Interview with NASCAR legend and ‘Dancing with the Stars’ contestant Michael Waltrip

Michael Waltrip is a name in the racing community that needs no introduction. He is a two-time Daytona 500 winner (2001, 2003), and his last name is one that will go down in NASCAR history as royalty until the end of times.

At the current time through, Waltrip is playing the card of contrasting lifestyles. On one end of the spectrum he hops in a car to race near 200 MPH, taking wicked turns in tight-crowded spaces with other drivers looking to gain any edge possible. On the other, he’s treated us to his skills on the dance floor as part of Dancing with the Stars this season. Much to the delight of viewers, Waltrip and his partner Emma Slater are still in the running to win the competition.

More than competition though, Waltrip also gives much back to the community. He’s currently working with Janssen Pharmaceuticals to raise awareness about the dangers of the medical condition known as Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib. It especially hits close to home for Waltrip as his mother suffered a stroke 25 years ago due to AFib complications.

His website, My AFib Story will show you exactly what he’s been up to.

TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Robby Sabo was fortunate enough to speak with Michael about these topics and more:

Robby Sabo: So as everybody knows by now, you’re paired with Emma Slater on Dancing with the Stars. How much fun has it been so far with this whole experience?

Michael Waltrip: It’s been amazing. Dancing with the Stars has been way different than I imagined it. I thought of it as just a chance to goof off a little bit, you know. To enjoy being in Los Angeles, and have fun and dance around. It turns out it’s a whole lot of work. We practice four or five hours a day, five days a week, sometimes six depending on how you’re picking up your dance. And when it’s time to go on the dance floor, you want to put all that you’ve learned, and worked for while training for this performance into your dance. You want to deliver. You want to put something out there that people are happy with. And then when you’re done, you stand in front of four judges, that know how to dance themselves, really well evidently, because they told me that I….need some work. Well, that makes me even more determined to go, and work, and practice harder and learn more and be better. I’ve just had the best time ever, and I hope you can tell, even when the judges are mean and don’t say what I want them to say. I am just having the time of my life and I’m thankful for the opportunity. I love my partner Emma (Slater), she’s amazing. We just got done practicing here in Talladega, Alabama where I’ll hop in my race car, run some laps, and we’ll practice a little more tonight. That’s my life right now and I love every minute of it.

RS: Who’s been one of your favorite co-dancers on the show?

MW: I’ve known Alfonso (Ribeiro) for a while now. He loves cars and raced a little bit when he was younger. Getting to know Tommy Chong has been neat, I like him. He’s really laid back for some reason, I don’t know why. He seems very relaxed about the whole process…I can’t figure it out. I’m enjoying to get to know him as well.

RS: So what would you say it tougher? Dancing or Racing?

MW: It turns out I’m pretty good at racing. When I get in my car I feel I know what I’m doing and can’t wait to go try and execute and win. When I head to that dance floor…I’m pretty well convinced that it’s like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get. I just hope to remember the steps, and be as precise as I can be. At the end of each routine, I hope Emma is smiling, and if Emma’s happy, I’m happy.

RS: You have paired up with Janssen Pharmaceuticals during September, which is National AFib or Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month….and today, you’re unveiling the new design for your #66 Car. How does it feel to be doing so many great things with this health issue?

MW: Well, unfortunately my mom suffered a stroke 25 years ago due to her AFib. My partner Janssen Pharmaceuticals wants people to be aware of AFib and the results it can have on your family. So I partnered with Janssen.

RS: More than 100,000 people have taken the time to visit your website, My AFib Story. How can others share in helping the cause to raise awareness about AFib?

MW: Yes, I think we can double that. I’d love to see the number get up there to 200,000 especially after they see our beautiful car and all those faces on that baby on Sunday afternoon in Talladega. I encourage everybody to visit myafibstory.com to learn more about my mom’s story and learn about treatment options that are available to help prevent stroke. I’m really blessed that my mom is with us today, but life is so different for her because of her stroke. Mom is such a sweet lady and if I could just help one person not end up in a wheelchair because of AFib, then this is totally worth doing. So, mom’s story is an exact example why you should go to your physician and seeing what treatment options are available to you.

RS: Your #66 Toyota Camry you are racing this weekend will have photos of people who donated to AFib. Who’s idea was this?

MW: Janssen Pharmaceuticals is behind it, and leading the way for AFib is something that is very near and dear to my heart. And because of the photos on the car, they just made a donation for over $50,000 to the American Heart Association. This is a win-win for everybody and I’m proud to be a part of it.

RS: Can we expect a win for the #66 Toyota at Talladega this weekend?

MW: Well, we certainly have the ability to. I believe that in my heart. I won here back in 2003 driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Circuit. And in 2012, just a couple miles to go on the last lap, we had a chance but wound up in an accident. I’m very confident and comfortable with my chances on Sunday.

image courtesy of Roger Wong/INFphoto.com

Daniel S Levine

Daniel S Levine is a longtime movie fan and a graduate of Hoftsra University. I also know just about everything you might need to know about Star Wars.

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