence would be golden.

  8. Avatar

    If FAUX wants to figure out why their ratings are so bad, they need look no further than the commentary crew and the poor camera work, both under the “creative control” of Dee Dubble Ewe.

    Drivers do their best to avoid Mikey when he minces down the starting grid. He tried to take Robin Miller’s signature move and does it a great injustice.

    Like others have mentioned, in order to keep down my financial costs, I too mute the races FAUX broadcast so I don’t throw my TV out the window. NBC can’t get here soon enough.

  9. Avatar

    It amazes me that with all the great Fox Sports presentations that fans have to settle for a third rate presentation when it comes to NA$CAR. The Waltraps and their incessant babble are the major reason fans are
    leaving the TV audience. I use the production of the Indy Belle Isle races as a glowing example. No clowning,
    no over speak, and good camera coverage. It’s time for Fox to make changes from the top on down on
    the race coverage.

  10. Avatar

    What a childish excuse for entertainment. He should have watched the IRL Indy 500. What a class act. You don’t have to act like a clown to impress NASCAR fans. When he goes down for his grid walk everybody scatters. They don’t want to be seen on TV with him. Do what I do, put it on mute. I don’t have to be told whats happening on the track. I’m smart enough to figure it out. You can also turn the radio on. Even with the delay problem, its worth it. Everybody is trying to figure out why NASCAR is loosing fans. Next week take a listen when Mikey cuts in on the upstairs booth.

  11. Avatar

    I guess if the actual racing were entertaining, then there would be no need for other antics. I also blame the sheer saturation of programming & the need to fill air time. Since I rarely watch any na$crap anymore, I just don’t care.

  12. Avatar

    I don’t think either DW or Mikey have ever been able to accept the fact that, being in the booth, they should no longer be the focus of attention. Like DJ, I frequently find myself muting the TV, not only to avoid DW’s ridiculous “B…B…B…, but listening to Mikey’s breathless and almost hysterical inaccuracies just wear on me. It is seriously time for Fox to consider finding more unbiased and accurate people to put in the booth.

  13. Avatar

    Totally agree Biff. The Waltrip Brothers’ antics go a long way in perpetuating the “ignorant Southern race fan” perception held by many. Much like Terry Bradshaw’s goofy persona distracts from a football broadcast, so does the Waltrips. I much prefer the more “cerebral” approach of the NBC product and look forward to its arrival in just a few weeks.

  14. Avatar
    Biff Baynehouse

    Nice version of reality. Mine differs greatly. All respect due, regarding their on-track exploits & efforts.
    In the booth, Mike & Darrell really bug me & always have, from day one. So much so, I often times need to mute them to avoid throwing my TV out the window. And he is dead wrong & out of touch with reality in believing HE needs to be the entertainment. The sporting event is the entertainment! What part confuses him? The during the pre-race shows & the races is a very inopportune time for an analyst to practice an his inane amateur stand-up comedy routine. It’s a disservice to Nascar, race teams, race drivers & fans for a clown act to take up valuable air-space that is supposed to be dedicated to race cars, active drivers & teams. If his wit espoused any sort of high cognition, like Larry McReynolds’s does, it might be worthwhile. But Mike’s is, pure & simple, a low-ball dunce act that might be endearing in person, but is neither smart or funny TV banter while the Nascar world is getting busy.
    Regardless, how he & his brother manage to make a mint from their weekly practice of butchering the English Language & offering, often times, totally incorrect analysis is offensive & boggles my mind. I’ll limit myself to only one of an infinite amount of instances. Saturday during the Pocono NXS race, MW was oblivious to the fact that Reed’s tire was flat & repeatedly erroneously stated things like “he got loose” & “he got sucked around,” leaving the analysis up to the driver, Ryan Reed himself, who set the Focks viewers straight during his post in-field care interview, while Mike was busy playing with & petting DP’s stuffed animal in the booth (no really, live to air). Insult to RFR & RFR fan injury, he never redressed, corrected or apologized for his errors.
    I only wish he would forget about the inept attempts at humor & concentrate on being less inaccurate, on learning proper English & on learning how to string ONE sentence together without stuttering, yammering & slaughtering what every language it is he speaks …BEFORE attempting TWO sentence commentary. Darrell’s English & commentary accuracy is nearly as bad, but at least he does not stutter. Unfortunately, I think Mike & Darrell are a bit long in the tooth to unlearn their bad English.
    And here I always thought the ability to articulate language was a critical perquisite to becoming a TV commentator. And I don’t understand your placating an unqualified & ineffective individual. As an author, how would you feel if someone with a 5th graders command of English swooped in & took you job Zach? I suppose Larry Mac, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, etc. etc. etc …must feel about like that.
    As for Focks “booth rookies” Brad & Carl are righteous commentators with excellent articulation & command of the language and accurate, precise & timely analysis that put Mike in his place. Joey & Kevin – not so much, but decent. Clint is also a dunce clown act, but tolerable, in that his witticisms contain a minimal amount of intuition & he does not stutter in delivering them. DP is weak sauce & Denny has a thicker tongue than Mike. And that is actually scary, literally, with regard to unfortunate medical issues, ie: long term effects of concussions, exhaust inhalation & possibly other progressive syndromes or undiagnosed injuries. Where-as I actually somewhat look forward to Lil E’s number coming up on the roulette wheel.
    Needless to say, BRING ON NBC! Lee Diffey is pure artistry & a delightful pleasure to behold!

    • Avatar

      Biff,this has to be the greatest answer to Nascars problem with declining ratings. The Fox broadcast is just like hearing fingernails on a blackboard. You explained exactly how 90 % of race fans feel on race day knowing we have to listen to this poor excuse of race commentary. This is Gordon’s first season so he gets a break along with Larry Mac. They at least know what they are talking about. If Fox was samrt ,they’d revamp their race crew starting with getting rid of Joy.Meyers and the Waltrips.Come on N.B.C. ,can’t wait to hear “Green Flag Is In The Air ” instead of D.W/’s lame crap.

      • Avatar
        Biff Baynehouse

        Yeah, thanks. But, em, heck no! No breaks for Gordo! Especially in light of his giggling live to air after Logano was sent toward the wall at high speed at Pocono. AND his selective memory (aka: lies) regarding the #2 body mod penalties. Being a fordie, no breaks for Boy Wonder until I hear a formal apology for both instances.
        A rising tide lifts all ships (ie: Ned & Dale Jarrett). Where-as bias & lies are a boat anchor!