Darrell Waltrip’s career will be remembered as much for the rivalries with other drivers as for his three NASCAR Winston Cup titles and 84 victories.

Two of his greatest rivalries were with two legends of NASCAR Winston Cup racing—Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. When Waltrip broke through as a brash, cocky kid from Owensboro, Kentucky, he had honed his racing skills at Nashville Raceway in Tennessee. He went further south to take on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series in the mid-’70s, and by the end of that decade, he was battling with Petty for the ’79 Winston Cup title.

These rivalries often became acrimonious between the drivers involved, primarily because Petty and Allison didn’t like Waltrip’s supreme self-confidence.

“He (Petty) was still very competitive. He was The King, and I was trying to dethrone The King,” Waltrip says. “Whether he would admit it or not, or whether he even realized it or not, he won’t give me the credit because he doesn’t like me that much.”

In the ’70s, David Pearson and Richard Petty basically stole the show in NASCAR. By the end of the decade, however, Waltrip had stepped in as a threat.

“I raced Richard a whole lot differently than I did anybody else,” Waltrip says. “I raced him with more respect than anybody I ever raced because of who he was. Then in the early ’80s, when Bobby Allison and I were battling each other every week for the championships, I raced Bobby the same way he raced everybody else—he hit me once, I hit him twice. That is the way I tried to race him.”

There were other drivers who experienced run-ins with Waltrip. Among them was Cale Yarborough, who was at the top of his game by winning three straight NASCAR Winston Cup titles when Waltrip started rolling up victories.

“We had a little rivalry going because he (Yarborough) was running the Chevrolet, and at the time, him and Junior Johnson had the best Chevrolet. I was always trying to prove I could build as good a car as they could, and I was building them myself at the time,” Waltrip says. “Jake Elder was my crew chief. He, along with Robert Gee and a lot of well-known people in the sport at the time worked on my cars. Waddell Wilson and Ray Fox Jr. built me some motors. So I had a pretty good thing going at one time there.

“I was determined to make my presence felt. I had run-ins with Richard and Cale at one time or another, but probably the most bitter was with Bobby Allison on a week-in, week-out basis. He had a great deal of resentment for me and didn’t like to be beaten by me, so he was a much different challenge than Cale, Richard, or David ever thought about being.”

The Mood Changes

Waltrip and Allison felt deep resentment, which still lingers today, toward each other throughout this period. Allison blew a huge points lead in the late stages of the ’81 season, and Waltrip won his first championship driving for Junior Johnson. Waltrip also won the title in 1982, once again at Allison’s expense.

Allison finally broke through to beat Waltrip for his only Winston Cup title in 1983. Waltrip’s final Winston Cup title came in 1985 when the dominant Bill Elliott wilted to Waltrip’s psychological warfare as he blew a 210-point lead with nine races remaining.

“The whole thing that makes it difficult for me is that I loved Bobby Allison,” Waltrip says. “When I came to Nashville in 1967, 1968, and 1969, he was running for national championships in the Sportsman Modified division. I knew who he was. I would go to Huntsville and Birmingham to race, and he was The Man.

“He was very aggressive—he built his own cars and engines. He was, at that time to me, what a real racer was. This was a guy who did it all. He was an underdog, and he viewed himself that way. From the first time I met him, he always thought NASCAR was against him, the tracks were against him, the drivers were against him, and everybody was against him. That was his biggest problem.

“But Stevie (Waltrip’s wife) and I would go down to his house to stay with him and Judy (Allison’s wife), and we would build and work on cars at his shop. We were very, very good friends. We would travel together. He taught me a lot. I had a lot of respect for Bobby, and I loved him as a guy and a competitor.”

That friendship, however, would later become a feud.

“When we started racing each other for the championship, you can ask Donnie Allison—if you beat Bobby Allison, you aren’t his friend anymore,” Waltrip says. “Bobby and I were great friends until I got to where I could beat him. Once I got to where I could beat him, then I became a thorn in his side, and we pretty much became rivals. In the end, we were enemies. Our relationship turned from being friends and buddies and helping each other to trying to put each other out of business.”

Waltrip feels great sadness when he thinks of the tragedies Allison has had to endure since then. Those include the deaths of his two sons—Clifford and Davey—his divorce from his wife Judy (the two have since remarried), and the loss of his personal fortune, which disappeared when he attempted to become a team owner for the second time in his career.

“That’s tragic,” Waltrip says. “I wouldn’t wish the kinds of things that have happened to him and his family on him. It’s just unheard of.”

To this day, however, Waltrip believes there is an uneasiness between the two great warriors.

