BioBirthdate:July 16, 1981
Birthplace:Los Angeles, California
Hometown:Los Angeles, California
Residence:Mooresville, North CarolinaFamily:Single
Racing Involvement:Shares driving duties with Kasey Kahne for the Akins Motorsports Busch Series team; drives for Kahne's Sprint Car team; won three Silver Crown Series events in 2004, the Tulsa 100 at Tulsa Fairgrounds Motorplex, the Ted Horn 100 at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, and the Bully Hill Vineyards 100 at Nazareth Speedway; was World of Outlaws Gumout Series champion in 2002, when he won 11 "A" features, tying him for First Place on the series' all-time victory list; began racing go-karts at age 10, eventually winning over 200 races and four California state championships.
Tyler Walker sits in the transporter of the Great Clips No. 38 Busch car at Daytona International Speedway, impatiently awaiting the start of his season. His shaved head makes him look like an unlikely candidate for a car sponsored by a chain of hair styling shops.
But he's exactly what sponsors are looking for in a driver. He's 23 years old, California hip, personable, and articulate. He brings to the Busch Series an impressive pedigree and list of successes in a variety of racing styles.
He was hired after making three starts in Busch last year. He raced twice for Akins Motorsports, where he filled in for Kasey Kahne, and once for BACE Motorsports. In three races, his best start was Eighth and his best finish was 12th. He also ran three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races.
In addition to racing in Busch, he will share driving duties with Kahne on the Sprint Car team Kahne owns.
SCR: You come from a family that has a history in competition. Talk about your racing ancestors.Walker: I'm a fourth-generation racer. My great-grandmother, Dorothy, raced before women were allowed to compete, so she wore a mask and was called the "Masked Marvel." She died in a race crash in Colorado. My grandfather was A.J. Walker, who worked extensively in Indy Cars and helped Troy Ruttman get to Indianapolis. My dad raced Formula cars on road courses and later went to Sprint Cars. So I sort of grew up around cars. When I was real small my dad was racing cars like Formula Atlantics. Then he got out of racing for a while to take over running my grandfather's business. Once that was going OK, he began driving Sprint Cars.
SCR: When did you first race?Walker: I began on a bicycle in BMX racing when I was 8. I got involved in karts when I turned 10. The kart racing was mostly on road courses. It was Sprint racing, and we ran on tracks [in California] like Riverside and in Bakersfield and Sacramento.
SCR: What kind of kart?Walker: It was a 100cc non-shifter. At that time, there weren't many shifter karts being raced. We could get 80 karts in the non-shifter class, and there were only six or eight in shifters. I wanted to race where there was the most competition, so I didn't want to move up. We won over 200 races and four championships.
SCR: What did you learn in karts?Walker: They are the easiest cars to learn on because in order to be good, you have to learn the fundamentals. You can do that without going real fast. You have to be very smooth, so it teaches you how to make the best use of all the power you have, even if you don't have a lot of it. If you want to run up front you have to learn about chassis setup, how to make adjustments and what they'll do. One of the things you have to learn is how to explain to someone else what the car is doing on the racetrack. It really helped when I went to the big cars.
SCR: That was a pretty big jump, from karts to Sprint Cars. How hard was the transition?Walker: It was wild. It was the biggest transition in my life. I'd never raced on dirt before and had no idea what to expect. I went from a kart to an 800hp Sprint Car with huge stagger. The first time I fired it up, the car wanted to head into the fence. So I brought it in and told the crew there must be something wrong with it. They laughed and told me to drive it harder. I figured, hey, if that's what they want, so I went out and really got on it. I started sliding it through the corners and there was just no going back. It's like being in a bullet with a steering wheel. The wing gives you all that downforce [so] it makes it feel like it's driving on a rail.
SCR: Were you successful early on?Walker: In 1995, I got the Northern Auto Racing Club's Hard Charger award. The next year, I got three Rookie of the Year awards: The Little 500, Knoxville Nationals, and the National Sprint Car. It was pretty neat. In 1997, I won at the Sharon Nationals, I had seven All-Star race wins, and was the All-Star Rookie of the Year and the Wild Card winner in the National Sprint Car poll. In 1998 and 1999, I got three World of Outlaws wins each year and was the Wild Card Winner again both years. I ran some Silver Crown races in 2000 and 2001, and in 2002 I was champion of the Outlaw's Gumout Series. I had 11 A-Feature wins and won World of Outlaws races at Charlotte, Sedalia, and Oklahoma City.
SCR: What was the reaction of the old timers?Walker: They weren't used to having someone new coming in and winning. These guys have been at it a long time. They were nice enough most of the time, but once you get on the track, there are no friends. A lot of the teams don't have much funding, and they have to win if they want to keep racing. That makes racing pretty intense.
