Thursday, July 21, 2011

Northern California racing legend returning to the track?

By Matthew J. Sullivan

Saturday July 23rd marks the second of two visits for the Airport Auto Brokers Late Model series at Redwood Acres Raceway. Among the names expected to show up are AABLM points leader and winner of the first race at the Acres just a few weeks ago, Trevor Cristiani, David Miller, Corey James, Howard Ford and Randy Houston among others. There have been rumblings that a particular driver might show up to race his late model for the first time this season. According to two-time Redwood Acres Raceway track champion, Mic Moulton, this driver tested his car last Friday on the 3/8-mile paved oval. His name: Jim Walker.

The name Jim (or Jimmy) Walker is highly regarded and respected amongst race fans all over Northern California and Southern Oregon. For over 40 years the Ferndale, California dairy man has raced a baby blue (aka Walker blue) and silver numerated 48 car first on dirt then later on pavement tracks all over the west coast. The bulk of Walker’s early racing career with the latter stages in recent times has been focused on racing at his home track in Eureka, California, Redwood Acres Raceway.

It is rather unfortunate that younger generations of race fans did not get to see just how great of a race car driver Jim Walker was when he was in his prime. It is even more unfortunate that documentation of so many of Walker’s victories are only left to race fans who were witness. In the 1970s, Walker was a terror on the dirt at the Acres winning numerous main events and several track championships. For a time, Walker was booed by local fans because of his monopolization of race victories. However, that did not last long as Walker’s quiet manner and clean but hard driving won over those who were once not fans of his.

From the mid 1970s on through the mid 1980s, Walker progressed from racing on the dirt to racing on the pavement, a change that occurred seamlessly. Walker’s biggest and most prestigious victory came in the 1976 Permatex 200 at Riverside International Raceway in the sportsman division, better known today as the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Among those whom Walker outlasted that day include Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett, Ivan Baldwin and Hershel McGriff. Just a few weeks later, Walker made the long trip to Florida to race the Permatex 300 sportsman event at Daytona International Speedway. Unfortunately, he was caught up in a lap 30 wreck and suffered a fractured left knee. Even so, Walker was able to come through to win the NorCal 150 Spring open competition event at Shasta Speedway that year.

Walker turned in two of his biggest race wins in the 1977 season first by holding off Joe Ruttman in inferior equipment and winning the Rose Classic 150 open comp race. Later in the year, Walker took home his only NASCAR Winston West victory winning the Winston 100 at Shasta Speedway in a race that featured the talents of Donnie Allison, Chuck Bown and Bill Schmitt. Throughout the 1980s, Walker continued his winning ways claiming victories in the 1981 Evergreen Speedway leg of Speedweek, the 1981 and 1984 Western 150 events at Shasta Speedway. In 1985, Walker narrowly lost the inaugural NASCAR Northwest Tour event at Evergreen Speedway to Garrett Evans. Keep in mind that these are all events that are documented on the Internet, it does not include numerous other races and wins that happened.

When Redwood Acres Raceway was paved for the 1988 season, Walker moved his focus back to racing locally while also racing open comp and other late model touring events sparingly. Walker fought off Randy Olson in both the ‘88 and ‘89 seasons to win the track championship. Though Walker’s win count was low in the 90s, he was still a major factor in every race he ran. In 1995, Walker took home the Laura Robinson 100 open comp victory at Shasta Speedway. Walker’s two most recent main event victories came in the Tri-State Challenge Series at Ukiah Speedway in May of 2002 and at Redwood Acres Raceway in the second night of the 2003 Fair Classic for the North State Challenge Series.

Since 2006 Walker has raced only four touring series events, all at Redwood Acres Raceway. The major factor in this is likely due to the unfortunate accident Walker endured a few years ago while working on his property when his Caterpillar rolled causing serious injury. Should Walker race this weekend’s AABLM event at the Acres, it quite possibly could be one of the last times that race fans can see the legendary Northern California racer behind the wheel.

Along with the visiting AABLM tour cars will be the regular schedule of real stocks, roadrunners, thunder roadsters and sportsman cars. Do not miss out on what promises to be an exciting night of racing at the Acres!

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