Darrell Waltrip, who brought his folksy, outsized personality from the driver’s seat to a prodigious second career as a broadcaster, announced Thursday that this season will be his last for FOX Sports.
Waltrip’s final NASCAR race from the broadcast booth is scheduled for June 23 at Sonoma Raceway. The news, later confirmed by the network, was first reported by The (Nashville) Tennessean.
“My family and I have been talking this over the past several months, and I’ve decided to call 2019 my last year in the FOX Sports booth,” Waltrip said in a FOX release. “I have been blessed to work with the best team in the sport for the past 19 years, but I’m 72 and have been racing in some form for more than 50 years. I’m still healthy, happy and now a granddad, so it’s time to spend more time at home with my family, although I will greatly miss my FOX family.”
Waltrip, 72, has been a fixture in the FOX Sports booth since 2001, when the network became an official broadcast partner of NASCAR. The transition to full-time broadcasting came after a successful driving career, where Waltrip won three championships and 84 races in NASCAR’s top division. He was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012.
Waltrip’s first experience with broadcasting pre-dates his long tenure with FOX Sports. Even during the peak of his driving career, he was a regular guest and occasional substitute for Nashville disc jockey and television host Ralph Emery. Waltrip’s ease in front of a microphone — both in driver interviews or as a broadcaster — can be traced back to those earliest radio and TV appearances.
Waltrip was a more frequent guest as a color analyst on racing broadcasts in the 1990s, offering commentary for TNN, TBS and ABC/ESPN. Those calls were part of the coverage for what’s now called the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the former IROC Series as Waltrip’s driving days wound down.
“For nearly five decades, few people have been as synonymous with NASCAR as Darrell Waltrip,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in a statement. “A Hall of Famer on the track and in the booth, Waltrip brought quick wit, tireless passion and a wealth of stock car racing knowledge to millions of NASCAR fans on FOX for 19 seasons. We are grateful for Waltrip’s many contributions to the sport over the past 47 years, both as a champion driver and broadcaster. On behalf of everyone at NASCAR, we wish DW all the best in retirement.”
When FOX Sports came on board ahead of its 2001 debut, Waltrip was among the first on-air talent hired, and he would help grow NASCAR’s TV viewership to record numbers. Ed Goren — then FOX Sports president and executive producer — told The Tennessean’s Larry Woody that Waltrip’s inclusion was akin to legendary coach John Madden preparing for his NFL broadcasting debut.
“He gives us instant credibility with the sport’s strong, loyal fan base,” Goren said at the time. “DW has a natural enthusiasm, an in-depth driver’s perspective and a homespun sense of humor that will make him easy and fun to listen to.”
Waltrip quickly built a rapport with play-by-play veteran Mike Joy and crew chief analysts Jeff Hammond — his own former crew chief — and Larry McReynolds. He also developed what would be his broadcast calling card, shouting out, “Boogity, boogity, boogity!” to provide a verbal jolt at the start of each race. All told, he will end his career having called more than 330 races and 1,500 practice and qualifying sessions for FOX.
“Darrell has been the heart and soul of the FOX NASCAR booth since day one, so it’s incredibly bittersweet to know this is his final season,” said Eric Shanks, FOX Sports CEO & Executive Producer. “DW’s unmatched charisma and passion helped FOX Sports build its fan base when we first arrived at Daytona in 2001, and he has been the cornerstone of our NASCAR coverage ever since. We look forward to celebrating DW at Sonoma.”
Waltrip’s broadcasting approach was nearly equal parts informative and entertaining. His commentary would often take a page from his Nashville-area roots, either integrating a country music lyric or splicing in quips in a nod to Emery’s down-home humor, all rolled into a straightforward delivery.
“Race fans are very intelligent. They know what happens,” Waltrip told The Charlotte Observer’s David Poole in 2000, in the days leading up to his retirement from driving. “How are you going to try to tell them something didn’t happen when they saw it? You can’t try to fool them. You’ve just got to tell it like it is.”
A spokesperson for FOX Sports said the 2020 lineup for its NASCAR coverage team would be determined at a later date.