Michael Waltrip will start his 1000th race this season in the NASCAR elite series, Cup, Nationwide and Trucks. Not too bad for a driver that a lot of folks consider a clown and shouldn't be on the track. Now Michael will be only the second in History to achieve 1000 starts, second only to the King, Richard Petty.
So how does a no talent like Michael Waltrip stay around long enough to make his 1000th career start? Well, first you have to be able to drive a race car and give the owner the feeling that he/she has a chance to win. In Michaels early years he raced for Bahre racing. This was a low budget team, similar to HAAS in todays world but Mikey was always capable of keeping the car in the top 20 in points. No they never won a race but they were competitive. After Bahre, dropped out of racing the Wood Brothers came calling. The Wood Brothers, once one of the feared teams in NASCAR, hadn't done much the previous few years, even with drivers like Elliott Saddler, but in 1996 Mikey did something that no other driver had ever done. He won the Winston Qualifying race then went on to win the Winston. It was his very first victory in a cup car and although it wasn't a points race and therefore doesn't count in his record it showed that Michael could win at the top level against the best, when the best were going all out for the cash.
After a 3 year stint with the Wood Brothers, Michael went with another Start Up team, this time Jim Mattie/Jim Smith in the 7 car. Being a start up team, the team didn't do a whole lot but Mikey was still competitive especially at the plate tracks.
Then came his big break, Dale Earnhardt came calling. When Dale hired Michael, a lot of questions as to why? Dales response was that Michael had never had good equipment and given the equipment Dale fetl that Michael would win races. He also went on to say that Michael would bring DEI their first Daytona 500 Victory. Dale said Michael was one of the best in the draft and that past equipment was the only reason he had never won a plate track.
Well we all know what happened the very first race Michael raced for DEI, Michael won the Daytona 500 but didn't get to celebrate because of the tragic death of his friend and ledgen Dale Earnhardt. Come July's race at Daytona, it was clear the 15 NAPA Chevy was the class of the field but he wanted his friend and the son of Dale Earnhardt to win. So Michael did everything that he needed to do to make sure that Dale Junior won that race. The last two laps Michael put blocks on Drivers that no one else would have attempted, putting himself at risk so Junior could celebrat at the track that took his dad's life.
After his stint with DEI Michael started his own race team. He did this because Toytoa came knocking on the Door and asked him if he was ready to take his Bush team to the next level. I know a lot of folks have really gotten onto Michael because of how his team ran last year and the first part of this season, but people forget this was a new team, working with a new car, new manufacture and those combinations take time. I do believe though that Michael has shown that MWR is turning the corner and can/will be competitive in 2009 with David and Mikey.
But there is another side of Michael that keeps him in the cup series and that is his natural ability to pitch his sponsors. Michael learned from his brother that the TV is your friend and he figured out that if you kept his sponsors in the forefront when being interviewed they will stay around. This is what Michael has been able to do, he keeps his sponsors on the tip of your tounge. How many people think of NAPA when you mention Michael's name. Usually, the conversation turns to the commericals he makes. Also, Michael welcomes the camera he doesn't want to hurry up the interview so he can run away, he wants the camera on him, his uniform showing his sponsors, as much as possible. And as we all know air time is money, and money runs the show.
So Here's to Michael, a good driver, not great, who has the charm and witt about him to last in the sport he loves for 25 plus years. To take a talent and sell it to millions around the world not just for his benefit but for the entertainment that the sport is to bring. May he and his organization have a very successful 2009 season, and many more success in the future.