GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Walker Fowler

Tuesday Toolbox: Walker Fowler

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 | 11:00 AM
Tuesday, November 17, 2015 | 11:00 AM caught up with Walker Fowler for this week’s Tuesday Toolbox. Known by so many, Walker captured his first ever premier class championship a couple weeks ago. This is the culmination of a lifelong dream, and wanted the back-story. First, congratulations on your first-ever premiere class championship!
Walker Fowler: Thank you!

I know you have been working towards this goal for a long time. When did this journey start?
I was 4 years old when I first started riding. I got a little Yamaha Zinger 60 and just started riding it around the house. We went to a CRA (Competition Riders of America) race just to see if I liked it. I don’t even remember the race really! I must have liked it, because we kept doing other local races. I outgrew the Zinger and went to a Suzuki 80. I was still so young that my dad didn’t want me to have to worry about shifting gears like on a Honda 90.

You had some dirt bikes in there, too, didn’t you?
Yeah. When I was 6, just two years after starting on the ATVs, my parents got me a KTM Adventure 50 Jr. We started racing bikes at the local series along with the ATV. I actually raced both bikes and quads up until 2008.

So when did you try your hand at GNCC?
That was the Spartan in Kentucky, 2002. And, it was dirt bike only! I was racing a KTM 65 locally. I wasn’t dominating or anything, but my dad suggested we go to a “big boy” race. It’s funny, that’s how everyone ends up at the Nationals, it seems! The whole family piled into a Suburban, pulled a trailer and we camped in a tent. I ended that first GNCC with a 3rd or 4th but we kept coming back. I must have done enough races that season to qualify for year-end awards because I got 4th overall.

After trying his hand at local races, Walker would make his first GNCC appearance at the Spartan GNCC in 2002.
After trying his hand at local races, Walker would make his first GNCC appearance at the Spartan GNCC in 2002. Photo: Ken Hill

That was 2-wheels only, right? No ATVs at that point?
Right! GNCC didn’t have a youth ATV program at that time. I guess they had one back in the 90’s. Some guy named Johnny Gallagher had won a couple championships. But by 2002, interest had dropped off and there wasn’t an outlet for youth ATVs in GNCC. So we raced dirt bikes in GNCC during 2003 and 2004. We kept asking for a Youth ATV race and in 2004 at Ironman, GNCC said “Get all your friends together and we’ll have a ‘test’ Youth ATV race. If you have 15 – 20 entries, we’ll consider something for 2005.” We had either 32 or 38 entries. I don’t remember the exact number. But it was enough to get a Youth ATV program for 2005! I’m really happy to see the Youth ATV program going strong these days!

That’s pretty neat that you were a part of the “re-introduction” of youth ATV racing on the series! Did you win your class that year?
Barley! It was a 6-round championship, so not all 13 races. It opened in Florida and ended at Powerline. I DNFed both of those races, but won the 4 in the middle and that gave me the championship. I’m pretty happy to be the first to go full circle from the youth ranks to XC1!

We consider you a product of the GNCC Racin’ Nation! How did dirt bike racing go for you?
I don’t think I ever won a championship on a 65. When I moved to 85s, I started having success. I won a Sr. Mini Championship in 2007 and then jumped to the 200-A at the end of the season. For 2008, Randy Hawkins (Yamaha Team Manager) approached me and asked if I would be interested in riding a YZ250F in the 4-Stroke A class. Of course I said “yes!” I’d been on KTMs all my life, but knew they had Kailub Russell and Cory Buttrick coming up. Besides, I was riding a Raptor 250 in the Youth ATV class, so it seemed like a great opportunity. Unfortunately, I crashed my Raptor in Georgia and tore my ankle up. Riding dirt bikes puts a lot more stress on the ankle than riding an ATV, and just couldn’t ride the season in 4-Stroke A. I was able to do 9 Youth ATV races, but at the end of the year, Randy and Donnie Luce came to me and said, “Pick one or the other.” I was bummed because I liked doing both ATV and dirt bike, but they asked, “Do you feel like you are giving 100% to either discipline?” And honestly, I knew I wasn’t. So I turned down a potential factory bike ride and went with ATVs! I went with what I had the most fun with. I’ve always enjoyed riding my ATV and that’s where I figured my heart was!

Walker spent several years racing both bikes and ATVs. After being asked to choose one, Walker picked ATV racing.
Walker spent several years racing both bikes and ATVs. After being asked to choose one, Walker picked ATV racing. Photo: Ken Hill

I don’t think you made a mistake!
No! But it wasn’t easy, either. There was certainly more support for dirt bikes in 2009. But Laz Sommers had put in a good word for me at Yamaha and Bill Ballance was watching me. I started getting these little care packages in the mail. Some clutches, cables, plastic. That was pretty cool! Just out of the blue, “Here are some parts!” And then at the banquet that year, Bill approached me and asked if I had any interest riding XC2 for him in 2010.

