MOORESVILLE, NC (March 28, 2018) – It really isn’t a dream for Chris Walker. The long-time car owner in late model and ProCup circles is still pinching himself every morning since his team picked up their first win in the BakerDist.com 200 at Myrtle Beach Speedway on Saturday, the opening super late model race of the season for the CARS Response Energy Tour.
“This morning when I woke up, the check and the trophy are sitting on my fireplace mantle, but it still hasn’t sunk in,” Walker admitted. “That first one, it’s hard to top it.”
For many outside of the team’s inner circle, it was hard to believe the race was his first win in nearly a decade of car ownership. Most team owners who have had the litany of drivers in their machines as Walker has routinely are associated with winning. And though he had been close, it never happened before.
“I’ve owned cars from back around ’09 in the Hedgecock late model days and Alex Yontz has driven for me, Brandon Butler, Tommy Lemons, Clay Rogers and others, but I don’t think you’ll ever top this one unless we move up and run Trucks or something like that,” the 33-year old car owner said. “That’s what so many people couldn’t believe. My close friends knew that was my first one. Other people, they knew we had ProCup cars before and I’ve been with people who’ve won, and to be a winning owner for the first time, I don’t think you’ll ever top that. It means the world to me. Me and Fultz hung out last night, and he’s won a ton of races, but I think he sees in me how excited I am.”
The end result was the product of a weekend’s worth of work with a piecemeal team. In a period when many teams have paid crews dedicated to making their car perform, Walker’s crew was all-volunteer and a group of friends he and Fultz mingle with away from the track. Yes, their careers are involved in professional motorsports positions during any other weekend, but the schedules lined up to create the crew they used this past weekend.
“The weekend went really smooth from tech to Saturday, getting through tech and getting tires and all of that stuff,” driver Jeff Fultz said of the weekend. “We had no issues with really anything. The car was brand new, so we had a few little things because it was new, normal stuff, but other than that I can’t say we had any issues at all. We build the cars and put them together, and they’re just built right.”
During the week, Fultz runs and manages Fury Racecars, the chassis builder for Walker Motorsports, so he has intricate knowledge of each car the business creates, Walker’s included. Because of this, the 46-year old has semi-retired from the driver’s seat, racing part-time as his schedule allows with customers often needing his assistance on race weekends.
When the opportunity came from Walker to race at Myrtle Beach, one of his favorite tracks, Fultz jumped on it.
“It probably took four or five laps to get back into the swing of things, but it’s one of those places I probably excel better at,” Fultz explained. “I like driving it, it’s a place I sorta adapted to, even in All-Pro. It’s one of my favorite places to race because you have different driving styles and you have to be smoother and manage the car. It’s kind of like a chess game when you’re racing at Myrtle Beach. It can play out different ways. It’s such a fun place and it really suits what I like.”
After the completion of Fivestar Bodies Knockout Qualifying, Fultz found himself the fastest car in the field for the 100-lap, $10,000-to-win race in his first outing with the team. Because of the multi-round format, he started the race in third, but it took only a minute until the No. 54 was out front. From that point forward, Fultz led the majority of the race up until the lap 70 break for tires.
“I ran just hard enough to where I wasn’t hurting the tires at all,” Fultz said of the first 70 laps of the race. “Trying not to abuse the tires was all I was trying to do. If someone wanted to push a little harder, I would just let ’em go. Preston tried to, and I pushed a little harder but still wasn’t hurting the tires. I know what it feels like when grip starts fading or if you’re sliding them. I think we all could’ve run a little faster without hurting them, especially getting new tires. I really would have raced a little harder, but it played out that way which was a lucky thing.”
Walker also knew Fultz was good at tire management, likely the best in the field, but had some nervous energy entering the break.
“I was pretty emotional, still, with 30 laps to go at the break,” Walker said. “Weeder did a good job on the tires and gave him what he wanted, but it was a matter of how tight it was going to get with the right sides only. We had to go out low [on air pressure], but didn’t know what it would do when they built up some heat. When we jacked up the left side and Weeder said the left rear still had the centerline in it, then I knew he knew he’d been saving. When we knew that, I knew we had a pretty good piece, all we did was put some tape on the grille and cleaned it. I knew then it was good to go, I just didn’t know if he was going to stretch it out or if there was going to be a lot of cautions or if Raphael or Craig were going to come flying back up. You didn’t know who had rode because the pace was really, really slow.”
