The Earnhardt Connection - News
|Waltrip, Earnhardt to become teammates|
|Mooresville, North Carolina (March 25, 1998)|
Darrell Waltrip will drive for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. for about 3 months.
Two of the most storied drivers in NASCAR Winston Cup history -- Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip -- will join forces this weekend in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee.
It was learned that Waltrip, a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion who announced last week he was selling his team after his sponsor did not live up to contractual obligations, will drive a car owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc. beginning with Sunday's race.
Waltrip, a winner of 84 career Winston Cup races, will take over for injured rookie driver Steve Park. A news conference has been scheduled for Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway, where Waltrip will be announced as the driver, sources said.
"We have said throughout we aren't going to do a driver-of-the-week program," said Drew Brown, a spokesman for the Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo that is owned by Earnhardt. "I'm not going to call a major news conference to announce just any driver that hasn't made a name for himself. You don't call a black-tie dinner to announce your daughter isn't getting engaged.
"There is an announcement on Friday, and it's a major announcement. We won't have a driver of the week, we will have an interim driver until Steve Park returns."
Although Waltrip, who has not won a Winston Cup race since 1992, is a longtime rival of Earnhardt's, he has name recognition and a champion's pedigree, which goes a long way toward satisfying sponsors.
"A reason why the team is going to announce Waltrip is he is a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, which brings with him a past champion's provisional," Brown said. "That means the team is able to get into each Winston Cup race if it does not qualify by speed."
By joining forces, the rival drivers can help each other. Earnhardt's team needs a marquee name to satisfy Pennzoil, which committed $7 million in sponsorship money. Meanwhile, Waltrip needs to remain active.
Broadcast reports said Earnhardt wanted to buy Waltrip's team, but an initial offer from an unidentified group outside NASCAR included the promise of retaining Waltrip's staff of 45 people.
Park is recuperating from a broken right leg, broken left collarbone, broken right shoulder blade and two chipped front teeth suffered in a crash in practice March 6 for the Primestar 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
According to Brown, Park is recovering at home and undergoing rehabilitation. The prognosis for a return is three to six months. Despite the injuries, he has visited the shop in Mooresville.
Park spent time in both Georgia Baptist Hospital in Atlanta and the Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte. Rehabilitation is under the supervision of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Walt Beaver, who also works with athletes from the NFL's Carolina Panthers and the NBA's Charlotte Hornets.
"One reason we would be interested in having Darrell is he would bring the team publicity in NASCAR's 50th Anniversary season," Brown said. "He is one of the best spokesmen in the sport's history. And also, he has that past champion's provisional, which is very important in this sport as it becomes more competitive to make the field each race."
Ron Hornaday, who drives Earnhardt's NAPA Chevrolet in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, took over for Park last week at Darlington, South Carolina but did not make the field for the TranSouth Financial Services 400. In addition to owning the Pennzoil Chevrolet, Earnhardt drives for Richard Childress Racing.
Although Waltrip has gone six years without a win, some believe that by bringing some experience to Earnhardt's new operation, he would be kept as a second driver, provided he decides to sell his team outright.
Waltrip and Earnhardt have won a combined 10 points titles since 1980. Earnhardt won that year and Waltrip won three times from 1981-85. The following year, Earnhardt began a run of six titles in nine years.