DW’s Days of Domination
by Tom Jensen June 22, 2022
Paired with team owner and fellow Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, Darrell Waltrip was nearly unstoppable in the early 1980s.
Editor’s Note: Darrell Waltrip’s 1981 premier series championship car is on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions” exhibit, which runs until January 2023.
Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip (2012) is in elite company when it comes to the NASCAR record books.
Waltrip is one of only five drivers with three NASCAR premier series championships, joining fellow Hall of Famers Lee Petty (2011), David Pearson (2011), Cale Yarborough (2012) and Tony Stewart (2020) in that rarified group. Waltrip also is tied for fourth on NASCAR’s all-time win list.
While Waltrip won his first race in 1975 and his final one in 1992, there’s no question that his most dominant years were from 1981 to ’86, when he drove for Junior Johnson & Associates, the team founded by the first ballot Hall of Famer and former moonshine runner.
Here are five impressive Waltrip statistics from his Junior Johnson years.
Wins per season
In both 1981 and ’82, Waltrip’s first two seasons driving for Johnson, he won premier series championships. But what’s even more impressive is that in each of those years, Waltrip won 12 races. In the last 40 years, the only driver to win more races in a single season was Jeff Gordon (2019), who won 13 races in 1998. No other driver has won more than 10 races in a year since Waltrip’s feat.
For his career, Waltrip won 84 premier series races. Of that total, 43 of the victories came in the six seasons he drove for Johnson. That works out to a little over seven per season. In each of the six years he drove for Johnson, Waltrip won at least three times. How good was Waltrip when he drove for Johnson? From 1981-1986, when Waltrip was victorious 43 times, Bobby Allison (2011) won 22 races and Bill Elliott (2015) 17, while Dale Earnhardt (2010) and Cale Yarborough (2012) each won 14 times.
While driving for Johnson, Waltrip was the premier series champion in 1981, ’82 and ’85. He also finished second in ’83 and ’86 and fifth in ’84. That makes his six-year average points finish with Johnson just 2.0. That’s a pretty incredible number for that time period – or any time period.
From March 29, 1981, to April 1, 1984, Waltrip took the checkered flag in seven consecutive premier series races at Bristol Motor Speedway. Waltrip also took five straight at North Wilkesboro Speedway, starting on Oct. 4, 1981, and concluding on Oct. 2, 1983. And although his streaks at Martinsville Speedway were not as impressive, Waltrip still managed to win 11 times at the Virginia short track.
As noted, Waltrip won 12 races each in both 1981 and ’82. In ’82, the season was just 30 races long, which means Waltrip won 40 percent of his starts. When you factor in DNFs, the number becomes even more amazing. Waltrip had eight DNFs in 1982, six because of engine failures, one due to a crash and the final one when he ran out of gas. So that means Waltrip won 12 of the 22 races he finished, a winning percentage of 54.5 percent. That’s simply mind- blowing.