The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma marked the end of a brief era in the history of IndyCar. After the last car crossed the finish line, the celebration was over and the doors were shut, Derrick Walker was no longer the president of competition and operations.
Walker, 70, announced his resignation on July 30, which would take effect at the end of the season. Just over a week later, he helped complete the deal that would bring IndyCar back to Road America for the first time in eight years.
Respected racing journalist Gordon Kirby has written a profile on Walker, speaking with the former team owner about his short tenure in position “long considered a poisoned chalice.”
Following two years running Ed Carpenter’s team, Walker said he had two goals entering his time as president of competition and operations.
“I came in with those two ideas. I wanted IndyCar to get out of spec racing and I wanted to change the culture of IndyCar in a new way,” Walker said.
The Scotsman said his first year was “the worst,” with Walker basically using it for “on-the-job training” as his perception of the sport and the “dark side” of the front office changed from his time in the paddock.
“Like many people in the paddock you condition yourself to always look at the front office and say, it’s broken, it doesn’t work,” Walker said. “I always had the impression that the organization needed fairly radical changes. I thought we needed to get some people out of here and get some fresh blood in.”
But after two months Walker realized that the people in the front office were hard workers who often didn’t have the resources they needed.
“I saw them more as a brave bunch that were doing a very good job but they need some overall leadership and, most of all, they needed some support,” Walker said. “They needed to be told they weren’t that bad, that they were good at their jobs. But some changes were needed. Change was necessary.”
- On decision to resign: “Sometimes I didn’t agree with it. Sometimes I struggled with the lack of progress. Sometimes I didn’t feel there was enough support. But I kept my head down as a loyal employee and supported the company and did what I thought was best. My contract was up in June of this year and when it came time to consider the renewal of my contract I thought it was time to make a decision as to whether I would stay or seek other employment. I really felt strongly enough about my opinions but the one thing I didn’t want to be was one of those whinging employees in the ranks who are disgruntled with the system.”
- Lack of performance feedback: “In two and a half years I’ve never actually had anyone sit me down and tell me what I’m doing right or wrong. I’ve never had the team owners sit me down and tell me here’s where we think you’re screwing it up. So I was very disappointed when these people who I have known for many years and many of them I’ve worked really hard to help, thought so ill of me. Quite frankly, I was shocked. But the reality is the reality and you accept it and move on. Cutting a long story short, that’s the way it came about.”
- A car for the future: “I was planning to show my proposal (a 20-page Powerpoint) at Mid-Ohio for getting to a new car in 2018 or beyond. It depended on if the owners agreed when it would happen. It could be 2018 or it could be 2019 or 2020 but there is going to be a new car. I believed we needed to set a plan and start cracking along towards it to give us enough time to do the job right. But I never made the presentation to them to look at the future. I wanted to have more time for IndyCar and the team owners to plan for the new car and to get the message out to the fans and media. The fans, the manufacturers and the competitors all want to know where we’re going. IndyCar is about the cars and the stars but having a clean sheet of paper for the cars allows you to modify and rub on them, re-think and change.”
- What’s next: “I’m going to go back to running my (USC GT Le Mans) team and business. I’ve got some good people and they’ve kept the team in good shape over the past two and a half years. I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do. I’ve got to get on the treadmill and find the money and look at other programs like Global RallyCross. I’m not restricted to anything. If I can find the money I’d like to continue in the USC and maybe other forms of racing.”