SCR: Then you got an offer you couldn't refuse?Walker: Yeah. I was on the cover of magazines, in national publications, and I got this call from a new Busch team owner who wanted to talk to me about a job driving for him. He picked me up in a private plane and flew me to this incredible shop. He had everything there. It was all first-class stuff. Cars. Tools. Crew. Everything.
This was awesome, I figured. This is the kind of operation every kid dreams of driving for, and they want me! I signed a five-year contract. Two years in Busch and three in Winston Cup.
SCR: Then what happened?Walker: The owner ended up in jail for money laundering, and I was out of work for a year and a half. It was too late to get something lined up for the season. All the rides were taken. I worked out a lot, trying to keep in shape. Chad Knaus, who was supposed to be the Tyler Jet crewchief, helped me out with a few jobs. I slept on the floor of Jay Guy's place for a very long time. Then, after hanging around the Charlotte area so long, I snuck into the speedway and introduced myself to Ray Evernham. I was blown away when he said, 'Tyler Walker? Sure, I know who you are.' It turns out he wanted to put together a team and was looking for someone to work with him on it.
SCR: So you went racing for Evernham?Walker: Not exactly. I began making some calls to see what it would cost to put a team together. To start one up was going to be almost $450,000, and Ray just didn't want to budget for that. But he still wanted to be involved. Plus, this was the year he was to bring Dodge back into NASCAR, and he was so involved with that project that he really didn't have the time. So he came up with about $50,000 and Dodge engines for us for a year, and I began racing (USAC) again. It sure felt good to be in a car after all that time off. We did pretty well, and I began getting my name in the magazines again; people began taking an interest in me. We ran only six races. I was on the front row at Indianapolis Raceway Park (IRP) and in the Top Three at two other tracks. We were pretty fast, but we had a lot of mechanical problems. I was in the lead two laps from the end at Richmond when the engine locked up. The problem was I was working so hard but not making enough money to pay the bills. My credit cards were maxed out and I was heading for trouble.
SCR: What did you do then?Walker: I came to Charlotte and lived for a couple of months with Kasey Kahne. I needed to get back into Sprint Cars. It was like wanting to go back home again. I raced for Kasey for a year and we were pretty successful. We won three times in the Silver Crown Series. I won the Tulsa 100 at Tulsa Fairgrounds, the Ted Horn 100 at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, and the Bully Hill Vineyards 100 at Nazareth Speedway.
SCR: That got you the ride in Busch?Walker: Yeah. I'll be doing 25 races this year in the Great Clips car. It's another big transition, but I'm excited about it. The car is so different. I've got so much to learn that I feel like a big magnet, picking up everything I can. Everything is different. You really have to pay attention to throttle application, braking points, and where you exit the corners. In a Sprint Car you are sliding all the time. In a Busch car you don't want to be sliding at all.
SCR: What kind of goals have you set for your rookie season?Walker: I honestly think I can win three times and finish in the Top 10 in 15 races. The equipment is really good, and the crew knows what it's doing. They've been great working with me and very supportive in teaching me what I need to know. Kasey will help where he can, but he's got so much stuff going on in Nextel Cup that I don't think he'll have much time to spend with me.
SCR: You join a large field of former open-wheel stars who have moved to NASCAR: Jeff Gordon, Mike Bliss, Tony Stewart, and Ryan Newman. What do you learn in those cars that helps to be successful in stock cars?Walker: It's all car control. You really learn how to drive right on the edge. You have to really be able to do it lap after lap in order to win and learn how to drive with the throttle. But if you look at some of the open-wheel guys who have made the transition, most of them weren't all that successful in Busch. Tony Stewart didn't excel in Busch, neither did Jeff Gordon. They really didn't come into their own until they moved up to the Cup cars.
SCR: Why do you feel that is the case?Walker: It's the horsepower. You get so used to all that power in a Sprint Car that you have a hard time transitioning to the lower output in a Busch car. The Busch car is neat, but the power-to-weight ratio is nothing like that in a Sprint Car or a World of Outlaws car. Once they get behind the big motors in Cup, where they've got lots of power, they come into their own again.
SCR: In previous interviews, you've mentioned you'd like to race Formula 1. Is that still the case?Walker: Sure. I'd like to do Formula 1. I also want to do rally cars, the Indy 500. I want to race against the best drivers in the world. Can I beat them? I don't know. But I'd like to try.
SCR: Who is the driver you would most like to beat?Walker: That's easy. Jeff Gordon. He's the best there is right now. Just look at his record. Anytime you can finish ahead of him you've beaten the best there is.