By admin | July 7, 2009
By Richard Allen
Michael Waltrip Racing has gone farther than many people ever expected.
During Tuesday’s press conference to announce the ending of Waltrip’s full time driving career and the beginning of Martin Truex’s driving stint with the company, even Darrell Waltrip and Michael himself admitted they had doubts at times about the organization.
Michael’s brother Darrell, who served as a master of ceremonies of sorts, declared in reference to team ownership, “I’ve been there, I’ve done that and it’s really hard.” He even went so far as to say that he called their mother and expressed concern about his younger brother when Michael originally announced his intention to start a team.
“There were times when I thought it might say ‘For Sale or Lease’ out front instead of Michael Waltrip Racing,” the younger Waltrip conceded as he took his turn at the microphone.
However, despite those early doubts and the rough first year the team got off to, the announcement of landing Truex as a driver indicates the organization has come a long way.
“The first year was disastrous as you know,” the obviously proud older brother said, “but his dream is coming true.”
MWR won its first race earlier this season in the Coca-Cola 600 with David Reutimann driving. Reutimann is also within striking distance of the top-12 in the Sprint Cup standings.
Marcos Ambrose, who drives for MWR partner JTG/Daugherty Racing, is having a solid first full season in Sprint Cup and has scored five top-10 finishes.
Much of the success of MWR can be traced to Vice-President and General Manager Ty Norris.
Norris and Waltrip were first together while working for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. Waltrip scored all four of his Sprint Cup victories, including two Daytona 500s, with DEI. Norris served in a similar administrative position with that organization as he now does with MWR.
Obviously, these two have developed a good working relationship. The team they have formed is on the rise while many are heading in the other direction.
While watching the press conference, one had to at least have some thoughts of DEI and its demise.
Many trace the downfall of that organization to the day Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced he was leaving. I am now starting to wonder if losing the combination of Waltrip and Norris did not hurt the company every bit as badly.
Of course, Junior was the cash cow of the company. His star appeal can fill a whole organization with sponsors. But consider also that while Waltrip is not, nor ever has been, regarded as a championship caliber driver, he does have an incredible ability to draw in sponsors.
As the NAPA representative said during the press conference, “He is an outstanding spokesman for our company.”
Many would argue that losing Junior as a driver was far more devastating than losing Waltrip for DEI. Apparently, losing neither as a driver was the determining factor for that company’s demise. Junior has not shown championship ability with powerful Hendrick Motorsports. The loss of star appeal and the ability to bring in sponsors is what ultimately destroyed DEI.
If Junior were still there, DEI would still be there. However, it seems to me that with Michael Waltrip’s ability to draw sponsors and Ty Norris’ business sense DEI could still be a thriving company today even without Junior. And it would be so without the infighting between Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s family members.
Of course, Waltrip had other plans. He wanted to have something of his own. But still, the press conference of Tuesday showed me that his company is one of professionalism and class. After a rough start, they seem to really have their act together.
Michael Waltrip and Ty Norris have made that happen. The loss of these two is every bit as much where DEI’s troubles really began as when they lost Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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