NASCAR Ace Waltrip Returns To the Roads

Michael Waltrip. Photo: micahelwaltrip.com

It may not seem intuitive that running and NASCAR racing go together, but that’s not what longtime driver and winner of the prestigious Daytona 500 Michael Waltrip thinks.

Waltrip, who turns 50 this year, has been running since 1995 and has found that pounding pavement helps him in many ways as a race-car driver. He’s a sub-4 hour marathoner and has completed the prestigious Boston Marathon.

On February 17, one week before the Daytona 500 race, Waltrip, who lives in Sherrils Ford, North Carolina, will continue his running legacy by taking part in the Daytona Beach Half Marathon.

Competitor.com: What are your goals at the Daytona Beach Half Marathon?

Michael Waltrip: I haven’t run any distance since 2005. I ran the Las Vegas Marathon, so my goal is just to have something to train for and look forward to. I want to try and get my running distance back up. I turn 50 this year, so I kind of have a goal of running a marathon when I turn 50. This is just a training step along the way. The furthest that I have run so far has been 9 miles. I made that in an hour and a half. My goal for a time is something around around 2 hours. If I can run 2:09, I’d be pleased.

Is there any particular music that you like to listen to when you run?

I’m mainly a country guy, but when I run I listen to a lot of Aerosmith, because rock and roll makes the time pass better. Any rock and roll is awesome. I love all kinds of music. Yesterday when I ran, Aerosmith and Hank [Williams] Junior was my combination. Any music is great with me.

You mentioned the 9 miles you ran in training as your long run. What other kinds of training have you done to prepare for this? How many miles a week? Are you on any particular plan for this race?

Well when I did my last marathon, I read different training regimens on the Internet and settled in on this one philosophy to run a mile and then walk a minute. In the marathon I ran, I ran the first 10 or 11 miles and then ran a mile and walked a minute. My goals was to make it under four hours and I made it in 3:55. That was a big deal for me. It was important to get it done in less than four hours. That was my fourth marathon, the first one I had done under four hours. I haven’t really decided exactly how I’m going to accomplish my goal yet [in Daytona]. I’m going to try to run seven miles in an hour today and see how close I can get to doing that. I will then run more or less an hour a day and maybe make one last long run before the half marathon. I wrote down everything I did for the full–the miles I was running. I feel pretty comfortable. I think I’m in a good place. I talked to [fellow NASCAR racer and rival]  Jimmy Johnson and asked him what his goal was. He said 90 minutes. I was like, “holy shit!” It’s going to be funny, because Jimmy has run a few championships and lots of races. It looks like I’m going to line up and get beat by Jimmy Johnson again. I don’t care, because my goals are to make sure I’m ready to race when I get to Florida and feel good about the [Daytona] 500 and feel good about myself physically.

You are obviously a very competitive person otherwise you wouldn’t have been so successful with your NASCAR career. Do you approach running differently? In other words, when you run, you aren’t out to race people and are running against yourself. Is that the case?

I think it’s fair to say that it’s more against myself. I’m competitive when it comes to what I’m accomplishing and what my goals are. When I set a goal I work hard to accomplish that goal. I joked after my 3:55 marathon in Vegas that I won my class: adults over 40, over 200 pounds, and from Sherrills Ford, North Carolina. I definitely won my class and will figure out a way to win my class in Daytona.

Talking about Daytona Beach, what does that location mean to you when you are out there on the course?

It’s just a special place for me and my family. It’s a special place for the whole NASCAR world if you’ve raced cars as long as I have and have been going to Daytona. I remember my first trip there was in 1975, watching cars run. Obviously, I was able to win the 500. I always feel good in Daytona. I love going there and being able to run down the road on the morning of qualifying for the 500. It’s going to feel good. It’s going to be a great day.

When you are out running on the road, you are going at 6.5 to 7 miles and hour. You are going so much faster in a race car. When you are out running, do you ever feel like saying to yourself, “Come on let’s get this over with quicker”?

You know, people ask me, “What’s harder, playing golf or racing a car?” Or they ask when I’m on the road in a car if I ever fight myself from speeding. It’s all about what you are doing. In the half marathon, I’m just going to try and run 13, 9:30 miles. That’s my goal. That’s the standard and that’s what I will be trying to accomplish. I’m not going to worry about anybody else. I’m going to be in my own little world with my headphones on.

It takes so much discipline to be successful in NASCAR. Does that discipline compliment your running? For example, when you have to get yourself up out of bed in the morning to get the miles in.

Yeah. I think it’s part of who you are. If you’re into something and you’ve been able to have success at the highest level, then you sort of expect yourself to go and accomplish those goals. You put the work in that it takes to have success and accomplish what you set out to do. It’s sort of who you are. There are a lot of people who are going to run this half marathon way faster than I. There are a lot of folks, too, that didn’t put their shoes on and take off running. You just sort of understand that it’s a special group of people who are there to run the race. I’m just going to get in with them and run down the road for a while.

Why do you run? What made you get into the sport?

A long time ago I started running. It was more or less my mentality that I wanted to prove that you might outrun me on the racetrack, but you will never outlast me. No matter how hot it is or how long the race is or how challenging the conditions are, physically, I’m going to be there to fight at the last lap of the race. I’m going to be focused, because I’m going to be mentally sharp and in shape. That was the whole reason to start running. I’m older and I don’t race all the time. I just want to make sure that my team that works hard on my car or my sponsors that allow to me race, they know that I’m committed and that I’m going to do whatever it takes to race to the checkered flag. I remember back in the day, in 2000, I was running around one of the tracks one morning and a buddy of mine told me he was standing with Dale Earnhardt. And Dale saw me run by. He said, “Michael wants everyone to know that he’s serious about this.” I have a crazy personality sometimes. I’m really focused and determined. I love the fact that I still get to race a car. I’m just proving to myself again that I’m ready to race.

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About The Author:

Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released in July.

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