Waltrip leads third Hall of Fame class
But on the eve on his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, 'ol DW had no idea what he's going to say in tonight's ceremony.
"I've written 10 speeches and after the 10th one, I threw it away, and said ‘I can't write a speech,'" Waltrip said. "I'm pretty spontaneous, so I'm just going to get up and say what I think and hope it's the right thing."
Waltrip hasn't always said the right thing in a career that dates back to his 1972 debut in NASCAR's top series. He angered his rivals as a driver, and his strong opinions as an analyst for both Fox Sports and Speed have made him one of the more polarizing commentators in NASCAR.
Some might even think it cost him a shot in last year's voting, when despite three championships and 84 victories, Waltrip was shut out of the second Hall of Fame class. Waltrip had signed on with Speed as an analyst for voting day, and from his perch on the stage at the back of the Great Hall, his face couldn't hide his heartbreak over not making the second class.
He tried not to get his hopes up this time around, but everybody knew how badly Waltrip wanted to be included in the third class. Brian France called his name last June, Waltrip rushed onto the podium and kissed the NASCAR chairman.
Waltrip goes into the Hall of Fame with three-time champion Cale Yarborough, NASCAR modified great Richie Evans, innovative crew chief Dale Inman and Glen Wood, one of NASCAR's original team owners.
The show will belong to Waltrip, though, who knew as a child he wanted to be an entertainer and found a way to incorporate his desire to perform into his NASCAR career. He was brash and bold and loved being in front of the cameras.
His style, his showmanship, was like nothing NASCAR had ever seen before and paved the way for more personality from the drivers.
"I always thought it would be fun to be an actor, or a comedian, but I guess race car driving suited me," he said.
Evans, winner of nine NASCAR national modified championships over a 13-year span, was killed in a 1985 accident at Martinsville Speedway. He was 44.
Yarborough from 1976-78 became the first driver in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships, a record that stood until Jimmie Johnson's run of five-straight titles. He finished second in the standings another three times, and ended his career with 83 victories—sixth on the all-time list.
Yarborough was a four-time Daytona 500 winner, but decided in 1980 to run only partial schedules for the final nine years of his career.
"I realized I had three daughters growing up and I was away from them all the time," he said. "Even though racing was very important in my life, I felt like they were a little more important so I was going to spend some more time with them and be with them in their growing-up years. There's no telling how many wins I left on the table, but I definitely made the right decision."
Inman led his cousin, Hall of Famer Richard Petty, to a record seven championships. The crew chief won an eighth title with Terry Labonte. From 1958 to 1992, he led drivers to 193 wins and 129 poles.
His standout year was 1967 when he guided Petty to a NASCAR-record, 27 races—including 10-straight—in a single car built a year earlier.
Wood, at 86 the oldest member of this incoming class, formed a race team that still competes today in Stuart, Va., with his four brothers. Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 last year for the Wood Brothers, giving the team its 98th victory spanning seven different decades. Bayne's win was the team's fifth Daytona 500 victory, and the Wood Brothers also won the 1965 Indianapolis 500 with Jim Clark.
Kyle Busch signs brother Kurt
The Busch Brothers will be teamed together for the first time in more than a decade this season as co-drivers for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Kyle Busch tabbed his older brother, Kurt, to share the No. 54 Toyota this year in the Nationwide Series. The brothers on Thursday introduced Monster Energy as their sponsor for the new team.
KBM has fielded a Truck Series team since 2010, but this will be its first year in stock-cars and in NASCAR's second-tier series.
"We've had a lot of talks about how this whole deal is going to work out, what we're both looking to get out of this and what a great opportunity this is to race in the Nationwide Series," Kyle Busch said.
The pairing of the Busch brothers brings together the two most polarizing drivers in NASCAR, and it's the first time they'll be teamed together since they drove for their father more than a decade ago.
It also marks a turning point in both of their careers.
Kyle Busch had to fight hard in November to keep his job when he was suspended by NASCAR for intentionally wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Truck race at Texas. His primary sponsors had been pushed to the edge by Busch, but with the help of Sprint Cup Series owner Joe Gibbs, he kept his program intact.
Kurt Busch then lost his job in December when he split with Penske Racing after yet another public meltdown. He's since put together a Cup deal with fledgling Phoenix Racing and now has this Nationwide package with his brother.