The thud you hear is the sound of the other shoe dropping for Michael Waltrip Racing. A long association has come to an end with NAPA’s announcement they are cutting their ties with MWR. Few associations have been tighter than the one enjoyed between the “Charlie Brown of NASCAR’ and the auto parts retailer.
One can’t imagine NAPA entered into that decision lightly. A boatload of money, time and intellectual capital have been invested in that relationship. Having once worked in the advertising field, and having had those kind of relationships as a media representative and consultant, I can tell you some of your clients become like family, and there’s a palpable pain felt when the end comes by one means or another.
Having said that, the person in this brouhaha I have the most questions for is Waltrip himself. You can say this kind of chicanery has been widespread for a long time, you can try to pin it on NASCAR’s methods to try to determine a champion, and you can try to blame it on well-meaning but overzealous minions like that college football player at Alabama so many moons ago who ran in from the sidelines to make an illegal tackle to alter a game’s outcome. The person I’m having my “Say it ain’t so” moment with is none other than Michael Waltrip himself.
Not so many years ago, Michael was an underdog, languishing from team to team, pursuing that elusive win, when on February of 2001, he finally hit the jackpot with a victory at the Daytona 500. Even then, the victory was blunted by the tragedy involving the man who helped make it possible- Dale Earnhardt died as Waltrip raced towards the checkered flag.
Through the years, he was something of a surrogate big brother to teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Michael Waltrip became a NASCAR Bob Uecker with his self-effacing humor. On an even greater scale, Michael joined his brother Darrell as using fame as a platform to inspire people and to champion Christianity.
In recent years, that image has become marred in a variety of ways. Not only has there been whispers of sketchy behavior off the track, there have also been other incidents where Michael Waltrip’s team has found itself on hot water over illegal fuels, and more. If you look over the history, regardless of what NAPA’s corporate values are, it’s been coming to this for some time.
There are other Michael Waltrip guys in my life; folks with charm and likability that make them a hit at picnics and parties, but when faced with a choice, have this uncanny knack for making a wrong choice, and getting themselves in hot water time and time again. It’s then you ask yourself how much more can you take? What do you do when your friend’s behavior begins soiling your reputation by association- especially when there’s a professional aspect to the relationship. At some point you may say, “I’m not going to cover for you this time.”
I’ve lived on both sides of this coin. It’s painful. While I feel for Waltrip, it’s even more gut wrenching to think of those impacted by “Spingate” that had NOTHING to do with Ty Norris, Clint Bowyer, Brian Pattie or Waltrip himself. Martin Truex Jr. may just be the tip of the iceberg.
You can call me self-righteous, you can sit back with cynicism and talk about others who may have and are doing the same thing but were a lot smarter about it. I really don’t care. The deal is, a guy I used to root for and for whom I had wished well has amassed a body of bad work and it can’t be ignored.
Lord this stinks. The good news is that as long as a person is drawing breath, there is redemption, we’ve seen elsewhere in the world of sports, people are forgiving. Hopefully there is more in the way of good that comes of this other being a cautionary tale for other teams doing the same thing.
Thanks for indulging me. It’s good to get it off my chest. At the end of the day, I’m a fan- just like you.