Darrell Waltrip is the only driver to win NASCAR's annual 600-mile race at Charlotte five times. He first did it in 1978, driving DiGard Racing's #88 Monte Carlo. This is one of only 24 stock cars made by Johnny Lightning®.

My Little Waltrip Cars

Darrell Waltrip was already a big name when I started watching auto races. I'd never heard of him, but he was the one winning at the time I was becoming a NASCAR fan. As the years passed, my fan-dom waxed and waned. I developed other Favorite Drivers. I went from cheering for him to scorning him, and back again. Often I found him just plain ridiculous. (I despise ol' Dee Dubya yellin' "Boogity Boogity Boogity" at the beginning of every race.)

But during the 1980's, he was the guy I was rooting for. And since I come from the '80s and still live much of my life there, I will claim to be a bit of a Darrell Waltrip fan. And these are some of my little cars.

dew car

1981 Buick Regal

I started watching NASCAR in 1981 because of this car. I had built a model kit of it, selected at random just because I liked its look. Once the model was done, I thought it might be interesting to know a little about the car itself. I turned on a NASCAR race, and found out the driver was this Darrell Waltrip character. And he won the race I was watching. In fact, he won better than one out of every three races that year.

Some people didn't care much for him, 'cause he had a smart mouth. Hey— I had a smart mouth! I kept watching, he kept winning, and eventually he drove this Buick to the NASCAR Championship! The next year, the "Dew Crew" did it again— with twelve wins each year, and fourteen pole positions each year. Evidently, this guy was the best. I became a NASCAR fan, and Darrell Waltrip was officially my Favorite Driver (until Tim Richmond came along).

This little die-cast Buick Regal race car, made by Action Racing Collectibles in 1995, was just kind of bleh. A lot of times, little toy cars look fine when they're only three inches long, but when you get up close and personal with a macro photograph, unseen flaws become apparent. This photo has been extensively retouched to fix the ride height and correct the graphics; a few small changes that improved the overall look a lot.

pepsi challenger

1983 Pepsi Challenger

After two straight Championships, Waltrip and car owner Junior Johnson upped the ante. They switched from Buick to Chevrolet, and increased sponsorship dollars came from Mountain Dew's parent company. The Pepsi Challenger was named after a lengthy TV ad campaign wherein consumers were asked to take the "Pepsi Challenge," a side-by-side blind taste test against Coca-Cola. Of course, the commercials showed Pepsi winning every time.

Darrell didn't win every time. But that year, driving the Pepsi car, he won six races. And came in second eight other times. A crash in the Daytona 500 gave him a concussion and probably cost him a third consecutive championship; he finished the season only 47 points behind Bobby Allison (4667 to 4620).

But the Pepsi Challenger was strong; Darrell scored top-five finishes in 22 out of 30 races, a record for the post-1972 Modern Era.

Some background about this little car: In 1991, Racing Champions became the first company to create licensed NASCAR racers. The next year was Richard Petty's final season, and Racing Champions sold over a million little Petty cars. In Phoenix, Arizona, one Fred Wagenhals started a competing company, Action Performance, and in 1995 secured exclusive merchandise licensing from Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR's two hottest names. He sold tons of little cars.

NASCAR's popularity was booming. In 1997, industry giant Hasbro made a deal with Action in order to sell cheaper "Winner's Circle" brand cars in mass retail outlets. Of course, Mattel's Hot Wheels brand had to jump into the fray with its own Pro Racing line of cars.

In the midst of all this market saturation, the Johnny Lightning company briefly created a Stock Car Legends series before deciding that Johnny Lightning didn't do NASCAR. The Pepsi Challenger is one of the twenty-four cars they did.

d w car

1985 Bud Monte Carlo

On the Winston Cup circuit, Waltrip continued to drive Junior Johnson's cars for the next two years. Budweiser replaced Pepsico as the team's primary sponsor. Darrell won seven races in 1984. In 1985 he only won three times, but his overall finishes were higher. Thus, he scored his third Winston Cup championship. He also won the first-ever "Winston" all-star exhibition race.

