SPEEDWAY – Funny how roles tend to change when you are in a sport long enough.
Derrick Walker has worn a lot of hats while in the Izod IndyCar Series from team owner to most recently manager of Ed Carpenter Racing. Often his roles would mean butting heads with those in the upper management of the series in hopes of improving things for his team and driver.
On Monday his job did a complete 180, when Walker took on a new job within the management of the Izod IndyCar Series. After the Indianapolis 500, Walker will become the series’ President of Competition and Operations in hopes of helping IndyCar continue to innovate and improve for years to come.
“That is a favorite quote of mine. I am going to the dark side and happily so. It is a lot to learn,” said Walker of jumping to the management side of the series. “Fortunately there is a lot of good people at INDYCAR that have been around a heck of a lot longer on this side of the fence than me.
“So I expect to be on a very steep learning curve and find my place in how to influence or how to help steer the governing body.”
Walker will do so with senior vice president of operations Brian Barnhardt, race director Beaux Barfield and technology VP Will Phillips reporting directly to him. In his opening statements about his new job on Monday, Walker stressed the need for the series to strive for practical innovation as he moves forward. He wants not only more competitive races and higher speeds but also cost effectiveness that allows for new people to get involved.
“I think if you look at what our goal has to be or should be, is to open up that door just enough to allow it to grow and improve and innovate, but yet keep it in a measurable amount, not only the teams but the manufacturers, every supplier that is involved in our business,” said Walker. “It doesn’t price them out of the market — we can’t have in the U.S., maybe in other parts of the world it works — but we can’t have such a super-expensive series that the fans can’t afford to come along and buy a ticket.
“And we’re racing in front of, you know, lots and lots of people that don’t turn up. So getting that balance I think is going to be key.”
Miles said that part of the reason that Walker was hired for the job is his belief that Walker can bring practical innovation to the series-perhaps helping the cars to find the speed which first made open wheel racing popular in the American sports landscape.
“We’re the fastest series, and it’s part of our brand, it’s part of what we’re about,” said Walker. “But we’re not quite as fast as we used to be, so if we can work through Derrick and through the paddock to think of ways to make incremental improvements in that, I think that’s a good thing. We’ll be talking more about that perhaps before long.
“But, yeah, I think it will be a team effort. But we’re going to count on Derrick to help shepherd us through that process.”