Mission impossible? It was indeed
After two and a half years as IndyCar’s president of competition and operations, Derrick Walker has resigned and hopes to return to the ranks of team owners with his United SportsCar Porsche GTLM team. Walker has spent his entire working life in racing, first as a mechanic in Formula 1 with Brabham and Penske, then as a car builder and team manager for Penske and Porsche CART teams before establishing himself in 1992 as a team owner.
Walker’s team won at Portland in 1999, with Gil de Ferran driving, and he continued to run his team until 2010. He also expanded in 2010 into what is now the United SportsCar series and in 2011 and ’12 he ran Ed Carpenter’s Indy team before tackling an IndyCar job that many people have long considered a poisoned chalice.
“I came in with the belief that we should be further away from spec racing than we were,” Walker says.
“The goal was changing the system over time to avoid spec racing, with the caveat that you’ve got to control costs. That seems like a contrast in ideas but I think there are ways you can do that over time.
“I felt it was my chance to make some kind of a difference, as lofty as that sounds – not change the world, but have some small portion that you improved.
“I think I personally worked very hard to make a difference, and when you work that hard you’ve really got to feel that you want to be here and that you’ve got the support and are appreciated. And I began to feel that I didn’t have that support and wasn’t appreciated.
“So I made the decision to leave, but after I made the decision I said, ‘I can’t leave in the middle of the season even though my contract’s up’. There were major issues like renewing the engine supplier agreements and getting the regulations in place for next year and beyond. And then we had car problems at the Speedway.
“There was a lot of major stuff to deal with, but after the particular criticism that came at me from some owners about some of the things that had happened I got the feeling that the company didn’t support my efforts. So I basically said, ‘I’ll make it easy for you. If I’m the problem, I’ll leave now.’
“I was planning to do it over the winter and do it in a friendly way, just retire from the job and walk away. But then the pushrod failures at Iowa were blamed on my department, which was total rubbish. So I felt I didn’t have the company’s support.
“I’m disappointed because I haven’t walked away from anything in my life. I’ve stuck with it until the lights were turned out on me, but I could see from my past experience in the American open-wheel business that when you see those dark clouds forming you know your days are numbered.”
Walker was working on a five-year plan to open Indycar’s formula to more competition, but he never presented his plan to IndyCar or the owners because he took so much stick.
“I was very disappointed when these people thought so ill of me,” he says. “I’ve known many of them for years and quite frankly I was shocked. But the reality is the reality. You accept it and move on.”
Walker may have earned the opprobrium of some team owners, but he clearly put a lot of time and effort into his IndyCar job. It’s going to be very difficult if not impossible for IndyCar to find anyone with anything like Walker’s background and experience who’s willing to tackle what is clearly an impossible job.