GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Walker Fowler

Tuesday Toolbox: Walker Fowler

Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | 3:15 PM
Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | 3:15 PM Let’s go WAY back to the beginning. What was your first bike and/or ATV? When and where was your first race? How’d you do? When was your first GNCC? 

Walker Fowler: It was in the late fall of 1996; I got a Yamaha Zinger 60cc ATV for my 4th birthday. It was in Salem, Ohio at a Competition Riders of America (CRA) event. I don’t even know if I made a lap. If it wasn’t for moms scrap books, I would have little memory of much up to age 12. First GNCC was 2002 Sparta, Kentucky. I believe I got a 4th or 5th in the 65cc youth bike class.

Walker Fowler earned his 75th overall win in Indiana, and sits tied at the top with Chris Borich on the All-Time Wins list.
Walker Fowler earned his 75th overall win in Indiana, and sits tied at the top with Chris Borich on the All-Time Wins list. Mack Faint

Diving right in. You’re now tied with Chris Borich as the All-Time Wins leader with your 75-career win at the Hoosier GNCC. I don’t want to take the words out of your mouth, I want to hear it from your perspective, but what an incredible way to do it, “Borich-ing” Brycen Neal on the last lap. Walk us through the race and that last lap pass as you cemented your name, yet again, in the history books.

A killer start was a boost for the day. Any more, these 2-hour races are being decided largely in the first 2-3 turns. I just focused on riding my race mistake free. Neal got around me end of lap 1 but I was able to latch on the longest I have since mid-2022. He eventually built about a 30 second gap before the skies opened up. I am a great mud rider; I just gave it everything I had and he had a moment with a lapped rider that brought the gap to nothing and from there an entire last lap battled ensued. As we were nearing the Mx track I went through the remaining track in my head and knew I had about 3 last ditch opportunities left if I hit all my marks perfect. That pass, at that track, to tie THE Chris Borich? The story doesn’t get much better. I did not dream this is how 75 would have went down. It was far better in real life.

I’ve been lucky enough to be around when you’ve hit several milestones in the wins column since 2017. But reflecting back over your pro career what wins stand out to you the most?

I’ll have to do a podcast or some sort of story where I have the opportunity to watch and remember all 75. The first 2 were really special since they came from the XC2 line and not at snowshoe. (Rock run and Unadilla 2011)  Each race we caught and then passed racers like Bob Sloan, Barry Hawk, Kailub Russel, Bill Ballance and now Chris Borich were cool to think about on the ride home and the weeks following. The win last season at buckwheat after my list of injuries in 2023 was special. I never knew if I would ride again, let alone win again. So now the ball continues to. Win 75 also marks my 14th consecutive season winning at least one race. So have to win one more next year to have that record too. Haha!

Now let’s get deep. The injury you sustained prior to the 2023 season. There was a point, even in private conversations I had with Johnny Gallagher, where there was concern you may never race again. That quickly changed to, “Well he’s going to give it a go at Snowshoe and see what happens.” You and I caught up in passing on Sunday and you, being the former champion you are, said, “I raced terrible. I could have done better.” In my head I was thinking, this guy is just built different. A normal person would have been stoked they were just able to be out there. But that’s not you. Did the injury sort of revive your desire to not only race, but to win and be successful? 

Yes and no. By Tuesday after snowshoe I was in so much pain and sore from not being prepared, I realized I truly gave it my all, and did better than I probably deserved. Since then, I’ve tried to just enjoy riding and racing again and “I’ll get what I get and be happy just to be here” which had worked really well up until camp Coker this year.(that was just not a good day) I could sense that I was getting closer and faster and realized I could still win and maybe make this a championship contending season which I did not expect. The silver lining to all of this is I’ve found a lot of things with the machine that needed tweaked or tuned years ago, but a fresh start allowed me to change stuff and it feel normal as I had been off an ATV for so long. 

Fowler returned ready to go racing in 2024 after an injury that set him back.
Fowler returned ready to go racing in 2024 after an injury that set him back. Ken Hill

I often compare your situation to Michael Jordan’s NBA comeback. If you’ve not watched The Last Dance, I 10/10 recommend, even if you’re not a basketball fan. When he retired the first time, he felt like he had nothing left to prove to himself or in the game of basketball. But less than a year away he felt all these new challenges from his peers and himself to see if he still has “it” and, as it turns out he did in fact still have it. After Snowshoe you managed a podium and then a win to cap off the season. We fast forward to 2024 and suddenly you’re back in championship mode. The smile isn’t there after a podium, you’re calling yourself and your peers out to rise to the challenge that Brycen Neal has put in front of everyone. Then finally, you snag your first win of the year. It’s safe to say, you’re not “just another XC1 guy” but really the only rider who stands out as a contender to this point. (I know I know, XC1 guys reading this are going to give me all the smoke. I’ll take it. Timing and scoring don’t lie fellas. Haha!) What’s it been like figuring out what it takes to get around a guy like Brycen who’s in the middle of his prime and snag a win from him straight up? 

