Darrell Waltrip needs to stay in that Fox broadcast booth and holler “Boogity, boogity, boogity!” until he or NASCAR keels over, whichever comes first.
What qualifies as a stock-car controversy these days has broken out over Waltrip’s status as a NASCAR TV commentator, a job he has held since retiring as a driver in 2000.
Adam Stern at Sports Business Journal, citing “people familiar,” reported that Waltrip is considering retiring after the 2019 season. Jenna Fryer, who covers NASCAR for the Associated Press, suggested in a column that Waltrip should retire after Fox’s last race in June.
Ol’ D.W. is 72 years old and not as quick or as clever as he used to be. People have been known to turn down the volume on telecasts to avoid his unapologetic Tennessee twang. Some find his “Boogity, boogity, boogity” call not just corny and stale, but annoying.
“The 1-2 punch of Waltrip and Mike Joy spend too much time spinning yarns from the good ol’ days while relative newcomer Jeff Gordon awkwardly guffaws along with the gang,” Fryer wrote in the tough but fair column.
Although readers usually don’t tell writers when they like something, the column drew a lot of negative reaction on Twitter from fans who said they love Ol’ D.W. and that he should just stay put. Ripping a guy who won 84 Cup races and three titles and sometimes talks like an auctioneer with a chaw was mean!
Waltrip should retire on his own terms, they said, and I agree. He should stay in the booth and keep talking about the old days until he goes or all the fans from the old days are gone. NASCAR fans love old days and golden oldies.
Fox could build a new fan base with new announcers, but why push aside the old? Besides, Willie Nelson is 13 years older than Waltrip, and no one is pushing him aside.
Of the 3.65 million that watched Fox’s coverage of the race from Fort Worth, Texas, just 754,000, 20%, were in the advertisers’ sweet spot, ages 18 to 49. Two years ago, the same race was watched by 4.53 million, of which 1.163 million, 26%, were between 18 and 49.
NASCAR fans are getting older, and older people don’t buy stuff, but older people are what NASCAR has, so it makes perfect sense to keep a colorful old guy as a commentator. Plus, TV ratings are not cratering this year like they did last year. They are even up, a little. There is some buzz: Chevrolets don’t win any more, but Fords and Toyotas do.
Waltrip took to his Twitter feed to deliver what sure seemed like a shot at his detractors, posting the defiant lyrics of “That’s Life,” the Frank Sinatra song from 1963, the year the late, great Joe Weatherly won his second and final NASCAR Grand National title.
Waltrip seems like the kind of celebrity who could shake off any criticism with a cute little joke or a punchy anecdote, but he is a proud guy, so maybe he should remain, as he did as a driver, in a career that ended when he was 53 years old.
I was sent to Indianapolis to cover the Brickyard 400 in August 2000, Waltrip’s last year in a car. He’d become a story by qualifying second for the race, which was then much more prestigious and well-attended than it is now. I walked over to Gasoline Alley to try to find him.
He was sitting on a jack in his garage, holding court with a couple of reporters. Waltrip had not won a race in eight years and had not finished higher than 22nd in any race that year.
At one point, he said with typical self-deprecation, “Like they say, a blind hog should be able to find an acorn every once in a while, and I thought this old blind hog would be able to find an acorn or two.”
Then he said, ”I didn’t think we’d be great,” he said, ”but I didn’t think we’d be as bad as we’ve been sometimes. But I don’t think we’ll go back to the same place and make the same mistakes now.”
Waltrip finished 11th the next day — not bad at all — but he did not come close to matching that finish in the last 12 races of his career. It was not the way he wanted to go out, but he did it his way, and maybe sometimes legends like he and Richard Petty earn that privilege.
“It’s hard for me to do what I do on Sundays,” Waltrip said as he sat in the garage at Indianapolis. “And it’d be very easy for me to say: ‘OK, I’m not competitive anymore. I quit.’ ”
Ol’ D.W. is not a quitter! So he should stay on. And the fans who don’t like that can listen with the sound muted. Boogity, boogity, boogity: just pick yourself up and get back in the race, as Frank sang a mere 56 years ago.