In 1986, he won three more times, but lost the Championship to Dale Earnhardt, ending the season only 6 points ahead of Tim Richmond.

This little Bud car was one of the first cars made by Action, sold under the name Racing Collectibles (just to make me confuse it with Racing Champions). It's one of 16,128 made, and has the beer sponsorship logos that aren't sold in retail stores.

tide ride

1989 Tide Ride

Darrell had issues with driving Junior Johnson's car; he didn't like the connection of fast cars with alcohol brands. He and Rick Hendrick discussed the possibility of Waltrip joining the Hendrick organization, which fielded cars for Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond. Waltrip would have to break his contract with Junior Johnson in order to do so. Waltrip later said he broke the contract by asking Johnson for a raise; one of Johnson's cardinal rules was to never discuss money matters with him and as a result, Darrell was released from his contract. So Hendrick formed a team for Waltrip in 1987, sponsored by Tide and carrying number 17, the number Darrell used when he first started racing because it was his idol David Pearson's number. "I finally got me a thoroughbred!" said Waltrip. Johnson retorted, "I don't know about a thoroughbred. I do know we had a jackass around here who recently left."

The new Tide team had a little trouble getting started. Waltrip only won one race that first year, then in 1988 he won twice.

Darrell had a good year in 1989, though. He started it off by winning the Daytona 500 for the first time, in his 17th career attempt. He got five more wins that year, including a historic and unprecedented fifth-time victory at the Coca-Cola 600 (formerly the World 600) that May. It was the first win for NASCAR's version of the Chevrolet Lumina. It also made Waltrip eligible to win the "Winston Million" at Darlington. That was a million-dollar bonus offered to any driver who could win three of NASCAR's four biggest races. But at Darlington, under all that pressure, he hit the wall early and finished 22nd.

Waltrip ended up with six wins that season (again!), finishing fourth in the championship standings.

My little Tide ride is from an Action "Platinum Series" limited edition of 10,000.

d w car

1991 Western Auto Chevy

Darrell had always wanted to start his own race team, and in 1991 he made that move. He bought a bunch of stuff from Rick Hendrick, and hired his longtime friend Jeff Hammond as crew chief. (Hammond and Waltrip had been together for most of Darrell's career.) He would continue to drive Chevy Luminas, and Western Auto came on board to sponsor his new team.

It seemed to work pretty well. By the end of June, Darrell had won two races. But at Daytona on the July 4th weekend, he was involved in a bad crash. He had shattered a leg at the same race a year before, and still had a plate in it. He only suffered minor injuries, though, but the next week, at Pocono, "Swervin' Ernie Irvan" caused a crash that took Waltrip out of that race. Despite those accidents, Waltrip finished 8th in the overall NASCAR Winston Cup points championship.

Darrell won three times in 1992, including the Southern 500 at Darlington. The Southern 500 was one of the four "crown jewel" races, and in his 20-year career, he'd never won it. That was his 84th and final career victory.

In 1993, he crashed in the Winston, and was forced to let relief drivers take over for several weeks. That seemed to mark the beginning of the end; Darrell was 46 years old, had two kids, and was feeling pressures of team ownership that he hadn't had to deal with, driving for highly-financed race teams in the past.

This little Western Auto car is an early Racing Champions model, with cheap wheels and no interior.

Some photos I took when my friend Dwane & I went to Heartland Park-Topeka in 1992.

chrome car


For the next four years, Waltrip's results continued to fall off although Western Auto stayed on as sponsor with its Parts America brand through 1997.

That year was Darrell's 25th anniversary as a big-league stock car driver. To celebrate, four of his race cars were painted in special paint schemes that were commemorative of cars that he had driven in the past. (That also meant four more little die-cast cars for people to buy.) But Darrell got everyone's attention with the car he had for the season-opening Daytona 500. Underneath bright orange decals, the entire Parts America Chevy was chromed!

To match it, Waltrip even had a chrome helmet. The ensemble got a lot of press, and Waltrip finished tenth.

