Special Event - Waltrip Comments On Media Day
What makes winning the Daytona 500 difficult? "It's just a special race, it's hard. Everybody brings their best stuff. They've had a couple months to tweak on it. Everybody's mind set is win at any cost. It's the biggest race ever, let's go win it. We'll worry about points later and very seldom does that -- that doesn't happen. Everything is about winning here at Daytona. We've seen a lot of interesting things over the last 10 years in people getting to victory lane. Mark Martin coming up just a foot short a few years back. Trevor Bayne, the big upset last year. Jimmie Johnson winning in '06 without his crew chief. Event after event that makes this place something special."
How hard is it to be a repeat winner of the Daytona 500? "Well, you look at the people who haven't won it, then you have to think there's a pretty good chance that it won't be a repeat winner for a while. I'm kind of liking it because only a few people have won it more than once. I'm fortunate that I'm one on that list. It would be a pretty cool story to see Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. win it. It's such a special place for he and I back in the day, and I'd like to see him celebrate here."
How did you start out racing in Indiana and Kentucky? "I won my first race at Olney, Illinois in a go-kart when I was 12 at a little track over there. I was in Olney the other day for NAPA doing an appearance and I went and found where that track was and that was pretty cool. I raced all up and down Indiana, Illinois in go-karts. Most of my stock car racing -- when I turned 18 I started racing at the local track in Owensboro (Kentucky) and went south from there. I didn't go much and race -- I raced in Ft. Wayne (Indiana) a couple times in an ASA stock car, but mostly I went from Kentucky to Tennessee to North Carolina."
How much of an influence was your brother Darrell Waltrip when you were starting your racing career? "Darrell (Waltrip) was off being a NASCAR guy and I was back in Kentucky trying to figure out how to race a car. We didn't really spend a lot of time together back then. It wasn't until '83 when I went NASCAR Dash racing that we started racing at the same tracks, so that was fun."
What does it mean to have the most starts at Daytona? "Well, the thing that's interesting is in 1975 I made my first trip down here. I was 11 and I just dreamed of racing here on those banks. I told someone earlier, I didn't have Playboy's stuck under my bed, I had stock car magazines that I was into. The first time I came through the tunnel, I thought someone was joking. I couldn't believe the massive size of the banked turns. Then, to fast forward to 2012 and having started more races here than anybody, that's crazy. I didn't see that coming."
How difficult is this sport to break into? "Well, I wrote a book last year and it did pretty well and I talk about my first race and how naïve I was thinking I was ready for it. Kids are just more prepared now. They have the internet to race their little simulator things. Mainly they have the ability to learn about this sport from the time they're five years old. When I was a kid, we had to get in the car in Owensboro, Ky., and drive for an hour down to the Tennessee-Kentucky line to be able to hear the race on the radio. That's how much we had to want to hear what Darrell (Waltrip, brother) was doing. Now, from the time they're born, they're exposed to the sport 24-hours a day. NASCAR.com, SPEED, the races on network TV -- it's flag-to-flag. They just know more about it. They're more prepared when it comes time to go racing. They start racing at earlier ages. Danica (Patrick) is a great example of that. She hadn't run NASCAR before, but she knew the tracks and she knew how to race and she has proven it."
Was there any doubt in your mind that you were going to be a race car driver? "Never any doubt in my mind. There was a lot of doubt in the people around me's mind. My mom and dad didn't encourage me to race because they had been through it with my brother Darrell (Waltrip) and they pretty much said, 'We've had enough.' I didn't know how I was going to be a race car driver. I just knew I was going to be a race car driver. I had to be pretty persistent. I had to be pretty resourceful to try to figure out a way to be able to get the breaks that it took to get into a race car. When your first option is mom and dad and they don't do anything, the next option gets a little more difficult. Fortunately, I was able to get som e help from my brother Bobby, who had a go-kart. He was a go-kart racer. So that gave me a chance to get in something to race and I did good at it and was able to continue on."
MICHAEL WALTRIP, No. 40 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota Camry, Hillman Racing (continued) Are you surprised Trevor Bayne's Daytona 500 win didn't materialize into a full-time ride this year? "Well, it's society. It's not just NASCAR. It's just how difficult things are today. Trevor (Bayne) is a sharp young man, very well spoken, good looking kid with a great heart and can drive the heck out of a car and just didn't get the opportunity or hasn't gotten the opportunity to do it all full-time yet. There's people in all walks of life that are struggling for opportunities and that doesn't make -- that's the way things are today. I'm real fortunate that my team has been able to survive, because we started at absolutely the worst time in the world to start. We started when the economy was at the top of the world and we raced right into when it was maybe the worst its been since the depression and we've been able to survive. There are no guarantees. We are just real fortunate to have partners like NAPA and Aaron's or we wouldn't be around today."
Has the sport evolved to the point that it doesn't matter if the driver is female for you as a team owner? "If you think about it, back in the '90s, Shawna (Robinson) raced and then Patty Moise raced. Those girls got opportunities. Shawna raced a Cup race, I think. She's (Danica Patrick) a big star, so we're making a bigger deal out of it. But, Lyn St. James raced in the '70s and Janet Guthrie. So there's always been chances for ladies to do this job. This is an example of that. Now we'll just have to see if her talent can keep her a part of the landscape for a long time to come or if she can't do it. We don't know."
How important is winning the Daytona 500 to a NASCAR driver's career? "You have to win it. It's a must for a NASCAR driver. I know Tony (Stewart). I know how much it meant for him to win that World of Outlaw race last year. He'd been trying to do that for a long time. It would be the same with the Daytona 500. I think that's a great way to tell the story. There's things you're passionate about and he had competed in World of Outlaw and never won one. It was something that he had to do. He's competed in the Daytona 500, one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world of the year, and he wants that to be on his list."