GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Walker Fowler

Tuesday Toolbox: Walker Fowler

Tuesday, November 7, 2017 | 1:20 PM
Tuesday, November 7, 2017 | 1:20 PM

Walker Fowler is a name we know all too well in the GNCC Racing Nation. Walker started racing in the youth ranks and worked his way up to the XC1 Pro ATV class where he now has three consecutive titles. Just this past season Walker set the record for the most wins in a season, both bike and ATV, with 12 victories. Once the final green flag waved on the 2017 season, we caught up with Walker to celebrate his success and get some insight on his UTV plans for next year. How many titles does this make for you? 
Walker Fowler: This makes three straight titles.

Nice! Is each additional title still as exciting as that first one was? 
They have all been very exciting, but I will say that championship three seemed a little less intense. Not because I was winning a lot or due to a lack of competition - it was equally as challenging in that sense. I just think of being champion differently now. Before, I wanted to be champion but didn't know how to do that. Then we won our first one. The next year we were like “uh oh, hope I remember how to recreate whatever we did” and hoping that we didn't just get lucky. That year wasn't pretty, but we won. So I feel like with the third one I had less pressure on myself: I knew how to recreate the results and I knew what setup I needed for my machine at each race. I guess I am more experienced and more confident in our team’s ability. It's my job to go out there and be my very best 13 weeks a year. I love my job, and I love making the people who support me so that this can be my job as happy as I am.

For a long time it seems like Chris Borich was the dominant rider, the guy to beat. Do you feel like you’ve taken over that spot?
Yes, yes I do. I don't know why the ATV side of GNCC has been dominated by a very select few riders for many years - it’s truly fascinating. But here's my guess: I look at the men who dominated before me and I see the same attributes I have, which I acquired from watching or listening to them. We are very passionate about ATV's, GNCC Racing, and all the aspects of both. We literally live, eat, breathe, and make life decisions based on ATVs. It's a commitment. There is also a true grit and determination that few athletes ever find in any sports. The willingness to push your body until it literally starts shutting down, push past the mental limit where normal people give up, and make results happen. One last thing I would say we all share is a great support group. Whether it was family, friends, or companies, we've all managed to put ourselves around the best of the best. When you thrive to be the best, you need the best people around you who share the same thirst you do. I know that I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing if it wasn't for the long list of people who aid me be the best champion that I can be. 

Walker had a stellar 2017 season claiming twelve wins, giving him the record for most overall wins in a single GNCC season!
Walker had a stellar 2017 season claiming twelve wins, giving him the record for most overall wins in a single GNCC season! Ken Hill

How did you get started racing? 
My parents are both gear heads, both were really into drag racing cars before they had children. My dad raced three-wheelers briefly too, again pre-children. As a baby, I loved monster trucks, bikes, quads and dinosaurs. I obviously couldn't be a dinosaur (that was a super sad day when I found that out!) and monster trucks seemed a little out of my league at the time. I didn't have much balance as a toddler, so I guess my dad decided out of the things I loved, it should be a quad for Christmas (Might have been birthday, I will find out after they read this). Prior to actually getting the quad, my dad took me to a GNCC race in Lisbon, Ohio in 1996 to watch his friend Kim Kuhnle race. I was really into that. I mean, I never wanted it to end, that's how much I liked it. So I'm assuming that's the real reason for the Blue Yamaha Zinger 60 I got at age four at the end of 1996. It's been an open book ever since. 

But you’ve raced both bikes and quads, right? Why did you end up picking the quads to go pro on?
So in 1998 I got a KTM 50 Adventure or something like that. The deal was I had to do a wheelie on my bicycle from one telephone pole to the other before he would let me get a bike (roughly 150 feet I suppose). I spent hours for weeks after school until I got to say "hey dad, watch this!” I rode both at the local races. The quads would race for 20 minutes, and then my mom would have my bike running and warmed up when I got off the quad. I'd jump on the bike and race it for 20 minutes. I got pretty good on both, but GNCC only ran youth bikes at the time. We wanted to see where we were competing at a national level, so in 2002 we loaded up and went to Sparta, Kentucky and I podiumed with a third place finish. We ran the rest of the races that year and I ended up fourth. Long story short, youth ATV's were added back to the GNCC schedule in 2005. I ran both a bike and quad until the end of 2008. I sort of plateaued as a top-level A rider on the bike and was starting to not enjoy it. On the ATV, I just continued to get better and still loved it. I made the decision in 2009 to go full-time ATV and we got a tiny bit of support from Yamaha, but it was enough to want me to keep trying. In 2010 I got a lot more support from Yamaha and rode under the Ballance Racing tent. The amount of "jobs" as an ATV racer were scarce, but if you could contend to be the best it would pay off. And pay off it has! 

On the bike side, it seems like most pro riders pursue other National Series. I don’t know of any other large series like the GNCC that also includes ATV Racing. Do you race locals or anything for practice in your spare time?
As far as East Coast goes there are not any other national or elite series. I don't think our numbers are strong enough to support it. I used to run a lot of local races, but it was starting to really burn me out and was also getting expensive. The last two years I've probably gone to maybe 10 locals a year. With my busy schedule and expense it seems to be about the best I can manage. I just practice A LOT at a few tracks near me.  

