The newest season of Dancing with the Stars kicks off Monday night on ABC, and among the new cast is NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner and semi-retired driver Michael Waltrip.
“Well, it’s been amazing,” Waltrip said of his first couple weeks of training for the show. “I agreed — we got together about two weeks ago and were able to finalize the details of being on the show. It was kind of challenging because obviously owning a team is first always for me, it’s my main focus to me, it’s what means the most to me. Having partners like Janssen and Aaron’s and 5-hour ENERGY and taking care of their needs is really important.
“We looked at this at Michael Waltrip Racing as a way to expand our brand and talk about NASCAR to millions of people that might not know as much about our sport as we would like them to. The opportunity to go to LA and dance is something that I’m very serious about and I can’t wait for my opportunity to get on the dance floor with Emma (Slater), my partner. To me it’s bigger than just that, it’s more about this sport and continuing to try to grow our team at MWR to the millions of people that will be watching ‘Dancing With the Stars.’
“It’s interesting, when I walk into the coffee shop near my apartment in North Carolina, everyday there’s people in there sitting and I figure a few of them know who I am because I’m kind of tall and am a race car driver and I’m in North Carolina. Everybody just smiles and I get my coffee, but now when I go there, those people that I thought knew who I was are all like, ‘Golly, can’t wait to watch you dance.’ Those are things I never thought I’d hear — those words.
It’s like Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. said on Jimmy Kimmel the other night. They said, ‘What do you think about Michael dancing on ‘Dancing With the Stars?’ He said, ‘Could you repeat that back to me one more time? I still haven’t gotten my arms all the way around that.’ And, that’s fair. I never have been a dancer and got into it that much, but over the last two weeks I’ve taken a crash course and it’s a good thing for my partner Emma is that the sheet was blank. The thing that I know for sure, when the music starts and it’s time for me to start dancing, I can’t take three or four steps and say, ‘Hold on a minute.’ It’s live and real, it’s just like a NASCAR race — when they throw the green, you’ve gotta go.”
Will this goofy guy — and as a fellow-Kentucky native, I mean that in the best possible way — draw more fans to NASCAR? I’m not sure. I mean, I watch the show, and I didn’t magically become a figure skating fan after watching Meryl Davis and Charlie White last season. But I don’t guess it could hurt.
Will NASCAR fans who didn’t previously watch Dancing with the Stars watch this season, because Michael’s on the show? Maybe, maybe not.
Whether NASCAR or DWTS benefits from this cross-pollenation is unknown, but one thing’s for sure, I’m betting Waltrip will be entertaining to watch. He does look rather goofy (in an entertaining way) in the promos, and I distinctly remember him saying something about skid marks during the big cast reveal on Good Morning America. Just hope he wasn’t talking about THAT kind of skid marks, and I think most of you know what kind of skid marks I’m talking about.
By the way, Waltrip’s not the only guy from the motorsport world to take his turn on the dance floor. Helio Castroneves paired up with dance pro-turned DWTS judge Julainne Hough several seasons ago. Castroneves won the mirrorball trophy his season on the show. Will Waltrip follow in his shoes? Maybe after working with Castroneves, Hough has a soft spot for race car drivers. That would definitely help Waltrip, since Hough is going to be a judge this season.
Want to see some rehearsal and show promo footage featuring Michael and partner Emma Slater? There’s some over on the Michael Waltrip Racing Facebook page. Will you be watching DWTS this season to root on Michael? Will you be voting for him? Just curious.
If you are a DWTS fan and rooting for Michael, here’s a relating Twitter hashtag: #VoteMW. Good luck “Twinkle Toes,” err, I mean Michael.
Whether you care or not, the first episode of Waltrip’s attempt at ballroom dancing will air at 8 p.m. ET Monday night on ABC.
Here are a few photos of Waltrip and Salter promoting DWTS (photos courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing, Getty Images for NASCAR and ABC):