MICHAEL WALTRIP, NO. 51 NAPA AUTO PARTS TOYOTA CAMRY, MICHAEL WALTRIP RACING
Do you think next week’s Daytona 500 will be the last time you will drive a Sprint Cup Series car?
“No, I don’t. But if it were, then I could live with that. I’ve over-exceeded what 99 percent of kids that want to be race car drivers ever could have hoped to accomplish. First of all, it just makes me thank God for the last 24 years -- I was able to show up and race my car. I had a sponsor, I had a team, I was healthy -- I didn’t get sick and I didn’t wreck and hurt myself. To be able to say that and know that I’ve won eight races and especially won on the biggest stage we have, I’m thankful and I’m happy. I also feel like there are still some races for me to win. I think I can win this race and certainly there’s one in Talladega in a couple of months that I know I have the knowledge and the capability to win. If the opportunity presents itself to run some races then that’s what I want to do. I’ll tell you something funny -- when I announced that I was going to retire -- or whatever you want to call it, I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do. Every time somebody would call and say, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ I would say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’ I’ve agreed to everything that anyone asked and so out of that I get to be on the new show on Showtime, ‘Inside NASCAR,’ which I think is great for our sport and it will be fun for me. I’m working on some things for Speed that I will be doing. I might race a truck a few times -- haven’t worked all that out yet. Went to Dubai and raced a Ferrari. Went to New York and was on ‘Hannity,’ so it’s been fun being retired, but like any retired dude, I know how retired people are in that as soon as they’re retired they want to figure out what they want to do next and that’s sort of how I’ve been.”
Are you transitioning into the role of car owner by getting away from driving?
“Ultimately car owner, I said when I started my team that I knew I couldn’t drive forever, but I could be a car owner forever. Ultimately, that’s my goal is to be a winning, championship car owner. Being on that Showtime show for NASCAR is good for NAPA. I don’t even have to say NAPA anymore and people will think it when they see me and it’s good for all of my sponsors. A presence in front of the camera, a presence on TV shows is something that I think is important for the owner of MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing). Michael Waltrip Racing needs a presence like that out and about in the world. The drivers can only do so much. I will continue to be on TV and look to race occasionally, do fun things like Fifth-Grader (‘Are you Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader?’) and Earl (‘My Name is Earl’) Whatever it takes to continue a presence, I think that’s important for MWR.”
What satisfaction do you get from being a car owner?
“I remember the best time in my life as a race car driver was from September of 2000 until the last lap of the Daytona 500. I walked around DEI (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated) with Dale (Earnhardt) and you could just tell that people wanted their cars to go fast for that man. Dale was there, that’s who their boss was, and they wanted to make sure their cars were fast. We believed when we started that race here in 2001 that we were going to win. That’s where our brains were and it was because of the passion of the folks that worked on those cars and built those cars at DEI. At Michael Waltrip Racing, I see it again. I see when I’m walking on the shop floor that people are happy to work there, they want to go the extra mile, do whatever they can to win because they know that my name is on that place and I’m the one that owns it. They know how to find me if they have a problem and I’m also the guy that they can find if they like where they work and they just want to say, ‘Thank you.’ I guess the joy that I get out of it is what the people that work there and work for us give me and that is the appreciation for the opportunity and then the focus to do it better than it has ever been done before. That’s their goal.”
What type of progress have you seen with your race team?
“I like to think about this because very rarely are things black and white in the world and this is black and white. In 2007, we missed races, we barely survived. In 2008, we made every race, but I could have won two races -- I ran second at Loudon (N.H.), but we weren’t competitive, we were okay though. In 2009, we contended for a spot in the Chase, we won a race -- that’s the kind of progression you want to see on paper. When you sit down and write your business plan, that’s what it’s supposed to look like -- very rarely does it go to plan, but we went into 2009 and we couldn’t have said that we were going to win or we were going to compete for the Chase because I didn’t have the history to back that up. Now as we look at 2010 and the additions we’ve made, the key people that have been there since the beginning -- we have to think we can race in this Chase and we can win more than one race. I can’t wait to watch it all unfold because I believe we’ve prepared to be in a really good position.”
Does a driver have to win races to remain relevant in NASCAR?
“Eventually. I raced cars for a long time and I didn’t win then just luckily for me NAPA started making some TV commercials and I started winning races. All of the sudden, I was a lot more popular than I’d ever been. The key to it was winning races. You can be well-spoken and you can be popular with the media, a lot of fans can love you, but that will all go away if you don’t put your car in victory lane. That has led a lot to me saying that I’m not going to race every weekend anymore because I haven’t shown lately that I have the ability to go win one of these darn races. I believe in my heart I can win Daytona and I know I can win Talladega, but other than that I haven’t shown the speed. Winning is what it’s all about.”.