Racing has always been a family business, and nowhere is that more true than at Talladega Superspeedway. In this series leading up to the 1000bulbs.com 500, Anniston Star contributor Mark McCarter takes a look at some of those families.
His Talladega drought at end, Michael Waltrip decided on a grand exit. NASCAR had just mandated roof hatches on its cars, so Waltrip opted to climb out through the hatch, rather than the traditional method. “I’m a redneck,” he exclaimed. “I like to get out the sunroof every now and then.”
There was little traditional about the Brothers Waltrip, whether at Talladega Superspeedway or anywhere else. Both have effusive personalities, both found second careers as broadcasters and neither is a stranger to outrageous antics.
Michael has raced more miles there at the Cup level than any driver – 27,081 miles in 60 starts – and he and older brother Darrell have combined for 48,550 miles, the most of any brother combo. Considering there is a 16-year age difference, that twice-around-the-globe distance came in a span between from 1972 through 2016; the May 1972 Talladega race was in fact Darrell’s debut on the NASCAR Cup circuit.
When Michael Waltrip won the fall race in 2003, it was not unsurprising. His career had been revitalized by his hiring at Dale Earnhardt Inc., prior to the 2001 season, and he had won the Daytona 500 in February 2003, his third win there in five starts.
“As a kid in Kentucky, one of the best trips of the whole summer for me was when we got to go to Alabama to watch Darrell run at Talladega,” Michael said on a recent podcast. “I was so intimidated by that place.”
When Darrell Waltrip won for the first time at Talladega, it was inevitable. Though not particularly popular. He had earned the nickname “Jaws” from fellow driver Cale Yarborough for his loquaciousness. He was slick, glib and more polished than many in the garage area. His cockiness didn’t sit well with the veterans – or their fan bases.
“I guess I could start acting like a star, couldn’t I,” DW mused after the race.
He did. And he was. And his younger brother followed him to Talladega victory and some stardom of his own.