Doing the Dew: Looking back at '81 and '82

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Folks, the pictures of the Mountain Dew car that Brian Vickers is going to drive in the Busch race at Michigan this weekend bring back incredible memories for me.

First of all, I remember the Dew Crew, which was what we called my pit crew 25 years ago. But it was also a little fan club that we started. Kids all over the country bought into it, and we had a nice group of fans around Pocono Raceway. A couple of teachers and their students in Pennsylvania joined the club, and they attended the 1981 Mountain Dew 500. When we won, they were so excited to be part of the Dew Crew. My nephew Steven was addicted to Mountain Dew, and he would go to races with me. When I brought him back to his mother, she would say, "I don't know what you've done to this kid, but he's wound up tighter than your race car." I didn't tell her that he had been drinking Mountain Dew all weekend.

It was a fantastic time in my career, and it was an interesting time, too. I'm not sure how many of you remember 1981, but it was the first year that we went from the bigger race cars to the downsized versions of the Monte Carlo, the Buick Regal and the Pontiac Grand Prix. It was a major transition, and it created a lot of interesting situations for all of the race teams because nobody was used to that kind of car. It took a lot of effort to get rid of all the old cars and build new ones, just like the teams right now are going from their current cars to the Car of Tomorrow. You could cut down an old car from a 115-inch wheelbase to 110 and use it, but it was more trouble than it was worth. In those days, you could look at production cars in dealerships and pick which one would make the best race car. The Buick Regal was a super little race car. We chose to run it, and I'll tell you how good it was. In 1981, I won my first championship. We won 12 races and 11 poles, and we only ran 31 races that year. We followed it up with the same kind of performance in 1982, 12 wins and seven poles. They were two of the most dominating seasons that I can recall anybody having for a long time. I'm not telling you that to say, "Look at what DW did." You always hear me talking about being in the right place at the right time. Well, driving for Junior Johnson, having Mountain Dew for a sponsor and having that Buick Regal in my prime at 30 — an age when drivers really mature — I learned how to win races and championships. It was all coming together in the first few years that I drove for Junior Johnson.

Best Five-Year Stretches in the Modern Era
Driver/Years Cups Wins Poles Top 10s Avg. pt. finish
Richard Petty (1971-75)* 4 58 25 133 (81%) 1.8
Darrell Waltrip (1981-85) 3 40 33 111 (75%) 2.0
Dale Earnhardt (1990-94) 4 25 9 105 (71%) 4.0
Cale Yarborough (1974-78) 3 41 19 109 (74%) 3.0
Jeff Gordon (1995-99) 3 47 28 119 (74%) 2.2
*Ran 46 races in 1971

The funny thing is 1981 didn't start off that great. I won the Bud Shootout, and we qualified second. Bobby Allison beat us for the pole, but we blew up in the race. We had some good races, but we had some bad ones too. Crew chief Tim Brewer and I were trying to get used to each other, and I was trying to learn how to speak Junior's language. That's pretty tough to do if you know Junior. During the first half of the year, we were not looking great. We won four races, but we fell out of a lot. In the middle of the year, we were 341 points behind leader Bobby Allison, and it looked like we were pretty well written out of the championship. But we got hot and won four races in a row. A lot of people have won four races in a row, but we won all four of ours from the pole. From September 27 through November 1, we won Martinsville, Charlotte, Rockingham and Wilkesboro. We also started our seven-race winning streak at Bristol, Tenn. in August.

I got out of one green car and went right into another one. I had gotten out of the Gatorade car, which was green and white, and I got into the Mountain Dew car, which was green and white. A lot of drivers were superstitious and didn't like green cars. David Pearson always complained about green cars, and I said, "Dude, pull out that wad of money in your pocket. What color is it?" That Mountain Dew car put a lot of green in my pocket, and I drank a lot of it. As a matter of fact, there was a point in my career when I started to wonder if I didn't have a drinking problem. My first big sponsor was Sterling Beer. I followed it up with Gatorade. Then, I went to Mountain Dew, Pepsi and Budweiser. I think you see what I mean when I say that I was starting to wonder if I had some sort of drinking problem. All of those cars were great, including my Gatorade car, Bertha, but those two years in the Mountain Dew car were among the most memorable years in my whole career. They really set the benchmark for my career: 24 wins, 18 poles, the Bud Shootout and two championships. 1981 was the first year that NASCAR had its year-end ceremony in New York so we were the first championship team to be honored at the Waldorf-Astoria. That was a big deal put together by Joe Block, who was the director of sports marketing at Pepsi, and a big supporter of the team. Those two years were the best time that I ever had in my career. I remember walking in driver's lounges and bathrooms throughout the Cup garage and seeing "Anybody but Waltrip" signs plastered everywhere. At that point in my career, it was quite flattering because I had won 29 races driving for DiGard, but I never had the kind of performance driving a car that I had in the Mountain Dew car. When I see Brian Vickers driving that car this weekend at Michigan, I'll tell you Brian, you're sitting on top of a real horse there, and I'd like to see you win the race. That would just cap off the whole Mountain Dew program that we're initiating here so good luck to Brian and the Dew Crew. Bring home a victory in Michigan.

Oh, by the way...

Ask DW
I was listening to the Tim McGraw song "Live Like You're Dying." It made me think about Benny Parsons, Bobby Hamilton, my father-in-law, Bill France, Rick Hendrick and so many of my close personal friends that have had to deal with "theBig C," cancer. That song just brought it all home for me. It made me realize there's just so much more to life, and unfortunately sometimes, we have to be faced with something like cancer before we realize that we need to live every day like we're dying. My prayers and thoughts are with Benny, Bobby and all of the people that I call on a regular basis. I talked to Benny on Wednesday, and I told him that I've called people with illnesses throughout my life. But none of those calls has ever affected me the way the last few months have with Bobby and now Benny fighting "the Big C." My heart hurts for those guys. I just pray to God that they will get cured so Bobby can get back to racing and Benny can keep on doing his announcing gig. I know how important racing is to those guys. There are lines in that song that just stop you in your tracks, like "Goin' fishin' wasn't such an imposition." And "I loved deeper and spoke sweeter. And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying. And he said, 'Some day, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dyin'.'" That's heavy stuff.

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