Nascar News – NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip talks Earnhardt doc, Bristol race
Although it has been 20 years since Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash at the 2001 Daytona 500, the memory and impact of that day never wanes for former NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip.
“I wake up with it every day,” Waltrip said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 years or tomorrow or the next day. It’s all just part of who I am.”
Waltrip, 57, won that race as a driver for the team owned by Earnhardt. Waltrip’s 2011 autobiography “In the Blink of an Eye” details his life in racing, his friendship with the late Earnhardt and his perspective of the fateful race that changed NASCAR. The 2019 documentary film “Blink of an Eye” is based on that book, and debuted on FS1 in March.
Although Waltrip still gets feedback from friends and fans about the heavy material in the documentary, his day-to-day consists of lighter ventures. He returned last week from NASCAR’s races on dirt at Bristol and is set to enjoy a break in the schedule for Easter before returning to his duties as an analyst for NASCAR races on FOX networks.
He spoke with The Observer about funny moments that still occur on camera after 25 years of TV race coverage, his next ventures as a driver in Tony Stewart’s racing series and owner of an expanding chain of breweries, feedback from his documentary and the elusive search to shoot par on the golf course one day.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Alex Andrejev: There was a moment when you were caught on camera behind Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer in the broadcast booth during practice at Bristol. It was pretty hilarious. Did you know were you on TV at that point?
Michael Waltrip: Yeah that was kind of funny. I didn’t know I was on TV at first and I saw it on the monitor and my reaction was to hide and I thought that was funny. So then I acted like I was peeking to see what was going on. But that’s what you call caught with your hand in the cookie jar. I was trying to get a snack and they put the boys on camera and I happened to be part of that shot, so it made me laugh, too.
AA: What were some of the highlights and lowlights of Bristol for you? And how do you feel about NASCAR announcing it will be back on dirt at Bristol next spring?
MW: I’m really excited that we’re coming back. I was part of the Truck team when we went to Eldora for the first time (eight) years ago. I remember the excitement in the air when it was announced that the Trucks were going to go to Eldora. There was also a bit of skepticism, and there was certainly a lot of unknown. It didn’t take but a couple of laps on the track to say, “This is really fun. This is really cool.” The turnout from the fans and just the way the truckers were able to adapt and race at Eldora, it told me that when the Cup guys got the chance to go to Bristol, get on the dirt, it was going to be a fun show to watch. Monday after the Truck race, I went up in a suite with my boss Eric Shanks from FOX and watched the start and some of the race from the box. I’m telling you, everywhere you looked, there was something to look at …
There are probably tweaks they could make to the cars. I was trying to do the race on Saturday for the Trucks when the race was rained out and Tim Brewer, legendary crew chief with Junior Johnson, called me and left me a message. He said (imitating Brewer), “Hey, Michael. First of all, I really like your documentary. You did a good job there. And secondly, why don’t they just put mud flaps on them cars? The tires will chuck up the mud, hit the mud flaps, hit the ground and don’t get on somebody’s radiator. All right, see you later. Bye.” That got me thinking, that’s probably a pretty good idea and I’m sure someone thought of it before, so I called my friend Kenny Schrader, who races dirt about every day of the week to see. I said, “Would that work?” He said, “It’s been done before. It probably would.” So there are things like that where you could make minor modifications and have the show be even better, but to me, it was a hit. It was something that I would go back to and watch again as a fan.
AA: You’ll be a driver in the Superstar Racing Experience series this summer and driving on dirt. Did the Bristol event make you more excited to get on dirt?
MW: I’ve raced on dirt a bit. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s on our weekends off, me and some of the other Cup guys would go to local dirt tracks and drive a guy’s car. I won a couple of them, and I got pretty comfortable on dirt. Racing anything is something that I get pretty fired up about, and I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel. I’m just competitive. Whether it’s trying to be the best I can be in the booth for the Truck races or on pit road with the Cup guys or playing golf or racing. I don’t care. I just want to go fast. I want to be the best that I can be, so getting to race the car this summer, it’ll continue to make me smarter for TV to be able to see what’s out there, figure out what it feels like to be back behind the wheel again.
