By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — The tributes to NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip will continue beyond this weekend’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
The latest driver to celebrate Waltrip’s career was Denny Hamlin, who unveiled the throwback paint scheme he’ll be running for this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, which left Waltrip amazed Friday morning.
Hamlin’s throwback scheme commemorates Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from 1991-95, where he scored his final five of his 84 NASCAR Cup victories.
Alongside Hamlin, Waltrip’s wife, Stevie Waltrip, and Fox Sports colleague Mike Joy cherished the moment with Waltrip, which the three-time champion said Hamlin’s Western Auto throwback ranks high on his list of best-looking schemes and reminded the media that the iconic No. 11 has more NASCAR wins the No. 43.
“It’s the best-looking car I’ve seen in a long time,” said Waltrip. “We’ve had history in the No. 11. That’s the winningest number in NASCAR. Everybody thinks it’s 43 – well they’re dead wrong. Cale (Yarborough) did a great a job. Ned Jarrett drove No. 11. I think Buddy Baker even drove No. 11 at one time. The championships and races I’ve won in the No. 11. It’s a special number and special car.”
The story behind the illustrious scheme came to be once Waltrip announced his retirement in April, and Hamlin simply knew he wanted to honor him as primary sponsor FedEx gave him creative freedom as to what throwback he wanted to race at Darlington.
It came down to two schemes, but Hamlin said the 90s scheme when he started driving his own equipment was a slam dunk choice.
“It’s super special for me,” said Hamlin.” When DW announced his retirement, that’s about the same time that they told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to let you design whatever car you want for the throwback. It can be anything you want.’”
“I thought it was a great tribute knowing Darrell’s history with the No. 11. It’s a 90s theme throwback, so this was the perfect thing for me to do to pay tribute to someone who’s given most of his life in this sport.”
Hamlin, who won the 2017 edition of the Southern 500, recalled the times Waltrip and his favorite driver of that time, Bill Elliott, battling out at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Waltrip’s specialty, the short tracks.
“Right around that time, Bill Elliott had just joined Junior Johnson Racing and I just remember the battles,” said Hamlin. “Darrell was one of those guys you had to beat, especially on the short tracks. He was so tough to beat. The short tracks weren’t Bill Elliott’s forte and I remember them battling a lot at Charlotte with this paint scheme.”
With Waltrip’s final telecast this weekend, he reflected on what the sport has done for him and appreciates the tribute schemes from not just Hamlin at Darlington, but also from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Matt DiBenedetto and David Ragan, who’re all running throwback schemes at Sonoma as a way of saying thanks to the legendary figure.
“These are the kind of things people do. He wanted to do this car and he wants to run this paint scheme. That means the world to me,” Waltrip explained. “I do a lot of things, but this is my life. These cars and what they represent and what they mean to me. To think that they mean something to them, that’s special. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
When asked about the best feature of the scheme, it’s not the shiny silver on the No. 11, but when it’ll appear in victory lane on Labor Day Weekend.
“What I’m going to like about it is when he ends up in Victory Circle,” said Waltrip. “That’s what I’m going to like.”