If you haven’t figured out by now, longtime driver-turned-broadcaster Darrell Waltrip recently announced his retirement from TV later this season.
For 19 years, Waltrip carried the torch as Fox Sports’ lead driver analyst, bringing expertise from the race track and a quirky wit along with him. Despite recent criticism for awkwardness and booth tension, Waltrip became a member of a small group of dynamic personalities who have graced the racetrack and the mic in full-time roles.
Like Waltrip, fan favorites including Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker, Ned Jarrett, Wally Dallenbach Jr. and even Sir Jackie Stewart are arguably known better for their broadcasting prowess rather than their driving careers. Through their tell-it-like-it-is style and blue-collar personable demeanor, their commentary stuck out to racing enthusiasts and potential fans alike.
Without a recognizable and approachable charisma that many former drivers brought to television screens, TV audiences might not have been as receptive to the racing product or even understood what it was, based upon the exquisite knowledge of the driver analyst throughout the last 30 years.
However, NASCAR broadcasting has been in a transition when it comes to driver talent. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton are still relatively new to broadcasting. Former drivers Regan Smith and Hermie Sadler, along with current part-time competitor Parker Kligerman, have taken up pit road duties for their respective networks. Many of these personalities are still trying to craft their own styles, but in a way to be presentable to their national audience on the television networks.
Yet, in recent years, these networks have invested a great deal into getting current drivers on air, most notably, FOX Sport’s guest driver analysts for their NASCAR Xfinity Series coverage as well as their annual “Drivers Only Broadcast.” With more current drivers than ever getting the chance to have their voices on broadcasts, who has the potential to harness a unique but receptive style to potentially make a transition into full-time broadcasting once their driving career concludes? Here are a few candidates…
The most obvious choice on the list, Kevin Harvick, has been no stranger to television. A veteran of FOX’s guest driver analysts program for their NXS coverage, Harvick has moved into a larger role this season, splitting time with Michael Waltrip as lead analyst for broadcasts. With his increased TV time, the Californian has built up a rapport with an audience. Harvick has used his reserved but intelligent technique to not only connect but thoroughly explain live events in an understandable manner.
Putting aside his robust broadcasting resume, Harvick still has one of the longest careers out of any driver in the garage. In comparison, Harvick has an understanding of the evolution of the sport based upon his nearly two decades of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series experience. Ironically enough, there were rumors that the 43-year-old would be Darrell Waltrip’s replacement, something that Harvick quickly dispelled. He has the experience and the knowledge, thus Harvick could have a lengthy broadcasting career if he indeed decides to take it up full time.
Like Harvick, Brad Keselowski has considerable experience behind the microphone with the FOX program and has established a rapport with viewers. Although he personally has extensive experience in the top levels of stock car racing, many forget that Keselowski’s family has been in NASCAR for decades, dating back to the early 1970s with his uncle Ron Keselowski’s Cup career. With such an extensive history, Keselowski has been involved significantly with the history preservation of the evolution of the sport.
Keselowski has established himself as one of the most outspoken drivers in the garage area when it comes to competition, rules and the sport’s future expectations and redefining them too. While Keselowski may come off as a very technical individual, his attention to detail and practical observations about the sport could translate well to a full-time gig broadcasting.
Clint Bowyer has not had too many opportunities to climb up into the TV booth. Yet where he lacks experience, he makes up for it with personality. An individual with a jaunty outlook on life, Bowyer has become notorious for his child-like antics, questionable decision making and warming conviviality. At first glace, one might conclude that this type of character would not be a great TV fit, but instead, it is exactly the opposite. Bowyer comes from the same breed as Benny Parsons, a larger than life figure with almost instinctual mannerisms for levity and stories.
Parsons, who spent nearly two decades as the face of NASCAR broadcasting, became well admired by fans for his modest temperament and a high spirit attitude. Although Parsons passed away over a dozen years ago, many fans still credit Parson’s conveying fluidity and lighthearted character of helping to make them NASCAR fans. While Bowyer is by no means Parsons, if their was a modern-day equivalent to him, Bowyer has the same temperament to match that of Parsons, which is golden TV material.
Yes, David Ragan has not enjoyed quite the success in NASCAR that was originally billed upon him when he transitioned to the Cup series in 2007. However, despite the unfavorable cards he has been handed throughout his career, Ragan has considerable knowledge of the garage after being a Cup driver for 12 years. A frequent guest on NASCAR Race Hub, Ragan has become a reliable source for information and feedback when it comes to hot topics in NASCAR.
While Ragan has never called a race, the 33-year-old has a simple, understandable lexicon and a twinge of southern charm, very similar to Darrell Waltrip. Never the flashiest driver, Ragan has been a reliably, even-keeled figure in NASCAR, which is a marketable trait for broadcasting should he trade his fire suit in for a business suit when he decides to call it a career.
On the surface, Kurt Busch may not seem like the ideal broadcasting candidate, but the Nevadan got rave reviews after his broadcasting abilities of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway last fall. Busch’s detail of play-by-play analysis was a pleasant surprise for viewers and critics alike.
In an era of complex rules and highly technical race cars, an individual with detailed attentiveness and the ability to convey such might just be needed for broadcasts, especially to new or casual fans. Like Harvick and Keselowski, Busch has been in NASCAR for a long time and can bring boatloads of knowledgeable experience if he indeed decides to pursue a broadcasting career.