FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Darrell Waltrip has made himself into a lot of things since he took up dirt-track stock car racing as a teenager in Kentucky back in the early 1960s.
He became a NASCAR superstar, driving for Junior Johnson, Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt. He became a millionaire. He became a team owner, TV commentator and celebrity, as well as an auto dealer handling Honda, Volvo, Subaru and Buick-GMC.
“I’ve never been good at multitasking,” professes Waltrip, 70, at his Honda dealership here, near his home south of Nashville. “My ambition was always one thing — to be the best race car driver I could be. I loved all of it: the speed, the technology, the noise of the engine, the competition, the teamwork. You get a car and paint a number on the side of it, and that gets me going.”
The racing industry and the car business have long overlapped and intermingled. For Waltrip, they are inseparable parts of the same cultural love affair with the automobile — especially when it comes to NASCAR.
“In NASCAR,” he says, “we race what people drive, and people buy what we race.”
Waltrip grew up racing on rural speedways in Kentucky and Tennessee, where bills were paid by sponsorships from a local repair garage, a welding shop or friends passing the hat. By 25, he had graduated to NASCAR, competing on tracks in Nashville, Talladega, Ala., and Richmond, Va.
In his 1981-82 stint driving a Buick Regal for Johnson, he won 24 races with 28 pole positions and two NASCAR Winston Cup championships.