Eric Shanks

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Darrell Waltrip taking the checkered flag on his broadcasting career

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NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip is retiring as a broadcaster upon the conclusion of Fox Sports’ final Cup race in June, he announced Thursday.

“I could’ve waited until Charlotte or somewhere else down the road, but it’s been hanging over my head,” Waltrip told The Tennessean. “I just wanted to clear the air, let people know what my plans are and then other people can make plans accordingly. Like who’s going to take my place or is somebody going to take my place?”

Waltrip’s last race will be June 23 at Sonoma Raceway, the final race for Fox Sports before NBC Sports broadcasts the rest of the Cup season.

The 72-year-old Waltrip has been with Fox since it began broadcasting NASCAR races in 2001, making his debut in the 2001 Daytona 500 – the race his younger brother Michael won and the race Dale Earnhardt suffered fatal injuries.

Outspoken and passionate, Waltrip sought to reach out to NASCAR fans in his own way.

“Darrell has been the heart and soul of the Fox NASCAR booth since day one, so it’s incredibly bittersweet to know this is his final season,” said Fox Sports CEO & executive producer Eric Shanks. “DW’s unmatched charisma and passion helped Fox Sports build its fan base when we first arrived at Daytona in 2001, and he has been the cornerstone of our NASCAR coverage ever since.”

Waltrip told The Tennessean he considered retiring earlier.

“My dream had been that I was going to retire in 2017 because I love 17,” he told the newspaper. “Well ’17 came and I said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, bad decision, no, no, no. I’m not quite ready for that.’

“A big wake-up call for me was when our first grandchild was born 14 months ago and I would come and go and it was just like when I’d watched my girls grow up. They grew up at the racetrack and they were grown and married before I hardly knew it.”

Waltrip also told the newspaper that the addition of Jeff Gordon also played a role in Waltrip’s decision to retire.

“Jeff Gordon coming along beside of me has just made me aware of what I know I know — that I’m old school,” Waltrip told The Tennessean. “I grew up in this sport in one era and Jeff grew up in a totally different era. When he talks to the drivers they talk a different language than I ever talked. When he relates to the drivers he relates to them in a different way than I do. And so it just became obvious to me it’s a young man’s sport. I’m not a young man anymore.”

What’s next for Waltrip, other than spending more time with family? He’s not sure.

“Every time I’ve made a change in my career or in my life I thought it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me,” Waltrip told the newspaper. “And then next thing you know it was actually the best thing that ever happened to me. So I’m optimistic about future.”

The three-time Cup champion was inducted into the third class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2012. His 84 career victories ties him with Bobby Allison for fourth on the all-time list. Waltrip was the recipient of the Bill France Award of Excellence in 2000 for his lifetime of achievements in the sport.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps praised Waltrip in a statement:

“For nearly five decades, few people have been as synonymous with NASCAR as Darrell Waltrip,” Phelps said. “A Hall of Famer on the track and in the booth, Waltrip brought quick wit, tireless passion and a wealth of stock car racing knowledge to millions of NASCAR fans on FOX for 19 seasons. We are grateful for Waltrip’s many contributions to the sport over the past 47 years, both as a champion driver and broadcaster. On behalf of everyone at NASCAR, we wish DW all the best in retirement.”