Waltrip performs multiple roles in NASCAR
by ERICH HILKERT
TALLADEGA—Michael Waltrip was a busy man on Friday. After teams had completed practice, Waltrip was devoting a significant amount of time to shooting television spots with the FOX network, both inside and outside. In between takes, Waltrip was a good sport about signing autographs for fans.

Did Waltrip have time to talk?

“I’m still working,” he said.

“Sorry, bud,” added one of the tv guys.

Two fans from Knoxville, Tenn. waited patiently while Waltrip did multiple takes before they pounced on the opportunity to get Waltrip’s autograph. It was hard to miss Waltrip with his towering six feet and five inches figure in a crimson uniform.

On Sunday, he will drive an Alabama car in the Aaron’s 499 to commemorate the Crimson Tide’s 2012 national championship team. It is the fourth consecutive year he has commemorated the college football’s national championship winner.

Roll Tide is printed in crimson on the tail of the car with the Aaron’s mascot dog sandwiched between the two chant words that also double as a greeting for those living in Tuscaloosa. The Toyota Camry is white on the sides with a crimson top and hood.

Fans came by garage slot 19, where a Crimson Alabama flag hangs in the bottom right corner of the metal No. 55 Aaron’s sign, just to snap pictures of Waltrip’s Alabama car.

On Saturday, when he had more time to talk, Waltrip explained what has been most enjoyable about coming to Talladega through the years.

“Some of my fondest memories are back in 1986 when I started coming here as a rookie we stayed in the Days Inn in Anniston and just seeing how folks love the sport and wanted to just talk to you about the sport and now today with the infield and all the energy around the event—just sharing stories. People wanting the hat off my head, people wanting to talk about [Clint] Bowyer being so crazy or [Martin] Truex [Jr.] being so close to winning. I’m more of a fan than a lot of you realize and so a lot of times I’ll sneak off and just go wandering around the infield at race tracks and a lot of people do that here, so my goal is just more or less say ‘Hi’ to the fans and hang out. I’m weird. They like me.”

Prior to Waltrip’s acting turn, Clint Bowyer, who races for the Michael Waltrip Racing imprint, was performing a brief interview with the same crew Waltrip worked with.

Perhaps fans don’t often think about the multiple duties NASCAR drivers take on, and Waltrip is an extreme example. At this point in his career, the Owensboro, Ky. native focuses primarily on being the owner of a racing team and only races at a handful of races each year. The two-time Daytona 500 champion competed at that track earlier this season, starting in the 29 spot and finishing in the 22 spot.

Because of his sporadic racing schedule, Waltrip explained that the pre-race process is more essential to him than the drivers who compete every week.

“Well, yesterday was hugely important for me because when you take off from Daytona until May, there’s so many things you need to orient yourself with, something as simple as just being able to see the water temperature and water pressure gauges in your peripheral without having to pay attention to them, understanding how the cars move when other cars come around you,” he said. “I have to do a whole lot of visualization. After practice yesterday, this morning, before I race tomorrow, I visualize what I saw in practice and what I think I’ll see during the race. And the other cats, it’s repetition—they were racing last weekend side to side, bumper to bumper all over each other, so theirs just comes natural. I have to really focus my mind on the task at hand in order to make sure I’m ready for it. Quite honestly, for the first 100 miles or so, I won’t be aggressive at all because it’s just a matter of getting in the flow and getting back to what you know you know how to do so well. My last victory in NASCAR in the Cup Series came here at Talladega in 2003 and so I know how to win here.”

A pretty solid actor, Waltrip recited some of the cheesy lines drafted by the television producer and Waltrip ad-libbed quite a few of his own lines. The scripted lines should have sounded hollow, but somehow, Waltrip sounded convincing.

He should be a good actor; he has worked his way into FOX as an analyst for NASCAR on FOX and frequently performs national commercials, so this television spot was old routine for him.

“The television work keeps me involved,” Waltrip said. “I get to participate. I’m on a team. The FOX team in my opinion is the best commitment to NASCAR I’ve ever seen, and I’m just thankful that I get to be on their team. Sitting in the hotel with Chris Meyers, I watch every lap of the race with my eyes wide open looking for stories or angles that I might be able to explain to the fans.”

© 2013