AA: You mentioned Tim’s comment about your documentary “Blink of an Eye.” My mother, who’s not a NASCAR fan at all, called me the other day to tell me about this great documentary on Michael Waltrip she watched on TV. I was a little shocked she recommended it because she doesn’t follow the sport, so the story is clearly resonating with non-NASCAR fans too. Have you been getting more feedback about it now that it’s on FS1?
MW: It’s certainly been very well-received. I’m really thankful that all of my bosses felt like it was something that we needed to put on FOX. Since that documentary was released a couple of years ago, a 100 percent, people love it. People appreciate the story. They learn things that they didn’t know and they’re able to better identify, know more about Dale (Earnhardt), which is important to me and I think a lot of fans. In this world of people being butt holes on social media, there’s zero negativity about that documentary. I think it gives people probably a better understanding of who I am. I usually try to keep it pretty lighthearted, but that was pretty deep stuff.
AA: Has it been more of an emotional year for you because of the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona?
MW: No, I wake up with it every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s 20 years or tomorrow or the next day. It’s all just part of who I am. People are like, “I bet it’s hard talking about all that stuff.” Well, it’s in me. Whether I talk about it or not, I’m living it. Writing the book, that was 2011 and 10 years after the crash at Daytona, and that was probably the most difficult thing I had done at that point because I had really not sat down and talked to anybody much about it. My co-writer for the book was a good dude. I enjoy getting to know him, and I really was able to talk about things that I never had before. And then Mitch Covington, who’s the (vice president of) sports marketing at Monster Energy, he read my book and said, “This is a movie.” The interesting thing about that is when I did the book, it was me and (Ellis Henican) the co-writer. I said, “Are you going to interview anybody else?” And he said, “It’s your story. Why would we need to do that?” So then we get ready to do the doc and the producers are like, “We’ve got to talk to Richard Petty. We’ve got to talk to Dale Jr., your brother, (Ken) Schrader.” I’m thinking to myself at the time that I really hope all those people remember it like I did, because there was no fact-checking on the book. It was just my story. When you bring all these other voices in to talk about what happened that day it made me a little nervous at first, but when I saw the first cut of it, everybody had the same exact stories. Everybody basically completed each other’s sentences and sort of thought like I did. That was good for me. I really needed to hear some of those people’s voices.
AA: I’m guessing your daughters have seen the film by now. How involved have they been or how much do they know about your NASCAR career and everything in that doc?
MW: Because I don’t really talk about it much, I think they were touched by the story. My daughters loved it and my grandkids. My oldest daughter has two little boys and they loved it as well. I’m thankful that Mitch wanted to make the movie because my daughters probably know more about me now because of the movie than they might’ve ever would have.
AA: What’s next on the horizon for you? There’s SRX and FOX broadcasts and then you have a brewing company, Michael Waltrip Brewing Co. I read one of your breweries will be opening in Bristol next.
MW: Yeah, a couple buddies and I started a brewing company out in Phoenix. We’re brewing beers in Idaho and selling them in Arizona. We were going to build our brew pub in Phoenix first about March of 2020, and then the world kind of got flipped upside down, so we put it on hold. And through some friends of mine we got this opportunity to acquire a brewery in Bristol, Virginia, and we’ll be making our beers there starting probably mid-June or early July at the latest, so that’s been a fun project. I was told to go try beer and find out what I liked, and I said, “I can do that. That’s a job I can handle.” So we started drinking, trying beers and having beers with our friends and came up with a couple of recipes. We’ve got three different styles of beer, and we’re looking forward to getting it over here on the East Coast. All my friends that I golf with are like, “Why can’t we have your beer? Why can’t we get it?” I said, “There are some things called permits and logistics that are challenging, but we’re going to work all those out.”
So, being on TV with FOX, that’s my number one job. I’m looking forward to running a few races this summer and looking forward to getting our beers over here on the East Coast so I can share them with friends. And, still on that elusive search to shoot par one day.
Nascar News – NASCAR’s Michael Waltrip talks Earnhardt doc, Bristol race
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