Darrell Lee Waltrip was born on February 5, 1947 in Owensboro, Kentucky. He resides in Franklin, Tennessee with his wife former Stephanie Rader, and daughters Jessica and Sarah. He is also the older brother of current NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip.
He started his racing career at the age of 12 at the Kentucky Motor Speedway, and Ellis Raceway, near his Owensboro home, driving a car called 'Big 100' built by Harry Pedley Owner of Pedley's Garage in Owensboro, Kentucky.
Waltrip's success led to him moving to Nashville to race at the Music City Motorplex at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds, where he would win two track championships. There, he would aggressively promote the week's race every chance he got.
He also embraced WSM radio host Ralph Emery during his early years, forming a bond which would be influential during his career, as Waltrip would later substitute for Emery in the 1980s on Emery's television show, 'Nashville Now' on the former TNN Cable Network, which is now Spike TV.
Waltrip started in the Cup level in 1972 with an old Mercury Cyclone which was originally the 1967 Ford driven by Mario Andretti to victory in the 1967 Daytona 500. That car was later rebuilt into a Mercury Cyclone for Rolf Stommelen at Talladega before Waltrip purchased the car and made it the #95 Terminal Transport Mercury, Terminal Transport of Owensboro, Kentucky was Waltrip's first major sponsor. It was his primary car for his first few seasons. He was given the 95 as a number but Waltrip stated that he wanted number 17 because his hero David Pearson had success with the number.
As he moved into the Cup level in the 1970s, his aggressive driving and outspoken style earned him the nickname "Jaws", a reference to the 1975 film about a killer shark. The nickname was given to Waltrip by rival Cale Yarborough in an interview after Waltrip crashed Yarborough out of a race. Waltrip himself preferred the nicknames "D.W." or "D-Dubya" but he did acknowledge Yarborough by displaying an inflatable toy shark in his pit at the next race. The nickname stuck after Waltrip made a now famous comment about one time rival Dale Earnhardt, in which he stated that he could say whatever he wanted about Dale and his team in the news because they "wouldn't be able to read it anyway.”
At the heights of his NASCAR success in the early 1980s fans often booed Waltrip, but his wit and endearing silliness gradually won over the hearts of most of his critics. Once, as a crowd booed him in Victory Lane, Waltrip silenced the hostile audience by challenging them to "Boo if you love D.W." He also was able to please his sponsor, Mountain Dew, by noticing, "They were saying Dew!” making his sponsor stand up and take notice.
Waltrip officially won 84 NASCAR races, but one additional uncounted "win" was as relief driver for Donnie Allison at the 1977 Talladega 500. Allison received credit as he started the race. In that race, Waltrip dropped out after 106 laps. Allison sought a relief driver for his #1 Hawaiian Tropic car due to the extreme heat that day and Waltrip stepped up to complete the race in Allison's car.
Waltrip is also known for winning the inaugural all-star race, The Winston, in 1985.
His 84 wins in the Cup series are tied for third place in NASCAR history, with Bobby Allison, and are the most in the "modern era" of NASCAR, which began in 1971 with rationalization of the schedule and elimination of dirt-track races from the Cup series.
Waltrip's partnership with car owner Junior Johnson led to success with three national championships, but concerns grew between Waltrip's close friends. Cortez Cooper, his pastor, became concerned about his involvement with Budweiser as a sponsor, and after parents complained that Waltrip was helping create a bond of alcohol, fast cars, and success, he changed teams, moving after the 1986 season to Hendrick Motorsports, with the detergent Tide as his sponsor.
Included among Waltrip's victories is the 1987 All-American 400 at the fairgrounds oval in Nashville, Tenn. The All-American 400 is recognized as one of the nation's premier short-track races.
In 1989, Waltrip won the Daytona 500 for the first time in his career on a fuel mileage gamble. His post-race interview with CBS pit reporter Mike Joy became famous, with Waltrip shouting "I won the Daytona 500! I won the Daytona 500! Wait, this is the Daytona 500 ain't it? ...Thank God!”
Waltrip helped develop NASCAR's version of the new Chevrolet Lumina in 1989 and delivered its first victory by winning his fifth Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway that May. Darrell was voted “Most popular driver” by the fans that year.
Waltrip was unable to carry his success of the previous year into 1990. Waltrip failed to visit victory lane all season. Then, while practicing for his 500th career start at the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, Waltrip spun out in another car's oil, and was T-Boned by Dave Marcis. Waltrip suffered a broken arm, a broken leg, and a concussion. He missed the Pepsi 400, but came back to run one lap at Pocono, before giving way to Jimmy Horton as a relief driver. Despite missing the next five races due to his injuries, Waltrip still finished 20th in driver points and the team finished 5th in owner points with substitute drivers taking turns in the car. Waltrip yet again was voted Most Popular Driver by the fans.
At the end of 1990, Waltrip and crew chief Jeff Hammond started their own Cup team, DarWal Inc. His first season as an owner/driver was a relatively successful, as Waltrip won twice and finished eighth in points in the #17 Western Auto Chevy in the Busch (Nationwide) series.
