Michael Waltrip puts Swan Racing, Newtown in Daytona 500By Kelly Crandall
For at least a couple hours, Michael Waltrip feels confident he made those in Newtown, Connecticut smile.
Waltrip finished 14th in the first Budweiser Duel race at Daytona, which earns him a spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Driving his Swan Racing Toyota in a one-race deal, Waltrip put the single car team in the biggest event of the year.
“It’s just an honor to be able to race this car. We went to Newtown a couple weeks ago and met with the town, couldn’t wait to give them something to smile about,” said Waltrip after the 60 lap race.
“It’s been obviously a tough couple of months. All the fans are texting Newtown 80888, rebuilding the town, whatever they need that money for, we’re glad we can help out. Secondarily, we know we’re going to give them something to cheer about in the 500. There’s no many race fans in the northeast, it’s an honor to race it.”
Everything on Waltrip’s car is a reminder of the tragedy in the small CT town on December 14. From the green and white paint scheme, which are the school colors, to the number on the door, 26. The Swan Racing car traditionally runs the No. 30 but was changed to honor the 26 victims of the school shooting, 20 adults and six children.
Decals on the car provide viewers with a number in order to donate to the Sandy Hook School Support fund. The quarter panels read NEWTOWN 80888 which donates $10 on behalf of anyone who texts the number.
Before the deal was announced at NASCAR Media Day earlier this month, Waltrip and other members of the racing community traveled to Newtown to reveal the plans for the car. The reaction was exactly what Waltrip had hoped, those of thankfulness and appreciation. NASCAR chairman Brian France, who traveled with Waltrip, donated $50,000 to the fund, which NASCAR matched.
Now, the team sets their sights on Sunday’s race. Waltrip is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500 but feels he’s racing for a more important reason.
“It’s always something. It seems like every time I was carrying a lot of hopes and dreams, people that I wanted to cheer up on my car,” noted Waltrip on having to race into the 500 once again. “So it meant a lot to us to put it in. Two cars are going to miss it [the Daytona 500]. If I get wrecked in that crash, I could have been one of the two.”
The team Waltrip drives for, Swan Racing, is co-owned by fellow driver David Stremme. The crew chief is Tony Eury Jr., whom Waltrip worked with back when he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the early 2000s. Both Waltrip and Eury Jr. know what success at Daytona feels like, each with their own wins.
Stremme will field the car the remainder of the year, but called upon his friend to assist the team in not only making the race, but to give them a chance to win the event. Waltrip will start 29th on the 43 car grid when the green flag falls on Sunday afternoon.
“I’m happy. Tony Jr. is so much fun to work with. Brandon Davis and those folks at Swan Racing, I think it’s a great story,” said Waltrip. “They said, ‘We’re going to come in and race, figure this out.’ David Stremme has been to every auction, shop, bought parts from Roush [Fenway Racing], from us [Michael Waltrip Racing], all over, just putting this team together.
“Stremme is a great story. No one is working any harder, cares more, wants to be part of this deal any worse than David. I’m glad we got him in the race. That’s a big deal for the team, for the sponsor, for the community. It’s really rewarding to be able to accomplish that.”