IndyCar hires Walker as competition chief

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 13, 2013 at 7:23 pm •  Published: May 13, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — IndyCar drivers and owners have always considered Derrick Walker to be a beacon of leadership.

Now he's switching to what Walker calls 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 and what he'll find is an organization still trying to close the popularity gap with NASCAR.

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. Walker said he would no longer represent Will Power or Simon Pagenaud, last year's IndyCar rookie of the year, as a consultant though his team would continue to run on the American Le Mans Series this season.

It's a whole new start for Walker, who is now talking about containing costs and improving safety -- issues that have become annual themes since the series was founded in 1996 -- while fans continue to urge officials to boost speeds. Walker's job is finding the balance between drivers' concerns, fans' wishes and team limits.

The good news is that drivers and owners feel like they finally have someone from their side working in the series office.

"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 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.

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