"As you know if you're a regular listener to this program, I am not a fan of sports just because I've always been a total geek my whole life," Glenn said to start the interview with famous NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip.
"I brought the family down to the Daytona 500 this year and I felt really awkward because I met everybody and I didn't ‑‑ I'm just a fool. I didn't know ‑‑ you know, when they started introducing everybody I was like, oh, my gosh, I met that guy; he was really nice. The one guy that I didn't get to meet that I didn't get a chance to is Michael Waltrip," Glenn said.
The one racer Glenn didn't get to meet was Michael Waltrip, since it was the tenth anniversary of Dale Earnhart's death. "The Daytona 500 that Dale Earnhardt died in, it was the tenth anniversary. And Michael Waltrip was the guy who won. And he was Dale's teammate. And Dale was blocking and drafting for Michael. And it's such a tragic story because especially if you see the video, you see him go across the finish line and he is so psyched about winning. And then he finds out the guy who helped him win died. And I was really rooting for Michael. But Michael is on the phone with us now. He's got a new book out called In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and The Day that Everything Changed."
The full transcript of the interview is below:
WALTRIP: I appreciate you having me on. How's it going?
GLENN: Very good. Tell me a little bit about how, how this all happened. I know that real fans, you know, know this story but what's in the book that has not been told and what happened?
WALTRIP: Well, the book was something that I tried to avoid and basically reliving that day over the last ten years is something that I've tried to avoid. I had a philosophy that if I ignored it, it would go away and as we both know, that's not a healthy strategy. And it wouldn't go away. And I lived with pain. I lived quite frankly with guilt. What you said earlier, Dale Earnhardt died while blocking and drafting with Michael, when people say that, it just, all I would hear was, you know, it was Michael's fault. And obviously we had a plan. Dale, Dale, Jr. and I, Dale and I had talked Friday prior to that race in 2001 and he said this is how we're going to win this race. We have to work together. We've got to be a team and we'll win if we're a team. And, you know, that's so smart of Dale Earnhardt to see that and know that, but I wasn't that ‑‑ I wasn't that bright because I was thinking, okay, that sounds like a good plan, but there's going to be 40 other cars out there. And for us to think that the three of us can be together at the front at the end is a little bit naive, I thought. And I looked up with 20 laps to go and there we were one, two, three, drafting and pushing and working together. And so I did exactly what Dale asked me to do. I was able to put my car right where he said I needed to put it. And then I was able to win the race. And so I'm standing in victory lane thinking that the whole world is perfect. I had started 462 NASCAR races and hadn't won one. No one had ever started that many races and then finally won one and there I stood with the ‑‑ with NASCAR's greatest prize in my possession and I thought things couldn't be any better. But the reality of it was things couldn't be any worse. With champagne and confetti still in the air and victory lane just a couple, 300 yards away from me, Dale Earnhardt lay dead off Turn 4 and I ‑‑
GLENN: How ‑‑ when they ‑‑ when you first found out, what went through your mind?
WALTRIP: Well, I found out slowly. I was in victory lane and I kept asking where's Dale? Because I knew he was coming. And he had this way of putting a bear hug on you you wouldn't soon forget, grabbing you around the neck and squeezing you. And I just, I couldn't wait for that hug. It was more important to me at that moment than the trophy or the money or anything. I just wanted his approval. You know, he went out on a limb. He said I could win in his car. And that's exactly what I did. And I couldn't wait for him to get there for us to share that, damn right we can win. There we are. We won. And as it didn't come, at first I wasn't overly concerned. They told me he had been caught up in that crash but he was fine and he would be there eventually. And as more time went by, I got more and more concerned but yet still no panic. I thought, well, I wish he would hurry up and get here. And then my buddy Kenny Schrader, if you watched the race, Kenny's in the crash with Dale and Kenny gets out of his car and walks toward Dale's car and Kenny tells me today, he said, I knew he was going to be pissed off because of what happened, but I knew he would also be happy that you had won. And Kenny said he leaned in and what he saw was just horrific. That he knew Dale was hurt really badly. So Kenny came to victory lane because he's my buddy and he loves me and he came there and said, okay, Mike, listen, it's bad. He's hurt. It's not good. And so when that happened, then I started to say, what's he mean bad? You know, how bad could it be? And then ultimately to find out that my friend, you know, and the guy that was responsible for me standing there had been killed on that last lap was just, I don't think human beings are designed to experience that range of emotion.
GLENN: No, no.
WALTRIP: You know, I went from ‑‑ I thought it was the greatest day of my life and then it turned out to be the worst.
GLENN: The Daytona 500 trophy is just a beautiful, beautiful trophy.
GLENN: Did you ‑‑ could you even really look at it? Could you even really ‑‑ I mean, what was your relationship with that and the money, too, you would ‑‑ I would imagine at first you ‑‑ before you get a handle on it's not your fault, it's ‑‑ it just happened. You know what I mean?
GLENN: Was there a time when you just were almost sickened by that thought or that title or that trophy or that money?