The inclement weather will always play into my favor until someone proves otherwise. He’s definitely riding at an incredible level and just to be in the conversation some of the time has been a lot of fun. I never expected personally to be in the championship fight this year. I’ve always said from the beginning, This was a rebuilding season. I’ve also come to realize I’m not sure how many more seasons I really have left in me, so every one of them has to count. I’m definitely not Micheal Jordan, I’m just a hard headed middle aged guy from northeast Ohio that happened to make a really good career out of his passion/hobby. And I am so grateful for that opportunity. 

There was a time when it looked like you would eclipse 100 wins. You’re hardly finished, I understand that. But what’s some advice you’d give youth and amateur riders that you wish you’d known at their age/level? 

I hate knowing had I done a few things different over the course of a lot of years, the 100-win mark was not impossible. A lot of life has happened to me since that bold statement I made, but one thing I’ve always tried to live by is don’t say it if you can’t back it up. I’ve said some things I likely wasn’t capable of but putting that challenge out there to prove to folks I don’t just talk a big game forced me to back it up, better myself, and be/do the things I said. If you’re backing it up, it’s not arrogance. It’s confidence Haha BUT there comes a day it’s best to just let the riding do the talking. I can’t always back it up any more. Haha

Have you had a chance to speak with Chris Borich after the win last race? If so, what was that conversation like? 

I haven’t spoken to him in person but he saw that I tagged him in the video of the pass from last race when I said thanks for the passing lessons basically and he said good job and way to take advantage of a tiny mistake. These days I have nothing but respect for Chris and his family. A decade ago that answer may have been a little different if you asked both of us. I think there comes a point in a racers career when you start to realize that the wins and the championships aren’t really what meant a lot. It was getting to line up with some of the fastest men on the planet and prove you belong there year after year. So many memories made. Things Chris and I held a grudge over all those years ago, we get to laugh at now. I saw Ballance and Borich talking and laughing at the old gray. And we know there was zero love lost between those two when they were fierce competitors. Guess I’m getting old!

Fowler holding up that $250 Kanati Tires Holeshot Award and the Hoosier basketball overall trophy at round six this season.
Fowler holding up that $250 Kanati Tires Holeshot Award and the Hoosier basketball overall trophy at round six this season. Mack Faint

What do you think the future of the XC1 looks like? Brycen continues to climb up the all-time wins list but he’s got a long way to go before he catches “Mt Rushmore” status. Do you think we continue to have these sort of Generation Talent caliber riders emerge, or with everything training and there really not being an “off-season” anymore, do you think the wins start to get more diverse in the next 5-10 years? 

History seems to have a funny way of repeating itself, so I would think it’s safe to say that the current champion is here to stay for a while. And I know that he’s very capable of continuing what the four riders before him did. I believe I am the first former champion That has a decent shot at trying to steal it back though. I hope I am able to stay healthy the next season or 2, to try and be the guy that ruins history Haha. When I started winning and felt unstoppable, I’d never believe that Brycen Neal was going to be the guy that I would have to worry about. He proved me very, very wrong. It’s possible the next rider to “figure it out” is already amongst us. And when that rider does, he may take this thing into 2040. That’s the beauty of racing. We just don’t know. 

Finally, I know you don’t do any of this alone. Who are the sponsors and people you’d like to thank?

Have to give the Glory to God. I am so blessed to be given another chance to keep doing what I love. My girlfriend Alisa and her family for so much behind the scenes help. My parents and family. Mark Notman and his family. The Childers family. The Banovsky family. All the awesome folks at Yamaha Motor USA, Yamaha Outdoors, GBC Tires, Fly Racing, BNR Motorsports, DWT racing, FMF, Rath Racing, Hinson Racing, Houser Racing, Quadtech ATV, Web Camshafts, Waynesburg Yamaha, SSi Decals, Antigravity Batteries, Fuel Customs, FOX, Scott Motosports, DP Brakes, VP racing fuels, uUppracing, Yamalube, GYTR, Fasst company, ODI Grips, Works Connection, Beringer Brakes, Paul Turner, Wiseco, Grenade coatings, D&V trucking, IMS products, Jim Hardy, Pierce Performance, atlas brace, precision stabilizer, Cycra, intense fabrication, and all my awesome fans and supporters! Thank you!

Fowler running #723 aboard his Yamaha ATV.
Fowler running #723 aboard his Yamaha ATV. Mack Faint