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Sunday, March 16, 2008

New Look Indy Racing League Loses Racing Pioneer and Gentleman

Walker Racing has announced that racing operations have ceased. Derrick Walker joins a list, that includes Forsythe Racing, of teams who have decided against joining the revamped IRL due to lack of funds and sponsorship concerns.

The merger between the Indy Racing League and the Champ Car World Series has been highly anticipated. Fans of open wheel racing in North America may be the losers in a fight that has lasted too long. Auto racing thrives on sponsorship dollars and the merger coupled with NASCAR’s enormous popularity has caused a classy racing pioneer to cease operations.

Derrick Walker has been a mainstay in American motorsport for a long while. He was responsible for launching the Indy car careers of many notable drivers like Robby Gordon and Gil de Ferran. It is upsetting to learn of Walker’s decision to close down Walker Racing due to a lack of funding. Mr. Walker, among other racing achievements, will be remembered as the man who gave Willy T. Ribbs a realistic opportunity at the Indianapolis 500.

Walker and comedian Bill Cosby teamed up to field a car for Ribbs in 1991.
"He will no longer be a first-class racer driving a third-class car with a third-class engine,” said Cosby.
Bill Cosby and Derrick Walker’s commitment led to Willy T. Ribbs becoming the first African- American qualifier and driver to race in the Indy 500.

Derrick Walker’s mark on racing was made long before May of 1991. Many of today’s racing enthusiasts are unfamiliar with Derrick Walker’s exploits. He began his racing career as a mechanic with Brabham Formula 1 in 1970 and crossed paths with current Formula 1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone.

Walker took a position with Roger Penske as mechanic for the grand prix team. Penske decided to leave grand prix racing and Walker stayed on as general manager of Penske Cars. Mr. Penske then brought Walker to the United States as the vice- president of racing operations. Derrick Walker’s first taste of victory in his new role came at the hands of a relatively unknown driver, Rick Mears.

Derrick Walker has been involved in many forms of auto racing including road racing with Porsche. After Porsche’s open wheel venture sputtered, Walker acquired the assets and began his own team. The rest, as they say, is history. I am really upset by recent news regarding Walker because as I set out to begin a career in motorsports, he was the only owner or insider to take time to give me personal advice. Mr. Walker set aside time to return every one of my phone calls and letters. It is a shame to think that the new look series will begin without Derrick Walker and he will be sorely missed.

Photo of Derrick Walker courtesy of RFM Sports

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