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Waltrip snub felt personal; voters say otherwise

- Associated Press - Thursday, October 14, 2010

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) - Darrell Waltrip, winner of 84 races and three championships on the track, lost a popularity contest among his peers that stung more than any other defeat in his illustrious career.

Snubbed by the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting committee in his campaign to be included in the second class, Waltrip was clearly hurt by his exclusion. The color drained from his face as he watched the five names called _ David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore _ and although he gamely spun his chair away from the podium and toward the cameras to work an hour-long, live television program, he was wounded.

Waltrip took to Twitter immediately after leaving Wednesday's announcement _ "just having a small pity party right now," he posted _ and was still smarting a day later. Instead of celebrating his selection Thursday, he played golf with younger brother Michael.

"My feelings are hurt," Waltrip told The Associated Press in a candid conversation Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"Do I take it personal? No. I can't. I couldn't live in this community if I did. I take it as that group of people that voted on those five guys had a stronger connection to their past and to those five guys than they did to me and what I did."

Nobody denies that Waltrip's statistics are Hall of Fame worthy: Three championships, three runner-up finishes in the standings, five Coca-Cola 600s wins, one Southern 500 and one Daytona 500. And he's tied with Allison for third on NASCAR's career wins list.

But his name was checked on less than half of the 53 ballots even though many, Waltrip included, believed he was a shoo-in for the second class.

His exclusion sent a clear message that not everybody loves ol' DW.

A polarizing driver because of his flamboyant personality and many feuds, he's found the audience is equally divided in his second career as an analyst for Fox. He openly cheered for his younger brother to win the Daytona 500 in the network's 2001 debut.

His "Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, let's go racing boys!" scream at the start of every race has grown stale, and his outspokenness has angered many in the industry.

There's also a prevailing sense that Waltrip turns the most mundane activities into a chance to promote himself, and no moment is not a good moment for the showman to ham it up for the cameras.

But is a style that rubs some people wrong enough to overshadow the substance of his glorious NASCAR career?

"Despite Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, the same reasons you would vote Ned Jarrett into the Hall should apply to Darrell Waltrip," said voter Doug Rice, president of PRN.

If voters indeed dismissed Waltrip because of his personality, the man who was known as "Jaws" for running his mouth during his driving career doesn't know what he can change.

"I don't know what I could do. I feel like I've been a good boy lately," he said. "I may disagree with things on TV, things I don't like, but that's my job. When I was a driver, I was Jaws, and maybe it wasn't my job. That was something I had to overcome."

The 52-member voting panel is made up of eight NASCAR representatives, 11 track owners, 14 media representatives, three manufacturer representatives, four retired drivers, three retired car owners, three retired crew chiefs, four industry representatives and two executives from the Hall of Fame. The 53rd ballot is a fan vote.

The panel spent more than two hours Wednesday in a closed door session debating the 25 nominees, and voters said the discussion was split on contributions to the sport and if NASCAR's pioneers should make up the first several years of inductees.

"My personal thinking is that the majority of the voters feel we should, the panel, should go back to the roots and honor some of the pioneers first," said Tom Higgins, who covered NASCAR for 34 years for The Charlotte Observer. "I have no problem with that, although I didn't vote that way. The five selected are an excellent class. But I don't know why Darrell Waltrip didn't make it.

"I don't think it was personal. I would hope not. But I don't have any explanation to it other than people wanted to see pioneers get into the Hall first."

There's an age issue that Waltrip cited himself. He's 63 years old and won the bulk of his races in the 1980s.

Moore, a decorated World War II infantryman who won 63 races in his 37-year career as a car owner, is 85. Jarrett, a two-time champion and beloved former broadcaster, turned 78 the day before the vote. Pearson, a 105-race winner, is 75, and Allison, tied with Waltrip with 84 victories earned mostly in the 1970s, is 72.

NASCAR president Mike Helton said he was confident that Waltrip's exclusion was not personal, but explained that many voters felt a responsibility to electing the sport's elder statesmen.

"There was a great debate on comparing drivers from the 50s to drivers from the 70s. There were 52 different opinions on what the five should look like and this is how it came out," Helton said. "I don't think there were any winners or losers in there, every one of the 25 names on there will end up in the Hall of Fame. It's just a matter of when, and five is all we had to work with this year."

Jeff Burton, the voice of reason among active drivers, didn't view Waltrip's exclusion as a snub because Waltrip's qualifications are not in question.

"Time will sort all of those things out. If you're honored enough to get into the Hall of Fame, you shouldn't lose sleep about when you got into the Hall of Fame," Burton said. "The third class in no less important that the second class."

Try telling that to Waltrip.

"All these people who say you'll get in sooner than later, well, I sure hope it's sooner cause this later stuff isn't much fun," Waltrip said.

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