Monday, February 1, 2010

Michael Waltrip

Michael Curtis Waltrip was born on April 30th of 1963 in Owensboro, Kentucky to Margaret and Leroy Waltrip. He is the younger brother of three-time NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup champion Darrell Waltrip. His other siblings include Connie, Carolyn, and Bobby.

Michael's first go-kart race was in Olney, Illinois, through the Southern Indiana Racing Association (SIRA) at the tender age of 13. The track was a road course, which Michael enjoyed. He was running the same type of go-kart as the famed Green boys, but he experienced mechanical troubles with his ride. His friend, 13 year old Jeff Green, came to the rescue. Jeff disassembled the carburetor and repaired the go-kart right on the track. Michael went on to win that day, thanks to his buddy but future rival.

Waltrip's stock-car career got off the ground in 1981, when he captured the Mini-Modified division track championship at Kentucky Motor Speedway the same year his brother Darrell won his first Winston (Sprint) Cup championship.

In 1982 Waltrip competed in his first race in the Goody's Dash Series.

In 1983 he won the championship in the Goody’s Dash Series and won the Most Popular Driver award; he won the Most Popular Driver Award again in that series in 1984.

In 1984 Michael wanted to make it big so he moved to North Carolina to move in with his good friend Kyle Petty who was still living with his champion father Richard. Darrell never really wanted to teach Michael anything because he wanted him to learn the ropes the same way he did but when he moved in with the Petty’s Richard trained him in a whole new way.

Waltrip made his Winston (Sprint) Cup debut in the 1985 Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway driving for Dick Bahre in the #23 Mell-Gear Pontiac; he qualified 24th and finished 28th after dropping out 500 miles into the race his brother Darrell won.

Michael had his first full season in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series in 1986, driving the #23 Hawaiian Punch car for Bahari Racing. Waltrip finished 19th overall in points and second in the rookie of the year battle to Alan Kulwicki.

In 1987, he posted his first career top-ten finish when he ended up tenth in the spring race at Martinsville Speedway in his #30 All-Pro Chevy Monte Carlo.

In 1988, Michael began running in the Busch (Nationwide) Series, making five starts for his Brother Darrell's fledgling team; this was the first time his brother let him drive for his team and that paid off because Michael took the checkered flag for the first time at Dover in only his fourth Busch (Nationwide) start.

In 1989, he had his first top-five finish in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series in the #30 Country Time Lemonade/Kool Aid Pontiac. Again he won at Dover in the Busch (Nationwide) Series; overall he had four poles and eight top tens in only 14 races in the second-tier NASCAR series while driving for himself.

Michael was a new father when Caitlin Marie Waltrip was born on January 12, 1990 just 2 months before the race at Bristol that could have took her father’s life. Waltrip, after making contact with Steve Grissom, hit the wall head on and his Busch (Nationwide) car all but disintegrated. Waltrip only suffered bruises in the incident that left only the roll cage with Michael in the driver’s seat. The accident was referenced in a 2008 NAPA Auto Parts commercial. Waltrip was signing die-cast replica cars when a fan showed up with pieces of the 1990 car crashed for Waltrip to sign.

In 1991, he gained new sponsorship from Pennzoil and won his first two career pole positions; he finished 15th in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series points.

In 1992 Michael won in the Gatorade 200 at Darlington in the Busch (Nationwide) Series.

1993 was a very assorted year for Michael’s emotions. In April his good friend and Rookie of the Year competitor Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash. Two days later when he won the Busch (Nationwide) Series Budweiser 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway he did a polish victory lap in honor of Alan. In victory lane he proposed to Elizabeth "Buffy" Franks to whom he married November 27, 1993. He finished 17th in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series points that year.

In April of 1994 Michael was a team owner in the Busch (Nationwide) Series for the first time with childhood friend Jeff Green driving it to a third place finish.

In 1995 at Michigan International Speedway, Waltrip lashed out at fellow driver, Lake Speed. Waltrip struck Speed twice on national television, while Speed was still strapped in his car. Waltrip was fined $10,000 for his actions. At the end of that season Michael was released from Bahari Racing and Johnny Benson was put in that car.

After moving to the #21 Wood Brothers CITGO Ford Thunderbird for 1996, Michael won The Winston. He started his own team in the Busch (Nationwide) Series in the #21 Band-Aid Ford with Roush engines running select races. "The reason I have a Busch team is because of Darrell," Michael said. "I always liked how he had a car of his own to fiddle with. He was off driving for Junior Johnson, but he had his own shop and had his own guys. It was something that I always looked at and thought one day that's what I want to do. So in '96 I started my Busch team and we've been successful, won some poles, and won some races." In his first year with his new Busch (Nationwide) Series team, Michael gained three top 5's, four top 10's, and qualified on the pole after just ten races. In Winston (Sprint) Cup, he finished 14th in points with eleven top 10's and a top 5.

On September 27, 1997 Michael's second child Margaret “Macy” Carol was born. In his very first race in the Winston West Series at Pikes Peak, Michael led 186 laps and won the race.

After missing his first race since 1986 and the Wood Brothers first since 1971 at the 1998 Dura Lube/Kmart 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway, Waltrip departed the Woods at the end of 1998 to drive the #7 Philips Chevrolet for Mattei Motorsports.

