Dedication is key in professional drifting. Not only do the drivers have to be consistent and adapt to each new venue, but because the sport is judged, they also have to make sure they’re giving the judges what they’re looking for, in order to score points. After a solid rookie year in Formula Drift in 2011, Walker Wilkerson is pushing to make 2012 even better. Walker made several changes to his Nissan 240SX in order to keep up with the big teams, including an entirely new engine/trans package and he also made a big move, leaving his hometown of Puyallup, Washington for sunny Southern California.
I had a chance to speak with Walker at the Formula Drift opener in Long Beach a couple weeks ago.
ML@S: Tell us how you got started drifting.
Walker: The first time I ever saw drifting was when I was about 16 years old. It was an old Option video that someone had uploaded on YouTube. I was amazed at how fast the cars were going door to door with so much excitement. Later on my friend ended up getting a 240sx and we started messing around in open parking lots. About a year later, I purchased my own 240sx and started going out to Evergreen Speedway to open track days!
ML@S: Have you ever competed in any other forms of racing?
Walker: No, not car related. However I started racing motocross when I was 6 years old. I’ve always had a passion for motorsports even at a really young age. Drifting is the only car related form of racing I’ve competed in, although I really think RallyCross is cool and would like to maybe compete in RallyX one day.
ML@S: Tell us what you love about drifting.
Walker: What is there not to love about drifting?! Haha! But really I love the rush and amount of adrenaline it brings me when I am basically tapping someone’s door, while having my rear bumper an inch off the wall going 70+ mph. I also love the way drifting looks by sliding the car sideways and doing smooth, fluid and finesse transfers all while being very aggressive. Drifting to me is basically high-speed dancing.
ML@S: How hard is it to compete as a privateer?
Walker: It is definitely really hard to compete as a privateer and takes a load of dedication. If your heart’s not in it 110%, the likelihood of you succeeding is not very high. Luckily with the help and support of my sponsor’s Falken Tire, Garage Autohero, Fatlace, Era 1, Import Image Racing, Brian Crower and of course my parents/friends, running as a privateer for 2012 is much easier than it was in 2011.
ML@S: Tell us what’s going through your head on a typical run.
Walker: Normally before I leave the line, I try to be in the most relaxed mental state of mind. After I leave the line and start drifting, my goals and thoughts mid-drift are to make sure I hit all my clipping points and outer clipping zones, while trying to carry as much speed and angle throughout the course. A lot of times, I will have particular sections of the course that I am trying to work on or improve my driving through. Generally I will be thinking about making the car do exactly what I want it to do through that section.
ML@S: What’s your highest finish since joining Formula Drift? Where was that?
Walker: I think my highest finish in Formula Drift would have been Rd. 1 of Long Beach in 2011. We qualified 7th and made it to top 16. I think after doing the math, for making top 16 and qualifying 7th the points came out to being I believe an 11th place overall finish.
ML@S: Do you have a favorite venue?
Walker: My favorite track on the Formula Drift circuit would have to be Irwindale. Irwindale has always been somewhat special to me because of course it is the House of Drift; and plus, it is where I earned my Pro FD license by finishing 2nd place in the 2010 Pro-AM Nationals. Last year we qualified 7th there and I am really looking forward to killing it there this year too!
ML@S: You had a tough weekend in Long Beach. What went wrong and how do you rebound from a tough start like that?
Walker: Yes it was an unfortunate weekend in Long Beach, especially after how well we finished there last year. In qualifying I e-braked to extend my line out to the wall, in front of the judges and it really slowed me down. I lost the 10 points for speed that I really needed. After speaking with the judges they said they would’ve rather had me not e-brake to extend my line; but to just stay on the gas, so I would’ve received those 10 speed points, even if it meant I was far off the wall. Like I said I was bummed out, but I must push forward and look ahead towards Atlanta. We are changing a bunch of chassis setup stuff that we did not have time to do before Long Beach and adding weight to the carm so I can run bigger then a 245/40 Falken RT615K tire. In short we are getting the car all dialed in and ready for me to bring the heat to Hotlanta!
ML@S: You made some big changes during the off season. With both your car and your personal life. First, talk to us about the changes to the car.
Walker: Yes, the car is completely different then last year . We ditched the 2.3L stroker SR20 powerplant for a 2006 Corvette Z06 LS7 motor. As much as I am an SR guy and love running the SR you just cant beat the instant torque and reliability that the LS motor has to offer. Equipped to the LS7 we have a clutchless G-Force GSR 4-speed dogbox transmission; which is very strong and makes upshifting/downshifting very precise and consistent. The suspension setup is quite different than last year as well. We are running front and rear Era-1 drop knuckles that correct the suspensions geometry, while being attached to APEXi S1 Damper coilovers. Ray from Garage Autohero also added a tubular front and rear core support, making it much easier to fix if the car gets hit or wrecks. There is literally too much to list for all the things that we have changed up!
ML@S: Tell us more about why you decided on such a drastic change of scenery.
Walker: Living in Southern California is awesome. Most of the automotive industry and most of all my sponsors are down here. My girlfriend also lives down here as well. Living in California makes everything easier as far meeting up with sponsors, rather than having to fly in and out. It’s also really cool being able to go drive at Willow Springs whenever you want and having the opportunity to drive in things, such as the Formula Drift Long Beach Grand Prix team tandem competition last weekend!
In the high speed, high adrenaline world of Formula Drift, Walker Wilkerson is definitely one to watch. His dedication to the sport is clear, and his talent for going sideways is evident each time he takes the track.
If you don’t know Walker Wilkerson, you should definitely take some time to get to know him.