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No more ‘Boogity, Boogity’, Boogity’

With so much going on in the sports world the past couple of weeks from the Super Bowl, to Kobe Bryant’s untimely passing, to the launch of the XFL, there was another roll-out I hadn’t realized had snuck up on us: the 2020 NASCAR racing season.

And when it arrived last weekend, with one of the best Busch Clash races in memory, I was struck by something that was sorely missing.

The Kentucky twang of Darrell Waltrip. Yep, I had to remind myself that ol’ D.W. yelled his last ‘Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racin’, boys’ almost eight months ago.

Waltrip’s retirement last year after nearly two decades of calling NASCAR Cup Series races from Fox’s broadcast booth left the network with three key issues. All pertained to the big question for 2020: How would Fox replace him? Well, it was three-fold.

One: Not many former drivers who have won three or more Cup championships were sitting around waiting to analyze races on TV. Two: There were no retired drivers who impacted NASCAR as vocally as Waltrip did as a driver for three decades. Three: Nobody could provide the brand of entertainment Waltrip delivered for 19 years as a broadcaster.

“When you put all that together, it’s a pretty impossible task,” lead announcer Mike Joy told The Sporting News last year when asked about Fox’s discussions about how to replace the 73-year-old Waltrip. “The more everybody talked about it, the easier it was to see ‘Let’s not try to reinvent that wheel. Let’s move this in a slightly different direction.’”

That new direction has Joy and analyst Jeff Gordon now forming the first two-man booth for Cup Series broadcasts since the days of Chris Schenkel and Chris Economacki.

“We know it will be different,” Joy allowed. “We don’t know if it will be better, but there’s no replacing a Darrell Waltrip.”

With all due respect to Waltrip, and he deserves a ton for such a prosperous broadcasting career, beginning with making the dual call of his brother, Michael, winning his first-ever Cup race, seconds before he was stunned and speechless witnessing the death of Dale Earnhardt. Gordon, after all, tends to present his analysis in a more laid-back manner. Yet there’s no doubt the 48-year-old who has called Cup Series races for Fox since 2016 can continue to provide insightful information in an enhanced role. It doesn’t hurt that Gordon, who retired from racing in 2015, isn’t that far removed from strapping on a fire-suit at the track himself.

For analysis, but not ‘over-analysis’, Fox will also have another recent retiree in Jamie McMurray who’ll be joined by old guard Larry McReynolds, who’ll be back delivering information on race trends and team strategy; basically, the crew chief of the broadcast. And just so there’s still some cornpone, Michael Waltrip will be on hand for his typical shenanigans.

If this formula works, Fox is poised to strike an ideal combo of commentary, analysis, and reporting with maybe a little more breathing room in between.

Darrell Waltrip’s last race was nearly a decade ago. His best finish during that final run was 11th in the Brickyard 400. Not bad, really, but he didn’t come close to matching that finish in the final dozen races of his career. For sure, it wasn’t the way he wanted to go out but he did it his way, and maybe sometimes legends like him and Richard Petty have earned that privilege.

Too bad he didn’t get that privilege as a broadcaster, but not many of us do.

At least Waltrip went out in style, and now NASCAR – and Fox – will have to figure out how to move on without ol’ D.W.

Fox is entering its 20th season broadcasting Cup Series races, and doing it without Darrell Waltrip for the first time.

But with Joy and Gordon spearheading a now-complete and more nimble telecast, maybe Fox won’t end up putting it into the wall after all.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.