Posted by Armin H. Ausejo
Quite the standout on local and national drift circuits, Walker Wilkerson’s purple drift monster cannot be mistaken for anything else. The loud exhaust, paint, graphics, and wheel colors might echo a driver of similar demeanor, but instead, Walker is quite soft-spoken, very polite, and remarkably humble. This dichotomy is just as striking as Walker’s drifting skills, which this year created a tsunami of new fans across the country and nearly earned him Formula Drift’s “Rookie of the Year.” Just before SEMA week, we were able to catch up with Walker and talk to him about his freshman Formula Drift season, his newfound fame, and what lies ahead for future glory.
Interview by Armin “Hammer” Ausejo – Snaps by Armin Ausejo, Kyle Pope, Andy Krzyzanowski, David “Gwag” Hintze, Nate Hassler & Josh Mackey
NWMotiv: Thanks for taking the time out of your extremely busy schedule to talk with us, Walker. How exactly did you get started in motorsports?
Walker: I’ve been into motorsports my whole life. I started racing motocross at age 6! I don’t really ride much anymore but I wish I had more time to.
NWMotiv: Nice! Rumor has it that watching a D1GP video on YouTube originally sparked your interest in drifting.
Walker: Yeah it’s true. That’s the first time I saw real drifting, my friend got a 240sx later on and we started messing around in it. I started going out to local Evergreen drifting events and watching from the stands. I watched for about a year before I got my own 240, then started hitting up the track myself!
NWMotiv: Since you mentioned your 240, how long have you had it?
Walker: She’s been a work in progress for the last 2.5 years. I drove to Moses Lake to pick her up. Bone stock 92 dual cam base model chassis!
NWMotiv: So after your first Evergreen drifting events, did you ever believe that you’d end up being a professional drifter?
Walker: No, not really. I only ran two ProAM events last year due to my car not being finished in time and also I was in Japan for a big portion of the summer last year. I got the Evergreen Drift ProAM Nationals wildcard invitation to go to Irwindale Speedway in Socal to battle with other ProAM drivers from across the nation for a 2011 Formula Drift Pro License. I was able to qualify 8th and took home 2nd place overall in the final and was rewarded a 2011 Formula Drift Pro License.
NWMotiv: It doesn’t get much better than that! Was it hard making the transition into the Formula Drift world? Did you get treated as the FNG or did anyone take you under his or her wing?
Walker: Everybody’s pretty cool off the track. I’d say that I’m being mentored. At the events I spend a lot of time at the Falken trailers; they are one of my big sponsors. So I am always talking with Dai, JR and JTP about stuff I can do differently or go about doing something in a different way. It helps out a lot since all three of these guys are the top dogs.
NWMotiv: Speaking of the top dogs, they’re all pretty much running V8s in their cars, along with almost everyone else competing in Formula Drift this year. It wasn’t always like this though. Did you ever feel like you needed to swap in a V8 to stay competitive during the season?
Walker: Well, all I have ever driven with is SR’s, so it’s what I am used to drifting with. Although, there are the disadvantages of running a 4 cylinder: some drivers will mess with you and try to make you fall out of boost.
NWMotiv: Wow really? Rubbin’s racing in the drift world too? What other types of obstacles did you encounter this season?
Walker: A lot of the hardships are really stressing over the car. Before the season started, there were times when I wouldn’t see anyone for weeks at a time. I was putting 8-12 hours a day of work into my car and I barely made it to Long Beach. When I went to go test the new car setup 3 days before I was to leave for Rd 1 in Long Beach, I realized my 350z trans-to-SR adapter plate wasn’t made to be run with a twin disc clutch. So, basically we pulled the tranny, fixed what we thought the issues were, and put it back in, only to find out it was still doing the same thing. I had to overnight new clutch discs and then we had to R&D a way to make the 350z trans work with a twin disc clutch. It was a long 3 days with barely any sleep. I didn’t even think I was going to make it to Long Beach, but we didn’t give up and rolled in on Thursday 30 minutes before tech ended. The hard work definitely paid off when I was able to secure a 7th place qualifying position at my first ever competition as a pro and made it to Top 16.
NWMotiv: It’s stories like this that really help boost up your fan base. Being a fan favorite of the Northwest, how have you coped with the additional fame and attention? For example, a fan of yours has even recreated your drift car in Forza 4! Do you feel pressured to represent the Pacific Northwest at drift events around the country?
Walker: I think it’s really cool! I appreciate the support from all my fans and everybody in the Northwest so much. When I see my fans all excited to watch me drive, it just gets me super hyped up to go throw down even harder and put on a great show for everyone! No, I don’t feel pressured; I just go out and have the time of my life driving with some of the world’s best drifters!
NWMotiv: You’re really shown that you’ve got what it takes to compete with the best of them. The entire Pacific Northwest collectively cheered for you to win Rookie of the Year. How does it look for next season’s Formula Drift? Any major changes planned?
