This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," February 3, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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LAURA INGRAHAM, GUEST HOST: In the "Back of the Book" segment tonight: On the very last lap of 2001's Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt hit the wall at 200 miles per hour while trying to protect the leads of his son Dale Jr. and his friend Michael Waltrip. Waltrip went on to win the race, but there would be no celebration as news spread about the crash that took Earnhardt's life.
Now, for the first time, Michael talks about that tragic incident in his new book, "In the Blink of an Eye." I talked with him exclusively yesterday.
INGRAHAM: We're coming up now to the tenth anniversary of the Daytona 500, that infamous race where you saw one of your great victories in your life and also one of the greatest moments of sadness. Tell us about it.
MICHAEL WALTRIP, NASCAR DRIVER: I just don't think human beings are designed to have that big of a swing of emotions. I mean, I'm standing in Victory Lane literally seconds after Dale Earnhardt died. Dale Earnhardt was not only my car owner that day, my first victory in 463 tries, but he was my dear friend, too.
And Dale Jr., Dale's son, and Dale and I all raced to the checkered -- were racing toward the checkered, which would have been the greatest race in NASCAR history, I'm convinced of it, had we have made it that last quarter of a mile. But instead it became the worst race in NASCAR history when Dale crashed and died on turn four.
And I stood in Victory Lane oblivious to what had happened to Dale for a while. And looking back, it's just a very painful experience that I think all race fans went through on that day and especially those of us that were involved real closely to the situation.
INGRAHAM: Now, you're the only one, Michael, from the original team who's really spoken out to the extent that you have in your new book. Why did it take 10 years?
WALTRIP: As we're approaching the tenth anniversary of that day, I -- me and some buddies just decided it was time to talk and try to lift some of that burden off my heart. And for the first time, I watched a tape of the race just six months ago or so as I prepared to write the -- write the book, and it helped me. It helped me process what happened.
And we're going back to Daytona for the tenth anniversary. Certainly, I think it's important for me to be ready to answer a lot of questions. And the book, "In the Blink of an Eye," that we wrote, it's a good way for me to start that.
INGRAHAM: Now, Michael, how did it change you? I mean, he was your mentor. He was your car owner. He was your friend. And he was trying to help you in his last moments of his life. He was trying to block out the other drivers. I'll never forget watching that race on television. It was one of the most incredible moments in American racecar history, American sports history. He was trying to help you in those last moments, you and Dale Jr.
WALTRIP: Well, when you think of Dale Earnhardt, you think of determination. You think of grit. Just a blue-collar, working-class guy that got out there and fought for the checkered flag and fought hard for it. And I got so much out of him. He inspired me. Can you imagine? I had raced 462 times and never won, and then my first race driving for Dale, I pull into Victory Lane. You know, I couldn't wait for Dale to come and give me a big hug in Victory Lane. And I was going to say, "How are we going to go win the next one, Dale? Because you're the reason why I'm here today."
INGRAHAM: And Michael, switching gears a little bit, which former president was the closest to NASCAR, do you think, in his heart, who you've met? You've met a lot of them.
WALTRIP: Well, my favorite memory of a president was in 1984. I was in the grandstands at Daytona, and maybe I was 20 years old. So just sort of down in Daytona, having a good time for the 500 -- or for the 400 in July. And Air Force One lands on the back straightaway. It was President Reagan. He came to the racetrack, went up into the radio booth, and called some of the race on the radio and then had a big barbecue after the race for the racers. And so that always left an impression on me.
I was a big Ronald Reagan fan all through middle school and voted for him in 1981 and certainly loved Ronald Reagan and the fact that he took time to be a part of that event that day. It legitimizes a whole lot about what we were doing in NASCAR to people all across our country.
The growth since the '80s has been unprecedented in our sport, and I think it's because of the attention back then that President Reagan gave us. So I know his 100th birthday is coming up pretty soon, and he was a true, true man that I admired and a great leader of our country. And he was in Daytona for something that I loved, NASCAR. And that gave us something in common.
INGRAHAM: And Michael, who gets booed the most? Which driver and why?
WALTRIP: Kyle Busch because he's mean, but I like him. No, probably Kyle Busch because he's so competitive and so intense. And he -- he tells you what he thinks. And people -- people sort of don't like that.
I had a brother named Darrell back in the '70s who everybody booed him as well because he won a lot. Sort of what Kyle's up against. Just a lot of wins, and people want to see the guy that wins beat.
INGRAHAM: All right. Michael Waltrip, it's great to talk to you. And great book. We're really glad you were able to share your memories of Dale Sr. with us.
WALTRIP: Thank you, Laura. I'm really proud of the book, and I appreciate the time tonight.
INGRAHAM: What a great guy.
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