Upon the green flag to resume the race, Fultz and the Walker Motorsports crew were full speed ahead. Knowing the race had been slower than normal up to that point, everyone was aware things would likely pick up rather quickly on the abrasive half-mile at Myrtle Beach Speedway. One one of the restarts, Fultz had a mental lapse and nearly cost himself the race.
“I was nervous, almost with every caution,” Walker said. “Like, one time, he got to the white line and got confused on where to start because CARS has a little different way of restarting, so when he launched I was hoping it didn’t get us put to the rear of the field just for that, they said that was our warning. I would say I was nervous the whole time.”
Walker’s nerves continued for another 30 laps until Fultz cruised underneath the white flag, en route to what appeared to be a relatively easy win. Seconds later, again, a small mental mistake nearly cost the team victory within sight of the checkered flag.
“There was never an ‘oh crap,’ until turn three on the last lap, and I just got in too low, and I never do that,” Fultz recalled of the final circuit. “I almost slipped up. If it would’ve been anyone but Chandler (Smith) there, they would’ve run into me. I had to stop it so I wouldn’t give up too much of the bottom. Then, I spun the tires all the way up to the start finish line and it looked like he got a good run. He raced me clean, but if I was racing someone else I would’ve been a little bit more nervous they would’ve run into the back of me or something like that.”
Walker recalled those moments in real-time, thinking back to everything which came together to make it happen.
“That’s when all the emotions hit,” he said. “Fultz just got in the zone, and Fritz up there talking to him in his ear is really good. He just had to get up on the wheel, and I think that’s what he did. I felt like Chandler would race him, but not dump him to get the win. He had ’em, he just parked it in the center when it got tight, and he barely caught him at the end. His emotions were high too, I know he was feeling exactly what I was feeling. He worked all night Wednesday night by himself at the shop, and we worked around the clock the last three weeks because they were busy over there already building cars and putting clips on. He’s selling cars, talking to customers, traveling with Steven (Wallace), every weekend he’s raced. So, I think me and him had pretty much the same emotion. We both put everything we had into it.”
“You do lose a little bit when you get a bit older, but I still get in cars quite a bit,” Fultz said, laughing off the moniker he’s been given as an ‘old man’ in the car. “This just shows how much the program is built here to help our customers. I still love to do it, if I just had to show up and race a car, I’d do it all day in any series. When you have to do everything – work on the car, build ’em, worry about business, worry about this, this, and make a living, we’ve kind of gone past it. This still gives me the drive to do it, and keeps a little bit of that fire inside because I love helping our customers, too.”
And for Walker, that’s exactly what he needed.
“I just build the car and love to go racing,” Walker said. “I don’t want to drive and don’t care to. I would rather put him in it, or if we can rent it, because there’s no more house cars at Fury, that’s fine. If we can go play and have fun, like this one because it all worked out, that’s fine too. We’re all good friends off the track, go out to eat together, hang out, call, whether racing or not. I think the knowledge is what got us there. Without our core guys, sure, it was a fluke win, but with Fultz, Fritz, Mike Darne, Weeder — everyone together put us there.
“I couldn’t talk,” Walker said in reference to the end of the race. “I stayed up on top of the pit box because we had enough people to change tires and pit the car. It was emotional, and that’s why I sat on the pit box because it wasn’t going to do me any good to work on it. All I did was clean the grille screen. Anything else, I get too nervous because that’s like my baby out there. I have a lot tied up in that car and it has the best of everything you can get, the latest and greatest. Walking down pit road, I don’t think it hit. When he first pulled up, that’s when I started crying. Then, here came everyone, and it was just emotional. I gave it all I had and we kind of put the group of us together, and since we’re all friends on and off the track, I think that’s what meant more to me than anything. It still really hasn’t sunk in. Everyone’s called, texted, emailed, it just hasn’t really sunk in yet. It kinda, sorta has, but not yet.”
While the story is one for storybooks and Hollywood movies, this tale is real. In a sense, Walker is a throwback to old-school car owners who do it for the love of the sport and the comraderie of their buddies. Although he and Fultz have been friends for years, it was an otherwise casual conversation which lit the fire for what has already been a successful partnership.
“He called me up after I sold him some furniture and said, ‘Man, if you wanna go racing, I can put it together.’ It took longer than we wanted it to, but it paid off.”
For more information on Walker Motorsports, visit their website at ChrisWalkerMotorsports.com, follow them on Facebook (@ChrisWalkerMotorsportsInc), Twitter (@CWMTeam), and Instagram (@WalkerMotorsports).
Driver Jeff Fultz can also be found on various social media including Facebook (@JeffFultzRacing), Twitter (@JeffFultz) and Instagram (@JeffFultz).