“We can’t be close,” Waltrip says. “We tolerate each other. He looks at me now, and he is smiling and cordial, but I can tell deep in the back of his mind what he his thinking: I’m talking to you and I’m being nice to you, but there is some reason why I don’t like you, and I don’t remember what it is.

“You have to look at Bobby’s career in general—anybody he had to consistently race against, whether it was Richard Petty or his own brother or me, or whomever it was, he always had a rivalry with them.

“It was always a love/hate thing.”

Uneasy Feelings

To this day, Allison still feels uneasy being around Waltrip. That is why it is difficult for Allison to praise Waltrip for his outstanding career, because there is still a feeling of resentment.

But even Allison admits that in the latter years of Waltrip’s career, to see him struggling at the back of the pack was difficult to accept.

“I feel a little sad about it,” Allison says. “I will say this—in spite of whether I liked the way he did it or how he did it, he did go after it back in the early days, and he doesn’t go after it now.

“I’m not really the right one to ask about it, because my personal relationship with him was very poor. It was sad to see him doing so poorly.”

Is there any way for the two to repair that relationship, now that both are former drivers?

“I don’t know,” Allison says. “Time heals lots of things. Time helps you forget about some of the past. I’ll be OK with it, but I don’t know if he and I can be friends.”

Those who know both men well will admit one of the biggest reasons they were unable to get along in their careers is because both are similar in their makeup—almost too similar.

Allison disagrees with that assertion.

“I never felt he was like me because he did it his way, which was way, way different than my way,” Allison says. “You have to be a little self-centered to succeed. He had an incredible friendship with the Gazaways (Bill, the NASCAR Winston Cup director and his brother, Joe, a longtime NASCAR inspector) and was able to use that to his advantage and my disadvantage. He did that a lot.

“There was probably more than one time, but I think what happened is he would send Joe over to deal with me, and I could not deal with him. Joe would keep me from going out to qualify because he would say, ‘I want to look at the third gear in your transmission. Take it out right now because I think it’s illegal.’ It was that kind of thing.”

Allison admits that when Waltrip was coming up through the ranks at Nashville Raceway, the two had a mutual admiration for each other. But that quickly changed.

“Darrell and Stevie used to stay with us, and we used to stay there,” Allison says. “Early on, we had a pretty good friendship. He drove for two guys who were really good friends of mine. They bought cars from me and kept nice, fresh, new equipment all the time so he could be competitive.

“I’m not really sure why it changed. He went to DiGard, and I don’t know if Bill Gardner (the team owner of DiGard) had a bad effect on him or whether the two personalities blended together brought out the bad in both of them.”

Hard To Shake

Both Waltrip and Allison are self-avowed men of God. Both have strong religious convictions—Waltrip is Protestant, and Allison is Catholic.

Waltrip would proudly wear his religion on his sleeve, making a reference to praising the Lord after each win in Victory Lane. Allison would go to Mass, but he also was ready to fight if he felt he had been wronged.

“I have a little bit of a problem with how strong he portrayed himself as a saint,” Allison says of Waltrip. “I was proud that he did recognize that we should praise the Lord. It was really a tough situation for me. I was a little bit more private in my worship, and maybe I shouldn’t have been. That was just different than how I would have done it myself.”

Before Allison suffered a serious head injury in a crash at Pocono International Raceway in 1988 that not only ended his career, but also threatened his life, he once said this of Waltrip: “In a lot of respects, Darrell comes across as a clean-cut, nice young man, but there are times I’d like to punch him in the mouth.”

When asked about that comment in now, Allison says, “I don’t remember saying that, but if I did, OK.”

That is why when Allison finally won the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1983 after many seasons of coming close, but failing, it was special—the man he defeated was Darrell Waltrip.

“That was special, especially after all those years and after having lost it for the two previous seasons that I had by a few points, to be able to finally win that thing in 1983 was special,” Allison says. “The fact that I beat him helped.”

Allison has had many feuds in his career but believes the one he had with Richard Petty was far different than what he had with Waltrip.

“I never had any personal problem with Richard Petty,” Allison says. “I had a competitive problem with him. I probably resented his incredible wealth at the time compared to my lack of wealth. He had 20 employees and five spare engines at a 100-mile race track and a spare car on the second truck, and it was me and my brother Eddie working in a motel parking lot.

“I felt like really early on in the Winston Cup part of the thing, Darrell found out he could go to Joe Gazaway, and he would allow him to do something and make sure I didn’t. That went on, week after week, year after year, until the Gazaways left.”

But, after all the years, all the difficult memories and disagreements, will Bobby Allison ever be at peace with Darrell Waltrip?

“Yes, that’s behind us,” Allison says. “We can’t undo it. I am probably the most comfortable with saying, ‘That was yesterday.’”