SONOMA, Calif. – This weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 returns the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series to Sonoma Raceway, the furthest west they visit in their annual schedule. It will be the first of three road courses on the 2019 schedule which includes the reinstatement of the carousel last raced in the late ’90s. The K&N Pro West Series will also join the Cup drivers with their race on Saturday.
Darrell Waltrip will also broadcast his final race this weekend.
Over the past several weeks, NASCAR, drivers, teams, tracks and sponsors have all pitched in their appreciation of Waltrip’s Hall of Fame legacy since he announced his retirement from the booth at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“This sport has rewarded me time and time and time again,” Waltrip shared in the media center a couple of months ago at Bristol. “Not just with trophies and the success on the track but with friends, people I’ll never forget. They say you get what you give. Well, I gave a lot, but I got a whole lot more in return.”
And that whole lot more giving in return didn’t stop. A few drivers took the initiative to dedicate a throwback paint scheme.
David Ragan, driver of the No. 38, decided to have his car wrapped with the official hashtag, #ThanksDW. His hood was a headshot of Darrell Waltrip from the booth, and the back had Darrell’s infamous term “Boogity.”
“I think Darrell is one of those guys like Richard Petty, Junior Johnson back in the early days,” Ragan shared reflecting on Waltrip’s legacy in the sport. “He had a really successful driving career, and then he went on to make a real impact on the broadcast side. He’s really dedicated his whole life to NASCAR racing.”
Many drivers spend time outside of NASCAR to catch up with other lifetime hobbies and step out of the spotlight to settle down and enjoy life. Carl Edwards comes to mind as one of the more recent drivers that even car owner Joe Gibbs shared on the Dale Jr. Download that he is still baffled to this day as to why Edwards stepped away from NASCAR.
However, Waltrip stuck with the NASCAR scene.
“A lot of guys you see retire, so you don’t really get to hear from them again. So for him to own race teams to being in the broadcast booth and have a big impact driving cars behind the wheel. He’s definitely one of the biggest influencers we’ve had over the past 40 years.”
For those who knew Waltrip or listened to his broadcasting over the years, he was an honest announcer who called the races as they were.
“When I was a rookie coming into the scene, Darrell was a little bit of a critic for me,” said Ragan as he looked back on his early memories of Waltrip. “I wasn’t running as good as I should have right out of the bat, and I think Darrell’s very honest without that much of a filter. That’s what makes Darrell a cool guy.
“Just don’t mess up your Boogity, Boogity, Boogity.”
The next driver was Matt DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 95 Procore Toyota for Levine Family Racing. Their affiliation with Joe Gibbs Racing has given DiBenedetto a new spike in confidence. Despite the recent turn of poor luck on their side, he led the most laps of his career in the Daytona 500 before crashing out of the race. He also had a string of mishaps out of his control in the month of March and was on pace to challenge for the win at Bristol before an unscheduled pit stop put him in an uphill battle where he finished 12th. Despite the unforeseen circumstances, his average finishing position has improved by three spots.
But this weekend at Sonoma, his team created a paint scheme in honor of Waltrip’s early racing career. Darrell raced in the No. 95 Mercury and Chevrolet from 1972 to 1974 with 19 top 10 finishes, including runner-up finishes at Darlington and Texas World Speedway (not to be confused by Texas Motor Speedway).
“It was all of us at the team,” Dibenedetto shared in the media center at Sonoma when asked who originally came up with the idea for the paint scheme. “It’s exciting for us because DW has meant a lot to me. He helped me out last year, sponsored my race car at Phoenix. He’s always been a really good person.”
At Phoenix last year, Matt DiBenedetto was racing for GoFas Racing in the No. 32 Ford. The team headed to Phoenix with no sponsorship, after an early season sponsor fallout situation. He originally posted on Twitter sharing the team was not in financial danger and would still make the race, but made the announcement to allow for the potential opportunity of a new sponsor to step in. Not only did he get a big sponsor to take the race with Zynga Poker, but many drivers and NASCAR community members stepped up to help sponsor Matt’s car, including Darrell Waltrip.
“So we all talked about Sonoma and talked to our sponsor Procore,” Matt continued, “And they were on board with us running a paint scheme thrown back to when DW drove the 95 car in the early days of his career.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also decided to run a No. 17 throwback of Darrell Waltrip, keeping it authentic with chrome numbers around the car. The two-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver ran this number for Rick Hendrick at NASCAR’s top level from 1987 into part of the 1998 season, making this his most driven number.
While Darrell drove his “Tide Ride” as the No. 17 and winning the 1989 Daytona 500 in that car, the white, gray and red striped car with the chrome numbers on the sides was introduced in 1991 when he began to drive as a driver/owner with Western Auto as his new primary sponsor.
“With as much as he’s done in the sport on and off the track, Darrell will definitely be missed,” Stenhouse said. “I have enjoyed all the sit-downs and seeing his passion that he has for the sport. I’ve gotten to pay homage to him with two Darlington throwback schemes so it will be extra special to drive his iconic paint scheme for his last appearance in the booth.”
Denny Hamlin also took the opportunity before practice on Friday to introduce his throwback paint scheme for the new Darlington tradition. The reveal showed Darrell’s No. 11 which he drove from 1981 to 1986 when he drove for Junior Johnson.
“In 2016 when I won the Daytona 500, FedEx gave me the opportunity to choose my own paint scheme for the July Daytona race,” Denny shared during the reveal at Sonoma Raceway. “I had two that I really liked, so we had the shop vote on it. We thought this would be a great idea to honor someone who’s been a big influence for myself and everyone in NASCAR.”
Hamlin also shared memories growing up in the grandstands and watching the competitors on the track.
“I knew he was tough,” Hamlin chuckled when asked about the name of Darrell Waltrip. “I grew up a huge Bill Elliott, but Waltrip was one of the toughest competitors.”
Waltrip and Hamlin then pulled back the cover to officially reveal the paint scheme to be raced later this year in the iconic Southern 500.
“Well, first of all, I’m flattered,” Waltrip shared when he saw the new paint scheme for the first time. “This is one of my favorite paint schemes that I raced. What made this special to me was that this was my car and my team. We started in 1991. We had some pretty good days with this car. Of course, I guess my favorite number is probably the No. 17, but I’ll always love car No. 11.”
“This is the winningest number in NASCAR.”
The crowd shared their input as well.
“You like this?” Waltrip asked the audience while pointing to the car.
The crowd cheered.
“That thing is gonna look great on the race track. Thank you for the tribute.”