That summer, he brought the "Quicksilver" scheme back for the Winston all-star race. Unfortunately, the results were more typical of his later seasons. He ended up 17th out of twenty cars— the last car running, since three had dropped out with mechanical problems.

While fans don't remember one more last-place in a sea of dismal finishes, they remember that car. Technically not paint (it was really a chrome vinyl wrap), "Quicksilver" still tops lists of the most popular NASCAR paint schemes of all time.

speed blocked

Speed Blocking

Now, a sidebar: In 1989, Richard Petty failed to qualify for a race at Richmond, and upset fans missed seeing one of the sport's biggest draws. Darrell Waltrip told NASCAR head Bill France, Jr. that "it was a shame" that someone with Petty's credentials couldn't be allowed to race somehow. When "The King" went on to miss the races at Bristol and North Wilkesboro, NASCAR decided to act on Waltrip's advice, creating the Past Champion's Provisional starting spot. With fields set at 42 cars, the most recent Past Champion who failed to qualify on speed would be eligible for a 43rd starting position. Good thing Darrell suggested it...

Waltrip's career began to decline rapidly in 1997. The Past Champions provisional that was created at Darrell's suggestion was a last resort that, ironically, Darrell himself had begun to use in order to make races. At Charlotte, Terry Labonte also failed to qualify on speed. Because Labonte was a more recent Cup champion, he got the Past Champion's provisional. For the first time, Darrell actually had to sit out a race due to being just plain slow.

Waltrip continued to struggle (even with a cool chrome car), and at the end of the year, Western Auto dropped its sponsorship. As the team prepared for the 1998 season, they found a new sponsor in Speedblock, a company that manufactured house-building materials. Diecasts were made up, and the team made it to Daytona. But after only four races, Darrell complained (loudly) that he was paying for the team out of his own pocket 'cause Speedblock wasn't holding up its end. Speedblock said associate sponsor Hechinger/Builders Square wasn't fulfilling its promise to help out with the sponsorship. Hechinger said they had no agreement and were in no way responsible. Whatever— after less than two months, the deal fell apart. Speedblock filed for bankrupcy, and Hechinger went bust a year later. The #17 team had no cash, so Darrell sold it off. And began looking for a job.

This is where Waltrip got mired in the Tabasco Fiasco," an amusing story (with more little cars) that you can read about here. Hired to drive the much-hyped Tabasco car, Darrell needed the Past Champions provisional spot to get into every race except two. It was so common it became routine: when broadcasters announced the starting line-up for a race, I would scoff, "And dead last: Darrell Waltrip."

victory tour car

Darrell Waltrip's TET Offensive

In 1998, Darrell Waltrip had relied on the Past Champions Provisional to get into 22 out of 30 races. Waltrip continued to use the Provisional rule to get into the first four races of 1999. By then NASCAR had become kind of fed up with this behavior, and limited its use to six races per year. Darrell began driving K-Mart Fords for Haas-Carter Motorsports (a slightly better team), and actually qualified for all but seven races that year. Still, that's a fifth of the season he was forced to sit out due to slowness.

He decided he would finally give it up after the 2000 season. That year he embarked on the "Victory Tour 2000". He used all six allotted Past Champions provisionals to get into races, failed to qualify for six other races, failed to finish seven of the ones he made, and scored zero top-ten finishes.

Someone at my local American Legion Fantasy League called Darrell's Victory Tour the "TET Offensive— the Total Embarrassment Tour."

During the first decade that I was watching NASCAR, Darrell Waltrip won the Cup Series Championship three times, was runner-up three times, and acquired the second-most wins (behind Jeff Gordon) of all drivers in NASCAR's Modern Era. He became the first driver to win 10 million dollars. He went on to have a pretty good second career as a broadcaster for NASCAR On FOX.

Like I said, he was a driver from the 1980s. Despite his performance toward the end, over the course of his career he got the stats that caused him to be one of the first fifteen people inducted into NASCAR's Hall of Fame.

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