Here we come to a road less traveled, with a bit of a detour and a ride off into the sunset. Three different journeys will come to their conclusion when the green flag drops this afternoon.
Let’s begin with the detour, one that has pretty much everyone excited, because they get to go for a spin on a part of the track NASCAR has not utilized for 12 years. Back when the track was called Sears Point Raceway, running the infamous carousel corner on this road course was practically one of the best passing areas to utilize. It’s elevation changes, sweeping left-hand hook, and drastic change in speed meant having to be careful on the brakes, but also be aware on the steering wheel.
We saw Dale Earnhardt make a pass here in 1995 to get his lone win on a road course, and as always this area provides an opportunity for the now infamous two-wheel ride when hitting the curbing.
But, beginning in 1998, the carousel was bypassed for the chute, going directly from turn 4 all the way to turn 7, leading into the S-corners. Although this reduced passing opportunities, it created more driver input because of the braking zones.
It was during this time when we saw Jeff Gordon, probably the greatest road racer that was not a road specialist, win five events at this track, including three in a row from 1998 to 2000.
It really is a track that the driver has the most input because he’s jawing at the wheel for 12 corners, and moving left and right. Of the three road courses on the circuit, compared to Watkins Glen and the Roval, this one has the most challenge for the driver because there is not many areas for high-speed passing, or positioning for that matter. Here, it’s setting up for one corner, and making the pass in the next. That is why this detour back into the carousel will make this a much different, and more fun, event.
This weekend is also the finish to the season for NASCAR on FOX, and they certainly have again given us an excellent ride through the first half of the season. A lot of different stories have come about, but none will be more fitting than the ride off into the sunset for one of the absolute greatest to be a part of the sport.
When the checkered flag waves on Sunday, after 19 years with FOX in the booth, and 40 years with the sport overall, Good ole D.W. is deciding it’s time to be home, and enjoy the sport from the comfort of home rather than in the booth.
It’s hard to imagine that the first time Darrell Waltrip called a race on FOX back on February 18, 2001, he would experience all the emotions one could have in one race.
He got to see the action from a different perspective, one that Mike Joy was certainly experienced with, and Larry McReynolds was alongside as if he was the one still on the box making the calls. But then to see his own brother stun the field and win his first race, the high he was feeling at the time was insane. However, that high lasted only a few seconds, because he also was looking out into the fourth turn, seeing a black Chevrolet come to a stop.
“I hope Dale’s ok.”
The words that still echo here today because despite the happiness of seeing Michael take victory, he knew even for his first race in the booth, the story was in the fourth turn. Hours later, he and everyone, lost a dear friend, icon, legend, and someone who seemed invincible. One week later, he was on pit road giving the pre-race invocation, emotions running high, but still there, doing his job.
Over the years, he’s been the one at the end of many great calls that FOX has experienced, probably none more fitting than in 2003 when he, Larry, and Mike all stayed silent in the final moments at Darlington when Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch hammered, banged, and rubbed all the way to the finish line, all of them screaming, “CRAVEN GOT HIM!!” Immediately after, when Joy uttered, “Have you ever…” it was like he got cut off mid-sentence, as Waltrip went onto say, “No, I’ve never!”
It’s those kind of moments that as a broadcaster, we will forever remember. From being a champion in the sport behind the wheel, to a champion in the booth, and ultimately a true Hall of Fame inductee, Waltrip has given everything he can to NASCAR, and then some.
He is certainly going to be missed by everyone, and part of the race will greatly be different when FOX begins broadcasting events next season.
Sunday afternoon, one last time, as McReynolds would say prior to the green flag waving, we all will pull those belts tight one more time, because Waltrip will give us his catchphrase to start Sonoma, and in doing so will ride off into the sunset on a remarkable career and life with NASCAR.