Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Lifestyles

April 26, 2012

Start your engines!

Walker runs in the fast lane with vintage car clubs

CROSSVILLE — Jerry Walker was introduced to racing as a sophomore in high school when he helped his grandmother’s tenant move a midget race car.

“He’d take me to the races with him,” Walker said. “My first race I went to with my dad was Indianapolis in 1947.”

He’s been hooked ever since.

“I worked there [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] and a lot of tracks,” he said.

He work in pit crews or help with track security or be a runner, helping out where he could.

“I’m not a racer,” Walker said. “I was never any good at it. I’m a show-off, but I’m not a racer.”

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, racing was growing in popularity, and Walker said race nights at some tracks would have 8,000 to 10,000 people in attendance where today they might draw 500.

“What a lot of people your age don’t realize is a lot of these race tracks have a lot of blood in them,” Walker told this reporter. “A lot of people got killed back then. These guys were coming back from the war. They’d been through hell and it didn’t scare them.”

He was drawn to the Sprint Cars. These powerful cars seat one person, rather snugly, in an open top vehicle. Race-ready Sprint Cars have powerful engines and large treaded tires. They are designed for running short oval dirt or paved tracks.

“When you get in one, you understand why it’s called a sprint car,” Walker said. “You wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time sitting in one of these.”

Walker and his wife, Dee, got their first Sprint Race Car in 1998. It’s a replica 1940s Ford FlatHead sprint car. Because it’s a replica, it’s street legal and it’s not too difficult to find parts for repairs, he said. It’s called The Walker Special.

“I like the single-seat, open top cars better than anything,” he said.

The car may be a replica, but it includes many of the details found on the original Sprint cars, including a replica hand-operated fuel pressure pump. There’s also a nickel welded heads up on the rear bumper, called the Nerf Bar. Superstition was that would keep the car right side up during races where rolling was a safety concern.

“It it helps, I’m all for it,” Walker said.

The car has participated in exhibition races in tracks in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee, including notable venues such as Winchester, Salem, Eldora and the Hoosier Hundred. The car has also been featured on national television programs “PowerBlock” and “Mother’s Car Products.”

He also has a 1968 Sprint Car, the Dominque Special built by Ron Ward. It was used in races from 1969 through 1982 and Walker has found memorabilia that includes the cars race history, including every race run, starting position, finish and what the driver won. He bought it a year ago and it was restored, but he has to search the Internet for tires and other hard-to-find parts.

Walker is a member of the Midwest Oldtimers Vintage Race Car Club, which offers owners, drivers and fans of the vintage race cars a chance to display their cars at “on track” events. There are several events held primarily in Indiana and the Illinois area, with dirt and pavement tracts ranging from quarter and half mile tracks to big mile dirt tracks.

“What I’ve tried to do is go to all these tracks I loved as a kid and run my car,” Walker explained. “I’ve pretty well done it.”

He’s raced at Winchester in Indiana, the Hoosier 100 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and his favorite, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Midwest Oldtimers are safety conscious. Drivers wear helmets, shoulder straps and fireproof suits. They have drivers meetings and all passing is done on the right to give drivers plenty of room.

“We’ll run close together, but we don’t run real fast close together,” Walker said. “If you get too wild, we’ll pitch you out of the club.

“One reason is that, when that car hits the race track, the insurance is null and void.”

Another race season is gearing up and Walker is currently deciding which races he’ll take part in this year. In the mean time, he’s keeping busy. He carried the flag at the opening night of Crossville Raceway’s season a few weeks ago and he often takes part in car shows and cruise-ins in the area. He’s also active with the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Cincinnati and the Cumberland Shrine Club.

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