HOMETOWN: Owensboro, KY
RESIDENCE: Sherril’s Ford, NC
Long-time NASCAR fans most likely know Michael Waltrip as a two-time Daytona 500 champion driving for his friend Dale Earnhardt or the younger brother of Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip.
Current fans may know him as a television analyst on Fox Sports and Speed, an author, social media personality and frequent star of national television commercials.
It is his desire that future fans view him as one of the most successful car owners in NASCAR’s premier series. If 2012 was any indication, the future may be now.
The young organization which Waltrip started just six short years ago, burst onto the NASCAR Sprint Cup scene in 2012, posting three wins, five pole positions, an organizational record for top 5s, top 10s and laps led, qualifying two drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and finally grabbing the runner-up position in the championship standings by just 39 points.
And at 49, Waltrip is among the youngest owners in all of NASCAR.
While the 2012 season was an unparalleled success for MWR, Waltrip knows long term success requires more than just on-track performance. The commercial side of the sport has never been more important and that’s been a sweet-spot for Waltrip and his race team since its inception.
In 2012, longtime partner NAPA extended its agreement on the No. 56 while 5-hour ENERGY made its debut as Bowyer’s primary sponsor. The organization welcomed PEAK to its sponsor family during the season joining corporate heavyweights Toyota, Aaron’s, AAA and Freightliner.
One of the reasons for commercial success is Waltrip’s role in the sport as one of its most visible personalities in virtually every form of media. That will not lessen in 2013; in fact it might even grow.
He’ll play a key role on the Fox NASCAR SUNDAY pre-race team again taking a seat in the Hollywood Hotel alongside big brother Darrell and host Chris Myers. In addition to his pre-race work, Waltrip will continue to contribute analysis and updates in-race during Fox coverage and as an analyst on SPEED-TV for its NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Hollywood could also be on the horizon as Sony Pictures plans to begin work on bringing Waltrip’s best-selling book “In the Blink of an Eye” to the big screen. The book marked the 10th anniversary of Waltrip’s 2001 Daytona 500 victory. After hitting the shelves in January 2011, it soared to fourth and spent 11 weeks on The New York Times Best-Seller list.
The book is Waltrip’s minute-by-minute account of the day that saw him break a 0 for 462 slump and climb to the pinnacle of his racing career, only to learn moments later of the tragic loss of his car owner and friend Dale Earnhardt. Waltrip’s struggle to come to grips with the aftermath and build a successful career and race team also highlight the manuscript.
Down-to-earth humor and personality continue to keep Waltrip at the forefront of popularity. He boasts a growing Twitter following of 190,000, and he’s a hit at sponsor appearances across the country.
At heart, Waltrip isn’t an author, movie maker, or television personality. He’s a racer. At Daytona in July he finished ninth and at Talladega in October Waltrip looked ready to win the race. As the pack thundered through the final two turns Tony Stewart blocked Waltrip’s bid for the lead triggering a massive accident that relegated Waltrip to a 25th-place finish.
Waltrip will get another chance in 2013 racing the No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine at both Talladega races and at Daytona in July. Waltrip will again join MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman behind the wheel of a Ferrari in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and probably more sports car races throughout the season.
The 2013 season promises to be another busy time for Waltrip on and off the track. But if his team’s on-track success continues the Waltrip name will be synonymous with not only victory lane and the television booth but move him to the sport’s upper echelon of car owners.
Waltrip’s path to success began as a little boy when he decided to follow his dream to become a champion race car driver like his older brother Darrell. The younger Waltrip began his career racing go-karts in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee. His stock car racing career took off in 1981, when he won the Mini-Modified division track championship at Kentucky Motor Speedway.
In 1983, Waltrip won the NASCAR Dash Series championship. Soon after, he moved to North Carolina, where he lived with NASCAR racing legend Richard Petty and his wife Lynda. Waltrip credits Richard not only with giving him his first job in racing, but also with providing the advice and guidance that prepared him for his future as a successful driver and car owner.
In 1985, Waltrip started five NASCAR Sprint Cup races for Richard (Dick) Bahre, making his debut at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in May. The following year, Waltrip completed his first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, finishing 19th in the point standings driving for Bahre. Waltrip drove for Chuck Rider from 1987 to 1995 and the Wood Brothers from 1996 to 1998. During his tenure at the Wood Brothers, Waltrip scored a dramatic win in the 1996 NASCAR All-Star race.
Waltrip drove for Jim Smith from 1999 to 2000 in the Sprint Cup Series. In 2001, Waltrip moved to Dale Earnhardt, Inc. to drive the NAPA AUTO PARTS race car, winning four times in five seasons including Daytona 500 victories in 2001 and 2003.
Waltrip not only competed for the 2007 championship in the No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry, but he also expanded his role as a full-time car owner for three Sprint Cup teams and a NASCAR Nationwide Series team. He opened the doors of his one-of-a-kind race shop and fan experience in a former movie theater in Cornelius, N.C. Waltrip and his teammates, former champion Dale Jarrett and rookie David Reutimann, led Toyota’s efforts during the manufacturer’s first year in Sprint Cup competition. Waltrip captured MWR’s first pole at Talladega that season.
The 2008 season saw Waltrip qualify his No. 55 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota Camry on the front row of the 50th running of the Daytona 500. On Oct. 26 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, he achieved an impressive milestone when he made his 1,000th NASCAR start. Waltrip, Mark Martin and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Richard Petty are the only drivers to have accomplished the feat.
In 2009, Waltrip celebrated his 25th season in NASCAR’s premiere division and ninth season with sponsor NAPA AUTO PARTS. In May, Waltrip announced MWR’s sponsorship extension with NAPA and named Martin Truex Jr. as his successor to drive the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. The season saw Waltrip’s organization earn its first Sprint Cup victory with Reutimann’s win at the 50th running of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Waltrip’s first years of semi-retirement in 2010 and 2011 found him busier than ever with racing trips around the world, highlighted by racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Rolex 24, performing a burnout in a stock car at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. He devoted time to writing his book, working in television, racing and spending time at the shop working with MWR’s teams and sponsors plus overseeing MWR’s burgeoning race operations.