Sunday, February 2, 2003

The Boogity Man is back

Waltrip: NASCAR's premier announcer, spokesman

The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Darrell Waltrip, whose trademark "Boogity, boogity, boogity!" has become almost as much a tradition at the start of a race as waving the green flag, is launching his third season as a FOX Sports announcer.

With his blend of wit and insight, Waltrip is the best that's ever been. He is NASCAR's John Madden.

"As a team we have gotten better with each telecast," says Waltrip, who departs next week for Daytona for pre-race assignments leading up to the Feb. 16 Daytona 500.

"It's like anything else - the more you do, the better you get at it. I think Larry (McReynolds), Mike (Joy) and I had a very good chemistry from the start, and we've continued to improve our telecasting techniques as we've gone along."

Waltrip, a Franklin resident who won three championships before retiring as a driver three years ago, is both informative and entertaining.

"We've gotta do more than just tell the audience the running order on the track," he says. "Shoot, the audience can see that for themselves. We need to explain to the viewers what's going on and why it's important.

"We also need to be entertaining. The way I look at it, we've been invited into folks' living rooms to watch the race, and we want them to enjoy it and have fun. Personalities are a big part of it."

Like a coach grading game films, Waltrip, McReynolds and Joy watch and review film of every telecast.

"We look for things we should do more of, things we should do less of, just generally how we could improve the telecast," he says. "We might try something and later decide it didn't work. We are constantly changing and adapting. "

During his driving days Waltrip was arguably the most influential driver in NASCAR. Today that influence continues as he introduces the sport to legions of new fans around the country. All many of the fans know about racing is what Waltrip tells them, and the sport has never had a better spokesman.

Waltrip predicts his younger brother Michael will win the Daytona 500 - a race he won two years ago but could not celebrate because of the death of Dale Earnhardt.

Darrell's choice for the championship: veteran Rusty Wallace, who is coming off his first winless season in 17 years.

"You've gotta pull for the old guys," said Waltirp, who turns 56 next Wednesday.

Wallace made news earlier this week when he promised to buy all the fans on hand a beer if he wins the Daytona 500. That translates to about 200,000 rounds.

"Just what race fans need - more beer," Waltrip laughs. "That's the silliest thing a driver has done since - well, since I invited all the fans who didn't like me to meet me in the Kmart parking lot to duke it out."

About that "Boogity, boogity, boogity!" as the cars rumble to the starting line:

"It's just something I did at the beginning of one race and it caught on with the fans," Waltrip said. "It means 'Hang on, here we go!' or something like that. It means get ready for some fun and excitement, 'cause that's what racing is all about."

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