In 2000, Nations Rent replaced Philips as the sponsor of his #7 and Waltrip moved up to twenty seventh in points but finished in the top-five once, causing him and the team to part ways at the end of the season. On January 10th, his father Leroy passed away at the age 76 after a three-year struggle with cancer. He had died without having seen Michael win a Winston Cup race. On April 18, 2000, Waltrip ran the Boston Marathon. He finished 14,315th out of 17,813, and was the first person ever who raced this Marathon and the Daytona 500. In December, he ran in the inaugural Hop's Marathon by the Bay in Tampa, Florida. He finished 1209th, out of 3200 entrants.

Waltrip was hired by Dale Earnhardt Inc. to drive their newly formed #15 NAPA Chevrolet. In his first race with the team, the 2001 Daytona 500, Michael was in the lead with his teammate and boss’s son Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him when there was a wreck in turn four. The race continued and Michael won it snapping a 463 race losing streak. The race was bitter-sweet because the wreck that was in turn four was his boss and friend Dale Earnhardt who lost his life due to a head injury. After that race Michael didn’t have a top ten until the next race at Daytona, the Pepsi 400. He finished 24th that year in the standings.

In 2002 he picked up his second career win at Daytona again, except this time it was the July Pepsi 400. He finished fourteenth in the standings which was ten places above the previous year.

In 2003 Michael won the rain-shortened opening race at Daytona yet again but this time he got to enjoy it; that was his third win at Daytona, all three with his brother Darrell in the broadcasting booth for Fox. He won one more race that year and finished 15th in points.

In 2005 he had one pole, and seven top tens but at the end of the year he announced he and his sponsor NAPA would leave DEI to drive the #55 Dodge Charger for Bill Davis Racing. Through a silly-season mess Michael ended up using the defunct #77 Jasper Motorsports team points for the first five races under the Waltrip-Jasper Racing banner to guarantee a starting spot. Michael failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600 so he bought the qualifying spot from Derrike Cope so he would keep his streak of 262 races alive. He ended up missing three races that season ending his streak.

Waltrip formed his own team, Michael Waltrip Racing, for the 2007 season. He hired Dale Jarrett and David Reutimann to drive along side of him in Toyotas. After a controversy at Daytona Michael had to resort to an interim Crew Chief; it was Scott Eggleston, who was Waltrip's former crew chief in 2001. After a 30th place finish in the Daytona 500, Waltrip became the first driver in series history to go into the second race of the season with a negative number of points due to being docked 100 at Daytona; -27. Waltrip failed to qualify for the next eleven races following the Daytona 500, so he maintained his negative point total for almost 4 months. He qualified for the thirteenth race of the season at Dover and finished 28th, moving his point total above zero to 52 points. Jarrett used a provisional to qualify for five of the first six races, and Reutimann had to use two. On Saturday April 7, 2007 Waltrip fell asleep behind the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser which overturned and struck a utility pole. Michael crawled out from the car suffering only minor cuts. There was no NEXTEL (Sprint) Cup race held that weekend but he was charged with reckless driving and failing to report an accident. In October, Michael won the pole for the UAW-Ford 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the first restrictor plate race to be run with the Car of Tomorrow. He finished 25th after a wreck, but bounced back the next week at Lowes Motor Speedway with his second top-10 finish of the season. Him and his team had one of the worst seasons for a team in NASCAR history but would eventually bounce back.

In 2008, Michael Waltrip Racing underwent a change following the disappointing 2007 campaign. Waltrip welcomed business owner Robert Kaufmann, owner/founder of the Fortress Investment Group and was made an equal partner and got more aid with real estate developer Johnny Harris buying into the team during the 2007 off-season. Former PPC Racing owner Cal Wells III also bought into the team. The name also underwent a change as it now operates as Michael Waltrip Racing Holdings LLC. On February 10, 2008, Michael qualified second for the 50th running of the Daytona 500. Waltrip started the race with "gold wheels" on his car in tribute to the golden anniversary of the Daytona 500; after the race the wheels were signed and sold to benefit NASCAR charities. After leading the first two laps, he was not a factor in the race and finished 26th. Waltrip made his 1,000th NASCAR touring series start at Atlanta in October. He is second only to 7-time champion Richard Petty in most career starts spanning all of the top divisions in NASCAR.

In early 2009, Waltrip announced that he, Scott Speed, and David Reutimann would be splitting the #99 Nationwide Series Aaron’s dream machine Toyota throughout the year. On May 25, 2009 Michael Waltrip scored his first win as an owner in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600, with David Reutimann winning his very first race. On July 7, 2009 Waltrip announced he would be driving part-time in the 2010 season starting with the Daytona 500. Waltrip also announced Martin Truex Jr. will be joining Michael Waltrip Racing as the driver of the #56 NAPA Toyota full time in 2010. One thing Michael did for fun in 2009 was he appeared on an episode of My Name is Earl entitled "Inside Probe”.

For the 2010 Daytona 500 Michael is racing the #51 in tribute to previous car owner and friend Dale Earnhardt; Dale won the daytona 500 in the #15 so Michael is running it in reverse.

He currently lives in Sherrills Ford, North Carolina with his wife Buffy in a 200 year old farmhouse.

In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything

Wikipedia:Michael Waltrip