CONCORD, N.C. (Aug. 16, 2006) – In Saturday’s NASCAR Busch Series race at Michigan International Speedway, Brian Vickers will pilot a No. 57 Mountain Dew Chevrolet identical to the green, white and red No. 11 that Darrell Waltrip drove to 11 pole positions, 12 victories and his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series (now NEXTEL Cup) title in 1981.
“This car brings back a lot of memories,” said Waltrip, 59, now a television analyst for FOX Sports. “In a lot of ways, 1981 was a dream season, having been so close in the past and finally breaking through. Then we were able to carry that momentum into 1982 and win a second championship.”
Waltrip, in fact, had one of the most successful runs in NASCAR history over that two-year span, winning two of his three Cup titles thanks to an astounding 24 victories, 18 poles and 38 top-five results. In 61 starts, he finished outside the top-10 a mere 16 times.
“To overcome what Darrell did in 1981 to win the championship was pretty amazing,” said Vickers, 22, the 2003 Busch Series champion who drives for Hendrick Motorsports. “He made that run against some of the best drivers ever—guys like Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty and Terry Labonte. The competition was fierce.”
Vickers is referencing the 341-point deficit Waltrip surmounted in the final 17 races of 1981 to catch eventual runner-up Allison. He posted eight wins and five second-place finishes during that stretch, sparking the biggest comeback in modern-era NASCAR. The final margin was 53 points.
The significance of the achievement is not lost on team sponsor Mountain Dew, a brand with deep roots in the sport. It was featured on Waltrip’s car for his first two championships and was the title sponsor of Darlington (S.C.) Raceway’s Southern 500 for more than a decade. Coincidentally, Waltrip won the 1992 Labor Day weekend race, marking the first of 12 Mountain Dew Southern 500s.
“We supported Darrell Waltrip 25 years ago and are proud to honor him today with this special paint-out,” said John Galloway, vice president of sports, media and interactive, Pepsi-Cola North America. “Brian Vickers will help us commemorate this milestone in racing history as we continue our ongoing commitment to the sport.”
Mountain Dew is commemorating the silver anniversary of Waltrip’s first title and its own 25-year racing history with a unique national promotion. Fans are invited to visit their local Mountain Dew retailer for a chance to win an all-expenses-paid trip to meet Waltrip at the 2007 Daytona 500. It all kicks off this weekend at Michigan.
“It’ll be neat to see that Mountain Dew car on the track again,” said Waltrip, who himself won a pair of Cup races at the two-mile Brooklyn, Mich., oval. “And it’s pretty cool that Hendrick Motorsports is the team doing it because I have a lot of history there, too. Come to think of it, we should’ve won a fourth championship while I was with Rick. We had all the tools.”
Indeed, Waltrip ran three seasons for team owner Rick Hendrick, racking up 30 top-five finishes, 48 top-10s and nine of his 84 career victories in 1987, 1988 and 1989 combined. He led more than 1,600 laps behind the wheel of Hendrick’s Chevrolets, but there is one in particular that stands out.
“The one I remember best is the last lap at Daytona in 1989,” Waltrip said, referring to his first and only Daytona 500 win. “I’d finished second and third a bunch of times, but never could get over the hump until that day. I remember being interviewed by Mike Joy, who I work with now at FOX, and dancing like a crazy man in Victory Lane.”
And although dancing lessons are not part of Mountain Dew’s Daytona 500 prize package, it is possible Waltrip could be persuaded.
“I doubt it,” he said, laughing. “But you never know.”