Nascar Icon Michael Waltrip’s Future Is Filled With Beer

He started racing at the age of 12, just as his older brother had done before him. Unlike his older brother, however, Michael Waltrip never achieved the same success on the racetrack as Darrell.

Nonetheless he has made his mark on the sport of NASCAR in his own way and continues to do so.

Michael won two Daytona 500s, raced for the legendary Dale Earnhardt, and fielded his own team Michael Waltrip Racing. These days though he’s probably best known to most NASCAR fans as a TV analyst, part of Fox Sports broadcast focusing mainly on the Truck Series. It was the truck series by the way, where Waltrip had his final NASCAR victory at Daytona in 2011.His final NASCAR race came at the Daytona 500 in 2017 where he finished eighth.

“We’ve been really blessed and really fortunate to be able to do what I dreamed of doing as a 12-year-old and doing it my whole life,” Waltrip said. “We were really blessed to win races and to make our race team from a startup Toyota team to finishing second in the championship. You know, having a chance to win the championship with Clint Bowyer winning races with (David) Reutimann, me winning for my team. Those are great memories.”

His TV career actually started long before he drove his last race, however.

“Back in 96, it was crazy, but in 1996 Bob Scanlon, a guy that was with Speed TV called me up and said, ‘will you do a TV show every Monday and recap the race? We want to have you, Johnny Benson, Kenny Schrader on there. Alan Bestwick is hosting it. We want you guys to just sort of walk us through what happened on Sunday.’”

“So that started my career with Fox.”

Speed TV, which was owned by Fox eventually became Fox Sports 1 which still carries Truck series races to this day with Waltrip as an analyst.

“I’m really thankful that I have a job that keeps me connected to the garage area,” he said. “You know, I like to go down and see what the drivers are doing, what they’re thinking, what’s going on in the world of racing.”

Waltrip has raced with, and for, some of the legends in NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt, Bobby Allison, Terry and Bobby Labonte, Ward and Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and Mark Martin just to name a few. That gives him a unique insight into who the drivers will be that will be among a group that’s talked about 10 or 15 years from now.

“Well, everybody you mentioned won more races than me, so thank you for including me in that group of talented racers,” Waltrip said chuckling.

“I’m really thankful that I do the trucks because, you know, basically they show up at ARCA first and right after that they’re in the trucks, so I get to see talented young racers start their career.

“And there’s been a few of them, obviously Kyle Bush, but Eric Jones, Christopher Bell. There’s been guys that show up and run their first race when they’re 16 or 17 years old. And you’re like, not only will they win truck races, they’re going to win Cup races… soon you see the talent. The first one that comes to mind right now, and there’s many, Zane Smith, obviously the champion last year, but Cory Heim right now is doing things that are a little bit better than most.

“He’s one that’ll be around for a long, long time, as will Zane Smith.”

“Obviously, Josh Berry jumping into Cup next year with Stewart-Haas. He’ll be somebody that’s it’s going to be interesting to see how he develops…lately Stewart-Haas hasn’t been as fast as they want to be, so what challenges will he face?”

There are also the drivers who are peaking and some nearing the end of their careers.

“The legacy of Kyle Busch,” Waltrip said. “And the legacy of what he’s accomplished and the races he’s won. How will we look back in 15 years from now and see and think about all the greatness that he has accomplished?

“And will Denny Hamlin win a championship? Now that he has done it all, that’s a question that everybody wants to ask him about; will that happen for Denny?

“He’s obviously one of the best that’s ever set down in a NASCAR car. But he hasn’t accomplished that. You know, sort of like Mark Martin, the one thing that was missing in his career.

“So great storylines, whether it’s Xfinity the trucks or Cup, just a whole lot of fun stuff to watch and, you know, how does it all turn out?”

What about Michael Waltrip, how will his story turn out?

For the 60-year-old a big part of his future involves beer. Waltrip isn’t a home brewer, just doing it as a hobby. It’s become a big business for him; sparked by an idea that started just over five years ago among Waltrip and some friends.

“We were drinking wine one day and it was time to go play golf,” he said. “And I said, ‘let’s get a bottle of Chardonnay to go to the golf course’. And they’re like, ‘we got to drink beer. We’re going golfing.’”

Waltrip was sort of cool to the idea.

“I just don’t really like, I don’t know, I’m kind of tired of beer,” he told them. “I grew up on Miller Light. I drank Miller Light my whole life and was just kind of over it a little bit. And they said, ‘well, there’s some good craft beers.’ I said, ‘I’ve never been a fancy beer guy’.”

But from that conversation an idea was born.

“We have a friend that’s a brew master out in Arizona and he assigned us this task. He said, ‘go to Denver, Colorado and sample beers for two days. Get a pen and paper, write down notes what you like, what you don’t like, why you like it, what makes you happy about it. There’s great brew pubs and breweries in the Denver area. Just make that trip, make that commitment.’”

Waltrip spent several days in Denver and came away with a great deal of knowledge about craft beer.

“We came home with a bunch of ideas and went to our brew master,” Waltrip said. “And we partnered with him to make those beers and began distributing them in Arizona.”

The Michael Waltrip branded beers sold well enough in Arizona that fast forward five years and Waltrip was sitting inside his newest taproom featuring those beers in Concord, North Carolina, near the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Our first location on the East coast was in Bristol, Virginia just down the road from the racetrack. And that’s where we brew all of our tap beers, there in Bristol.

“We’ve just partnered with a company called Bevana Partners to help us with our distribution and our brewing process here on the East Coast.”

Waltrip beer can now be found in seven states, and with the help of Bevana he hopes to double that number by the end of this year. For the Tap Rooms, Waltrip partnered with Ken McAllister.

“Ken is a franchise guru, what he has done his whole life,” Waltrip said. “He wants to have a hundred of them in the next five years. We are in our first one here in Concord and looking for other locations in the southeast right now.”

Waltrip has never been known for being soft spoken or an introvert. Among his accomplishments, he has appeared on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” ran the Boston Marathon, made appearances on WWE Raw and wrote a New York Times
best-selling book. It’s the type of energy he brings to his tap rooms.

“The thing that it starts with is great beer; great atmosphere and friendly faces and just making people happy,” he said. “And I think our beers, I love our beers. I think we’ve done a nice job of capturing the flavor of a craft beer but keeping them drinkable somewhat like a Miller Light always was to me.”

Waltrip recently started a program that allows small investors, like race fans, to invest in the company and help “fuel the growth” Waltrip says.

“We’re going to use that capital in order to grow our team, put more feet on the ground, get into more stores, and tell people the story of Michael Waltrip Brewing and where we come from and who we are.”

“It’s all about having a good time,” he added. “It says on our door come for the food and drinks but stay for the experience. And as a race car driver and an entertainer for all these years, I want to make sure that the experience that we have here at the tap room or any tap room that we open over the next five years, that’s the theme.

“You know, people work hard for their money, and we want them to be able to come out, spend it and walk away and say, ‘that was time well spent.’”

Michael Waltrip’s life has now come full circle, pun intended. He’s won NASCAR races, is still involved in the industry and now is owner of a growing company. So what does the future for Waltrip look like?

“Well, I would like to become a single digit handicap,” he said laughing. “I’m the worst avid golfer I ever met. I’m going to play more golf and hopefully do a few more years of TV.

“And go around and say thank you to folks that invest in our beer company; enjoy that life. You know, I have a wonderful family. I have a couple of beautiful daughters. One of which has two little boys. And it’s just really cool to be able to see them jumping around in the swimming pool and enjoying life.

“I love my life. I love what I get to do, and I hope to just continue doing it for a few more years.”

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