Walker also jumped into a UTV this season and has been learning the ropes there.
Walker also jumped into a UTV this season and has been learning the ropes there. Ken Hill

I see your mom at the races all the time. Is she pretty much your biggest supporter?
Both of my parents are my biggest supporters. My mother is just very, very open about showing it! She's as passionate as I am and then some, and has a pretty big fan club herself. She cheers on every rider out there, and several of them have caught on about these good-luck cookies she makes so she's a busy lady at the tracks! GNCC's Betty Crocker if you will.

Hmm, I see her at the WXC starting line all the time, but this is the first I’ve heard about cookies – I will need to investigate that! Anyway, I know she’s racing now too, driving UTVs. Are you able to help support her as well?
To a degree. She's extremely independent so I try not to step on her toes too much. But I try to help her with her machine when she asks me, or find the right people to help if it's above my pay grade. She also does some of the work herself which I think is super cool. She's only getting better the more she races so it's awesome to see where she is finishing and I only expect her to continue to run with it. I think what she does at her age (28- I love you mom!) speaks volumes to not only female racers, but older racers of any gender.

What was the most memorable race for you this season? 
There's two really memorable ones, but memorable for different reasons. I will talk about the John Penton race for this answer, and X-Factor for the next, as it was a really challenging race. The John Penton is one of my favorite tracks, and also it's an Ohio round so I love to do well in my home state. I had a great start and was in second following Adam McGill who was riding fantastic up front. Toward the end of the lap there was a pro only section so it was fresh trail. Adam kicked up an eight foot piece of pretty large vine and the stupid thing was like a snake in my ATV. It stopped me dead in the water. A boy named Gage, who's been coming to the races for years, and some of his friends happened to be standing there and we flipped the quad over and started to wrestle this snake vine out. I was all the way back behind third place in the XC2 class when I got moving again. For a brief moment I wanted to quit and go home. But I pushed that aside, gathered myself together and started riding like the racer I know I can be when I have to. I haven't had to ride that hard for that that long, since the 2014 Ironman head-to-head race for the championship that I lost to Chris Borich. But at the Penton everything somehow fell into place, and I managed to come back and win. It was a very rewarding win; one I will remember my entire career.

When the 2018 season rolls around, Walker will surely have a big target on his back. Question is, who can beat him?
When the 2018 season rolls around, Walker will surely have a big target on his back. Question is, who can beat him? Ken Hill

Were there any races that were particularly challenging?
I think we can all say X-Factor was challenging. The amount of water and mud was indescribable. What helped us was using monster truck tires, though we typically don't change anything on race day like that. But for a two-lap race, it was a true experience. I went from leading to outside the top-10 twice in the first lap. The second lap I followed Johnny Gallagher almost the entire time because I knew that he's been in that type of scenario more than any other racer on that track. It was impressive to see his wisdom at work. While I hated getting beat, I can't think of a better guy to beat me and even in the moment I think I was more happy he won than had I. Great job buddy!

There are a lot of kids out there who look up to you. What advice would you give them? 
Get a job and sell everything before you're hooked!!! (laughs) Okay, let's say that isn't going to happen. Keep it fun, enjoy the friends and family that get to be at the races, and every time you start to second guess it, remember why you feel in love with racing or riding or honestly whatever it is you love in the first place. Of course there's more to life than racing, but for me and a very select few, we've had the honor of racing give us our life. I think that's a hard concept for 99.99% of people to understand.. Yes, I earned it. I worked my butt off, my parents sacrificed an untold amount of time and money to allow me to chase this unicorn-like dream job. But, when there is a will, there is a way. You will miss 100% of shots you don't take. 

Last thing, I noticed you’ve actually been doing a little bit of UTV racing this season. What’s up with that?
Yes, I also took on UTV racing this season. Yamaha gave us the opportunity to drive the all new YXZ1000R SS and we had a blast! The overall end result was not at all what we were hoping for, but tenth in XC1 Pro and thirtennth overall for our first time ever with a steering wheel isn't too bad! I am thankful for all the companies who came on board to my program blind since I had no resumé to speak of, but offered their world class products and knowledge to us and really got us on our feet. I'm hoping next season I can do a toolbox for the UTV championship as well as the ATV! 

Who would you like to thank?
First, I would like to thank all the fans, especially all my Fowler Fanatics supporters!!

For my ATV racing, I would like to thank WFR Racing, Yamaha, Maxxis, FLY Racing, Lonestar Racing, MXP, Fox, FMF, Hill International Truck, Fasst Co., Goldspeed Wheels, Hinson Racing, Alpinestars, Atlas Brace, Graphic Worx, Tireballs, Precision, AntiGravity Batteries, WebCams, Works Connection, Fuel Customs, Vortex Ignition, Moto Seat, Scott Goggles, Intense Fabrication, Waynesburg Yamaha, Cycra, CV4, IMS, ODI Grips, DP Brakes, GYTR, Maxima, CryoHeat, D&V, VP Racing Fuels, BNR and A+ Powder Coating.  

On the UTV side, I would like to thank WFR Racing, Yamaha, Maxxis, Alpinstars, Fly Racing, Fox Suspension, Hill International, Tireballs, WebCams, Hinson Racing, AntiGravity Batteries, Fuel Customs, Graphic Worx, Intense Fabrication, Factory UTV Skids, Scott Goggles, Hess Motorsports, Weller Racing, DP Brakes GYTR, Fasst Co., ODI Grips, VP Racing Fuel, CryoHeat, Maxima, bLU cRU and D&V Trucking.