WALTRIP: Well, I just chose to ignore it. Like I said I didn't focus on it, I didn't think about it. It was just, after I left Daytona, and I tell in the book I left Daytona and I'm not proud of who I was. I was ‑‑ I had started all those races I told you about earlier and even though I knew some of them, I didn't have the car on that day to win, I was mentally prepared to get all I could get. I was going to finish as well as I can, whatever that was. And after I left Daytona in 2001 for three or four months, I just showed up to go through the motions. I wasn't into what I was doing at all. And I wasn't that guy who was good enough to persevere through all those losses prior to that Daytona win. I just was going ‑‑ I just was showing up. And then the interesting thing happened. There's a return to Daytona in July for the summer race, the second visit to the speedway each year and I woke up one morning and I told my wife then, I said, I'm done. I'm done being ‑‑ I'm done being this guy that Dale wouldn't be proud of. I'm going to go get some revenge. I'm going to go back to Daytona and win that damn race. And my wife said, man, I don't know, I don't know what you dreamed about last night but I like who you woke up ‑‑ who you were when you woke up this morning. And so I went to Daytona and while I didn't ever deal with the tragedy personally and didn't think about it, didn't handle it well personally, I got my racing career back on track that weekend in Daytona. Dale, Jr. won the race. I didn't win. I finished second. But I had a chance to win it and on the last lap I just pushed Dale, Jr. to the checker just like Dale, Jr. had pushed me in July ‑‑ in Daytona in February. And so from that day on, Michael, the race car driver, was back. It just took years, a few years after that before I could really deal with it on a personal level.
GLENN: Hang on just a second. I've got to take a quick break and I want to come back. We're talking to Michael Waltrip. He is the author of In the Blink of an Eye. He is ‑‑ if you are a NASCAR fan, you know exactly who he is. He is the, well, the subtitle of the book is Dale, Daytona, and the Day That Changed Everything. An amazing, amazing story. We'll continue in a second because I want to get a little bit of then what happened and your personal change and how that all came about.
GLENN: We're talking to Michael Waltrip for just a couple more minutes. The name of his book is In the Blink of an Eye. It is out in bookstores now, Dale, Daytona and the Day That Everything Changed. It is an amazing, amazing story. And Michael and I have been talking here about how the guilt that he had on winning that Daytona 500 and his partner, Dale Earnhardt, was helping him win, drafting and blocking. And he finishes ‑‑ he crosses over the finish line and just before the end of the race Dale Earnhardt crashes and is killed. Now, he just told us the story about how he got back, he got his game face back on and went into the race and found himself again. But Michael, do you ‑‑ how did you find peace with all of this?
WALTRIP: Well, I hadn't forever. I just, I struggled quite a lot. And especially, you know, in the year or so after the accident because when I'd walk up to people or sign autographs or even be at my shop, you know, I couldn't help but think, do these people, do they think it was my fault or, you know, how do they feel about it? And so I lived with that. And then over time I just, I told my wife, who we are now divorced and probably not ‑‑ this had a lot to do with it. I just didn't even want to talk about it. I didn't have ‑‑ I couldn't deal with it. And so as the tenth year anniversary of that day approached, I finally got enough maturity and my wits about me enough to say, okay, people are going to want to know, they're going to want to talk and I want to be able to have some answers. And I was kidding with a buddy one night, I said, I have to write a book to tell that story and he said, well, you should do that. And I picked Ellis Henican to write it with me because he didn't ‑‑ you know, he didn't know anything about racing and I knew he would challenge me to tell the story for people that didn't know it. I wouldn't assume anything with Ellis, and he was a great partner. We worked really well together on the book. We completed it in a fairly ‑‑ few months, just a few months of time and people loved the book. And what it allowed me to do was think about a couple of things, Glenn. First of all, I thought about what kind of person Dale Earnhardt built me up to be. I had lost all those races, but when I got to Daytona that year, I thought I was going to win because of what Dale did for me, the inspiration that he gave me. And then also my ‑‑ the thing that I loved most about recount, rewatching the race and understanding what happened that day, the last thing on Earth he knew was that me and Dale, Jr. driving his cars were going to drive off and win the Daytona 500.
WALTRIP: That had to make him a happy man at that moment. And then on top of that, he had been blocking with us up until the last lap but on the last lap as we went into Turn 3, he knew that no one was going to catch Junior and I. I mean, I've done this forever, I knew the scenario, he knew the scenario. We won. We were going to go win. The only thing that he was doing was racing on that last lap. He was trying to get in front of Sterling to either finish third or maybe if he thought he got in front of Sterling, he could push him up there and he would have one last shot at Junior and I. But he definitely wasn't blocking at that point. He was just being a race car driver. And that brought me some comfort as well.
GLENN: Well, I tell you, Michael, I wish you all the best of luck and it's ‑‑ you know, events like this either make a man or destroy a man, and it's up to the individual to decide. But I'm so glad to talk to you today and hear that you're being ‑‑ you're allowing it to make you and not destroy you.
WALTRIP: Well, man, I really appreciate those words. And it had the opportunity to do both. And at times I think I teetered. But I just looked back on the inspiration that he was in my life and chose to try to continue to gather inspiration from him and others around me that can make me be that winner, you know, going forward.
GLENN: Michael, we'll talk to you again. And I hope to shake your hand someday.