Walker: Yeah, unfortunately I didn’t win Rookie of the Year: Odi and I were super close. I think at Vegas if my car didn’t break and I was able to qualify/attempt to do my qualifying run, Rookie of the Year would’ve played out much differently. But I mean my car had a ton of drivetrain issues and broke a lot this year, which only made it even more difficult. I was really excited though because I won the “2011 Formula Drift Fan Favorite Driver of the Year Award” which was voted on by the fans. I was competing against guys like Dai, Forsberg, JR, JTP, Powers, etc. and I am only a rookie! I honestly think though winning the “Fan Favorite Award” almost carries more weight in the eye of sponsors then Rookie of the Year does! As far as next year goes, I am not entirely sure what we are doing just yet. My dream would be to be picked up by a team that would provide me a competitive and reliable car to drive, while being backed by a great crew that could fix the car super fast if something were to break or go wrong. I know I could do really well if I had a car that’s reliable, more competitive and a strong team behind me. So who knows, we’ll see what happens over the offseason!
NWMotiv: Well, since you talked about being provided a competitive and reliable car to drive, what would you replace your S13 with if you could choose, and why?
Walker: There are a few cars that I think would be pretty sweet to drive, however I really do like the S chassis, both S13 and S14s. I think it would be pretty sweet to build a Toyota JZX100 Mark 2 with a fully built 2JZ similar to Daigo Saito’s car. Another car that would be rad to build is an S15. S15’s really look like they drive well.
NWMotiv: Right on, so provided you had the right car and everything, which tracks from this year would you be looking forward to ripping up next season?
Walker: Well, there are two tracks that I really like on the Formula Drift circuit. Both Long Beach and Irwindale I’d say are my favorites. At Long Beach, I was able to qualify 7th at my very first FD event and make it to Top 16. Irwindale, I drove last year for ProAM Nationals and ended up getting 2nd place, winning my 2011 Formula Drift Pro License. But this year I ended up qualifying 7th, which means I got paired up against the 26th place qualifier that happened to be Darren Mcnamara for Top 32! I was feeling really good and my Falken Tire, Fatlace, Garage Autohero and Intec Racing S13 was on point! We had no issues with the car all weekend and I was killin’ it! On my lead run against Dmac I rode the whole wall and actually broke my rear bumper off. Dmac ran shallow under me and I had the advantage going into the chase run. I knew if I wanted to win and not get a one more time I had to go super hard in which I did. I just went a little too hard trying to suck up on Dmac going into the inner bank wall corner. I didn’t think I was going to hit until I actually did but that threw away the win. Every time I drive with someone like that and get beat I learn something new, learn from my mistakes and progress as a driver.
NWMotiv: What other ways can prospective new drifters use to progress as a driver? Do you have any words of wisdom for them?
Walker: The words of wisdom I’d give the new drivers out there are to always have fun. Always keep pushing yourself to progress and become a better driver. Don’t wait to do things last minute, make sure your car is always prepped ahead of time and ready to go. Never give up; the hard work will pay off. And lastly, get a good job because drifting is not cheap at all!
NWMotiv: Haha, yeah it definitely isn’t cheap! It definitely helps to have a lot of good support though, especially here in the Northwest. How would you compare the drifting community in the Pacific Northwest to other parts of the country?
Walker: The drifting community in the Pacific Northwest is really awesome! The grassroots scene is super big now and we have 2 completely different tracks where drivers can learn to hone their skills and technique greatly. Since Evergreen is a high speed, banked track it takes a completely opposite driving technique to drive it well compared to driving at PGP, where the corners are really tight and you must choose your line accordingly since the track is not very wide or fast. Overall, the vibe at the events here are really chill and supportive. Everyone’s always willing to go out of their way to help someone else out or give driving advice!
NWMotiv: We definitely do love our Northwest community! We’ll let you get back to your SEMA plans, so let’s conclude with some shout-outs.
Walker: I’d like to thank Jonathon Bradford from Falken Tire, Roman Bencomo from Falken Tire, Mike Kojima from Falken Tire/MotoIQ.com, Ray Stonehocker from Garage Autohero, Mark Arcenal from Fatlace, Lawrence Ojas from Intec Racing, Masaki Nakayama from APEXi, Jennifer Gafford and Evan Cline from Exedy, Gaelen Norman from NorthwestNissans.com, Ryo Inoue from Seibon, Clark from Jim Wolf Tech, Scott Oshiro from KoyoRad, Ray from KAAZ USA, Jun Kurihara from 326 Power, Abbitt Wilkerson from AW Films, Ryan Davis from Yaer Productions, Ian Dillon from Factory 83 and lastly my parents and fans for all their help and support! Thank you!
NWMotiv: Thank you again for sitting down with us and we wish you the best of luck next season!