IndyCar hires Walker as competition chief
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - IndyCar drivers and owners have always considered Derrick Walker to be a beacon of leadership.
Now he's switching to what Walker describes as the "dark'' side.
The well-respected former team owner was hired Monday as IndyCar's new head of competition, ending the worst-kept secret in Indianapolis. Speculation that the 68-year-old Scotsman would lead the competition department kicked into high gear last week when four-time series champ Dario Franchitti, also a Scot, said Walker had been hired.
Turns out, it was all true.
"I know I'm not going to please everybody every day,'' Walker said. "There are going to be some days when some people will think I'm a jerk and there will be some days where I probably will be a jerk. I just hope there's more good days than jerk days.''
Walker takes over May 27, the day after the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to be run. Until then, he will continue to serve as general manager for Ed Carpenter Racing, the one-car team owned by Tony George's stepson. George's family owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and George was the founder of the IndyCar Series.
It's a whole new start for Walker, who is now talking about containing costs, improving safety and helping the cars go faster if they continue to protect the drivers.
Drivers and owners like the fact that he understands the racing business from the ground up.
Walker started his racing career as a chief mechanic and built his reputation by working with or for some of the biggest names in racing history -- Graham Hill, Rick Mears, Roger Penske, and Al and Bobby Unser. He eventually started his own team, winning six races and 16 poles in 19 seasons. He also was a trendsetter, helping Willy T. Ribbs became the first black driver to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and later giving Sarah Fisher a foothold in the series.
And after more than four decades in racing, he's ready for a change.
"He gives you exactly what you need from that side,'' said Josef Newgarden, who drives for Fisher -- the only woman to own an IndyCar team. "There are two equations there. You've got to figure out how to please the fans and the outside world and you've got to please the inside world of the drivers and teams. I think Derrick is the perfect guy for those inside the wall because he knows how to run a race team, and I think he's able to bridge that gap between the fans and the race teams.''
Walker acknowledged he has a lot to learn.
From now until he starts his new job, Walker said he will be pulling double duty -- working to keep Carpenter's burgeoning race team near the front of the pack while trying to get initiated into the world of executives.
Walker will report directly to Mark Miles, the chief executive of Hulman & Co. and the man who made the decision to hire him. Miles said race director Beau Barfield, Brain Barnhart, the president of IndyCar operations and strategy, and Will Phillips, the series' vice president of technology, will all report to Walker.
"I have no doubt we will be more stitched together as a team,'' said Miles, who was previously in charge of Indy's Super Bowl committee. "I think we'll be a higher performing team under his (Walker's) leadership.''
First, though, Walker must get comfortable in a job he never dreamed of taking until Miles offered.
"I am going to the dark side,'' Walker said, drawing laughter. "There are a lot of good people at IndyCar that have been on that side of the fence a lot longer than me.''