No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine driver Michael Waltrip makes his third 2012 start Saturday night in the 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway. Two of his favorite memories came at this race as both a driver and a fan. In 2001 he finished second to Dale Earnhardt Jr. completing a Dale Earnhardt Inc. sweep of the two top spots just months after Dale Earnhardt Sr. lost his life.
In 1984 Waltrip drove with friends from their Owensboro, Ky., home to sit in the stands and watch his older brother Darrell race. It was the weekend Richard Petty earned his 200th victory and President Ronald Reagan gave the command to start the race. Waltrip and friends weren’t invited to the post-race picnic with President Reagan, but Waltrip remembers watching the president who he admires most celebrate with one of the most iconic figures in NASCAR.
IN HIS NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING BOOK “IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE” WALTRIP RECALLED THE 2001 JULY RACE AT DAYTONA: “Crossing the finish line one-two—with me being the two guy—was absolutely perfect. I was ecstatic, and so were the fans. After the race was over, the cheers were so loud I could hear them over my engine. I hadn’t ever heard anything louder than my engine before. But that night in Daytona, the fans were that loud. When Dale Junior completed his victory lap, he pulled onto the infield grass at the start-finish line and began spinning his car around, waving his arm in the air. The crowd was going nuts. I needed to be part of that. So I pulled my car onto the grass beside Junior’s when he stopped spinning. As I pulled up, Junior ran over and leaned inside my car. ‘Can you believe this ...” he said. That was awesome.’ Listen to those people. And he was right. It was awesome. The capacity crowd continued to cheer. Loudly. A hundred and fifty thousand people, maybe more, were there when the green flag was thrown. After the checkered, all of them had gotten up from their seats. But not a one of them had left. They were standing, cheering, screaming and celebrating our amazing finish. And they were celebrating the life of Dale Earnhardt.”
WALTRIP ON RONALD REAGAN: “I loved Ronald Reagan. He is one of my heroes. When I was a kid I admired him so much. I loved him running our country and being our leader. I looked up to Mr. Reagan. I respected him for what he believed in. I loved his attitude and how he was a no nonsense guy. I remember thinking that I want to have that guy’s spirit and live my life like him one day. I have just always looked up to him.”