In 1992, Waltrip collected three more wins, including finishing off a career Grand Slam by winning the Southern 500, which was the last major race which had eluded his 20-year career, and finished 9th in points. That would be the last time he would visit victory lane in a Cup race.
In 1993, Waltrip signed former Richard Childress Racing engine builder Lou LaRosa to build engines and Barry Dodson, a former championship winning crew chief. He posted four top ten finishes, but didn't finish higher than third.
1994 saw him make his final appearance in the top ten in championship points by finished 9th. He had a then-unprecedented streak over two seasons of 40 races without a DNF, all with Waltrip's own engines.
Waltrip was sixteenth in points in 1995 when he crashed at The Winston, and was forced to let relief drivers take over for several weeks. His second half of the season was highlighted by his final career pole at the NAPA 500 at Atlanta motor speedway.
In 1996, Waltrip posted two top-ten finishes. Western Auto remained the sponsor as part of Waltrip's 25th anniversary celebration. While the year was one of Waltrip's most profitable, his results continued to fall off.
At the 1997 UAW-GM Quality 500, Waltrip failed to qualify for the first time in over 20 years as Terry Labonte also failed to make the race. Because Labonte was a more recent Cup champion, winning the championship the previous year, he was able to take the past champion's provisional. Waltrip, who was 20th in owner points, was too low in the owner point’s position to make the race.
In the off-season of 1997-1998, Waltrip and his team were struggling to find sponsors, but were able to put together a last-minute deal with the Ohio-based company Speedblock for 1998. Speedblock only paid portions of what was promised, and the deal was canceled. Waltrip at this point was nearly bankrupt, and sold the team to Tim Beverly.
In 1998 Darrell Waltrip was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.
After a brief flirtation with retirement in 1999, Waltrip signed to drive the #66 Big K Ford Taurus for Haas-Carter Motorsports and be Jimmy Spencer’s new teammate. Waltrip failed to qualify seven times during that season.
During his retirement year of 2000, Waltrip's best run came at the Brickyard 400, where he qualified on the outside pole and finished eleventh.
After his 2000 retirement, he signed with Fox to be the lead analyst on the network's NASCAR telecasts, teamed with Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds.
Waltrip began his career with Fox by calling the 2001 Daytona 500. After Earnhardt’s fatal crash you could openly hear Darrell on air nervously saying “Is Earnhardt okay?” before they cut to commercials. His brother Michael Waltrip won the race, but Michael's victory was overshadowed by the tragic death of Michael’s car owner, teammate, and friend, Dale Earnhardt.
A week after Daytona, Waltrip interviewed NASCAR President Mike Helton for a pre-race segment during the broadcast at North Carolina Speedway. Waltrip believed that four deaths in the previous ten months, all caused by basilar skull fractures incurred in accidents, was too many, and he was not shy about asking Helton for an explanation. Helton's responses irritated Waltrip, who was referred by one magazine as "acting a lot more like the next Mike Wallace, of 60 Minutes, than the next John Madden."
He then pushed for mandatory head-and-neck restraints, and two weeks later, demonstrated the device during the broadcast in Atlanta Motor Speedway, explaining the device. Seven months later, NASCAR mandated the devices after a crash during an ARCA Re/Max Series race held after qualifying for the UAW-GM Quality 500 killed driver Blaise Alexander.
Waltrip fielded a Toyota sponsored by Japanese industrial giant NTN for his Craftsman (Camping World) Truck Series team in 2004. David Reutimann drove the truck for the team and earned Rookie of the Year honors that year.
Waltrip's team expanded to two trucks in 2005. In August 2005, the revived Darrell Waltrip Motorsports won its first race, the Toyota Tundra 200 at Nashville Superspeedway with Reutimann driving.
In 2006, he played a color commentator for the Disney/Pixar movie Cars. He played the role as Darrell Cartrip, an obvious pun on his name. He also appeared in the broadcast booth in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby where his phrase was "in racing you have good days and bad days and Ricky Bobby just had himself a bad day".
In early 2007, Waltrip was nominated for an Emmy in the category "Outstanding Event Analyst". During the Craftsman (Camping World) truck series 2007 season, A.J. Allmendinger drove the #00 Red Bull Toyota but with minimal success. By year’s end the team was sold to Andy Lally and Road Racing "Super Team" The Racer's Group (TRG). The team is now the #7 Chevrolet driven by Lally, Darrell Waltrip is now completely unaffiliated with his former team.
In 2009, Waltrip appeared in a Fox public service announcement for breast cancer awareness.
As the cars take the green flag to start each race, Waltrip shouts "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity let's go racing boys!" This phrase has become Waltrip's trademark in recent years. Waltrip explained that the catchphrase arose because, as a driver, he grew tired of hearing his spotter or crew chief say "Green, green, green" at the start of every race and wanted to hear something more original. The catchphrase is always preceded by fellow analyst and former crew chief Larry McReynolds telling Waltrip to "Reach up there and pull those belts tight one more time!"