Did you have to think about your answer?
No! I was on board! That was the opportunity I had been working towards.

You had some battles in 2010 in that XC2 class!
Yes. Brian Wolfe and I fought all season long. It came down to the final round at Ironman. We actually tied for points but he had one more win than I did so the championship went to him. He cut the #1 plate in half while we were on the podium and gave it to me. I still have that ½ #1 plate hanging in my bedroom!

By 2011, you had some things figured out, though!
I had certainly learned a lot. 2011 was the year I was able to put together a perfect season in the XC2 class. I won all 13 rounds and even captured two overalls from the XC2 row. It was a season where everything went right! I had some health and mechanical issues, but we were always able to overcome and it was just an awesome season!

So 2012 comes along, high hopes and expectations!
Yeah, for sure! But I learned pretty quick that those guys don’t mess around! I knew I had the speed. I might not have been the fastest guy, but I knew I was quick. I just couldn’t match the wisdom and experience of guys like Chris Borich, Adam McGill and Chris Bithell. Those guys had been doing it a while. I’d mess up the first lap and ride over my head just to catch up by the end of the race. You can’t win against those guys like that! Or there was the race in Kentucky that year where I led the whole thing and then Chris Borich did what he does, passed me on the last lap! It was a real eye opener. I had won two overalls the previous season and then it took me all season long to win a race from the front row. I won Ironman that year and that’s the only Ironman I’ve won so far! I did come out with the #2 plate and felt that was a pretty good accomplishment for a rookie season.

This season Walker was able to claim his first-ever GNCC overall title!
This season Walker was able to claim his first-ever GNCC overall title! Photo: Ken Hill

No doubt! The #2 plate is something to be proud of no matter how long you’ve been at it. And of course, now you’ll be sporting the #1 plate for next year! But this season probably unfolded a little bit differently than you expected?
Yes, it did! I knew that Chris Borich was going to be the man to beat. I knew he had been looking at riding Yamahas for a while, but he’d always show up in Florida with a Suzuki. (Editor’s note: Suzuki hasn’t built an LTR 450 since 2009.) So this year, he announced he would be on a Yamaha and I thought, “Oh no! I couldn’t beat him when he was on a used bike. Now he’s got the support and the bike!” But it was Adam McGill who proved he was the man to beat! I won Florida, but Adam started kicking everyone’s rear end in Georgia and then North Carolina. By the time we got to the summer break, I was down 19 points. I had won more races, but Adam had been more consistent. Of course, we got some breathing room after the break but Adam rode incredibly well all season long. Even at the Ironman, he was running up front and I was having a hard time remembering how to ride a four-wheeler! I didn’t think I had let the pressure get to me, but then I was upside down in a ditch. Fortunately, I did pull it together and was in championship position even before Adam had a mechanical. But all that to say, “It was a different season than anyone predicted!” We didn’t win every battle, but we won the war.

What advice do you have for the kid coming through the ranks and wants to be an XC1 Champion someday?
Enjoy it! Don’t make it a job too soon. When you get over-serious, you lose the joy. And this sport is fun and it should be. Keep mom and dad happy. Do good in school, keep your grades up. If you won’t put in the hard work in school, you won’t put it in in life, either.

You went to public school, right?
Yes I did, and I graduated 2nd in class. I really encourage kids to go to school and learn. I use math, physics and science every day. Suspension geometry, fuel curves, mileage, they all take skills I learned in school. Plus there’s the social aspect. Public Speaking is a useful skill on the podium, at dealer meetings where I talk to over 1,000 people, or school programs where I get invited to attend because of my position as a racer. You’ve got to stay in school and make the most of it!

Well said, Walker! Congratulations on your first XC1 Championship. Who would you like to thank?
First, my mom and dad. They’ve been behind me the whole way. They wouldn’t let me slouch in school and I’m so thankful for that now! And then there are a host of people behind me and so many sponsors: AmPro Yamaha, Yamaha Motorsports, Yamaha ATV Racing, NFAB Racing, Maxxis Tires, Lone Star Racing, Moto Xperts, FMF, Fox, Leatt, FASST Company, CYCRA, Graphic Worx, HiPER, Tire Balls, Precision Racing, Antigravity Batteries, Works Connection, Moto Seat, Scott Motosports, Waynesburg Yamaha, BNR Motorsports, Gear Alloy, CV4 Powersports, Gaerne, IMS Products, Outerwears Inc, Wiseco Performance Products, Mark Notman, Ohio Offroad, Paul Turner, MSR, Hill International, Rath Racing, Yamalube, GYTR, Vortex Ignitions, Pro Taper, RCP, D&V Trucking, DP Brakes, Carb Sport, D4 Powersports, Fuel Customs, Bell Helmets.