Tom Time Blog: Karting’s Resonant Voice Goes Silent; Memories of Bobby Waltrip

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March 30, 2014 — Memoriam blog written by RaceChaser Online Senior Editor Tom Baker — Photo Courtesy Oval Kart Media/JAM Promotions —

I walked into my apartment in 2002 after a day of work at the Chemung Speedrome and played back the message that was on my machine.  A deep but enthusiastic voice said “Hi Tom, this is Bobby Waltrip.  I’m calling to let you know that I will be working with you in Tunica this year.”

I played it a couple of times just to make sure I got it all.  My first question was “Is this a relation to Michael and Darrell?” and my second reaction (with a smile) was “He sure sounds like an announcer!”

I looked up to him both literally and figuratively.  He was over six feet tall with a voice as big and deep as a mountain.  He knew a lot about racing of all kinds, not just karting.  He loved it all.  “It all” loved him right back.

Bobby never was much for the “famous” label.  He was just happy to be able to enjoy the sport he loved so much and contribute to it in any way he could.

He was always quick with a joke or a one-liner but could be just as quick with the right words to pick someone up or diffuse a tense situation.  He was as good a listener as he was a speaker.

He was an even better friend.

He lived life to its fullest every day.  He wasn’t perfect and he didn’t hide his flaws or his struggles.  He was a man of great faith and “Swing Down Chariots” by The Gaithers was a song I heard him sing so often when we were together.  It was fitting that Bobby’s family chose that song to be the opening hymn for his beautifully conducted funeral service on Thursday.

We shared common interests in music and food, and later, after I got saved and gave my life to Christ in 2009, our faith.  He sure did love the Lord.

His son, Lee-Bob, spoke at the service and told us that Bobby had told him that when he died he didn’t want us to cry for him or be sad.  He wanted us to sit back, crack open a beverage and have a party because he was now with his Lord and his Daddy and he was happy.

I tried not to be sad.  I really did.  I failed miserably for a while.  That’s why it took me so long to finish this tribute I started earlier in the week.

For 12 years “BobWal” and I called the National Indoor Kart Championships together every Thanksgiving Weekend in Mississippi (first in Tunica, then after it moved to Batesville), along with several WKA Daytona dirt kart races and a few King of Concrete indoor kart races in Greensboro, N.C.  back when Butch Lamb was the promoter.

The NIKC was our signature event, though.  We shared “play by play” duties for several years before Bobby started focusing on victory lane.  But even when I was doing the main race calls by myself, I still knew who had the gifted voice and who was the “main man” in our duo.

Bobby was the one who led the successful pitch to bring O’Reilly Auto Parts on board as the NIKC event’s title sponsor.  He built many relationships like that over the years in the sport because he was a man of his word and everybody loved him.

I ran across a You Tube video which was made by Daytona Beach News Journal Sports Editor Godwyn Kelly back in 2009.  He interviewed Bobby in the tower at Volusia County Speedway, where Bobby was “in his office” calling a Go-Kart race.

Talking with Mr. Kelly about this, he gave me his blessing to link it here and shared his grief and some fond memories of “BobWal”.  “He was a hoot,” Mr. Kelly said.  “He was one of the most underrated P.A. (public address) guys in racing.  He really could talk up a race and he always knew just what to say whether it was complimenting a racer or using time during a less exciting race to promote sponsors or what have you.  He will surely be missed.”

This video speaks volumes of who Bobby was.  The link to the video is below.

Watching Lee-Bob at the service, I couldn’t help but notice that the old phrase “His father’s son” has never been more apt.  His composure and strength over the past week can only be attributed to his faith and the belief that this was God’s plan and that Bobby is now in his eternal resting place.

No more pain, no more suffering.  Only peace and joy.

In a Facebook post announcing the passing of his Dad, Lee-Bob closed with this conclusion — “I guess the chariot you always sang about came and get you today”.

One of the sport’s most resonant voices has gone silent.  But for those of us whose lives he touched the memories will live forever.

To all of his family and friends, I offer my sincerest condolences.


Godwin Kelly’s 2009 Interview with Bobby…

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