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Sunday marks the end of an era in stock car racing. The bigger question lies in what replaces it.
This weekend, Fox Sports will conclude its half of the season broadcasting NASCAR’s premier racing series. When Fox Sports’ broadcast season concludes, so will the commentating career of Darrell Waltrip. The Hall of Fame driver, and three-time Cup champion, announced earlier this year he would step away from the booth after 19 years as a broadcaster.
ESPN - Article - Waltrip - Retirement - Time
A recent ESPN article profiling Waltrip on his impending retirement noted that “for the first time in 47 years, [he] doesn’t know what’s next.” The analogy could apply to the entire sport.
Waltrip’s first race in the broadcast booth, in 2001, proved memorable in ways both good and bad. Most tragically, Dale Earnhardt, Sr.—a seven-time champion and icon of the sport—died in a crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. While celebrating his brother Michael Waltrip’s first Cup victory in that race, Darrell couldn’t stop thinking about Earnhardt’s wrecked car, hoping against hope that his dear friend would emerge from it unscathed.
Daytona - Milestone - Waltrip - Broadcast - Booth
The 2001 Daytona 500 also served as a milestone for why Waltrip entered the broadcast booth. Fox Sports had for the first time won the rights to televise NASCAR races, and hired Waltrip as one of its analysts. Observers saw the move as solidifying stock car racing’s rise to compete with the “Big Four” traditional North American sports, an expansion of the sport beyond its roots in the rural South.
Yet even as NASCAR spent the 1990s and 2000s extending its footprint nationwide—adding races in locales like New Hampshire and California, while eliminating some events held in the Carolinas—Waltrip still hearkened back to the sport’s roots. The Owensboro, Kentucky native started racing in 1972. While he continued racing until 2000, most of Waltrip’s success, along...
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