QUICK OFF THE MARK
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
Richard Walker attacks speeding trucks — but only on the road. On the track he drives his Kenworth in a manner befitting a former European champion. Pleasure, however, is never allowed to interfere with business ...
• Murray Walker gasped; the 20,000 home crowd at Silverstone screamed; and Grandstand's four million viewers were on the edge of their seats as Richard Walker's truck was ripped into three pieces during the August Truck Grand Prix.
Fortunately, Walker was able to walk away from the wreck of his Kenworth W900, pack up, head home, and get back to business as usual.
The business in question is Walker and Son Haulage based in Tuxford, near Newark. A family business set up after the First World War and a successful middle-sized haulage firm which represents the true thrust of Walker's talent and energy. To him truck racing is a hobby — and only a hobby. "I race for nine weekends a year. Nine weekends does not affect my business, nor would I ever let it," he says.
Like many success stories, Walker's roots in racing go back to his childhood — 10 years old and armed with a Go-Kart. As he grew up, the fascination of racing developed and at the age of 17 he started bomber-car racing.
Practicing along the country lanes near Newark, the habit grew stronger. Next came rallying and Walker soon became East Midlands champion.
In 1984 truck racing finally became a reality: "When truck racing came along, it seemed natural for me as I had slways wanted to be a circuit driver rather than a rally driver. After running a haulage firm, I had a good 10 years' knowledge of trucks so I thought if anyone can do it, I can," he says.
Walker put every one of the company's fleet of trucks to the test before selecting a Leyland for his truck racing debut, because "it had the best handling".
This marriage to Leyland lasted almost four years and left him as European champion, but Walker changed to a Kenworth W900 earlier this year because he 'started being overtaken by the up-and:oming Americans".
Walker admits that to get to the top low one could not use a working truck )ecause of the fine tuning demanded from i racing engine. Technology is making its nark in truck racing and Walker says: "If Tou want that extra bit from your engine when racing, you now have to spend. It is he only way to get to the top."
Success has attracted sponsorship Arhich helps subsidise Walker's hobby. 'Sponsorship covers the cost of my racng. My business prices would never be Ised to subsidise it and I want my cus.omers to know that," he stresses.
Century Oils is his main sponsor. The irm gives him a set amount of money at he beginning of the year and it is up to Nalker how he spends it. Century also ays on a private aeroplane several times a ,rear to carry Walker and his mechanics to -ace meetings around Europe.
le also gets free parts for the Kenworth rom several manufacturers: Pirelli sup)lies the tyres; Cummins takes care of he 560kW engine, and Sealink provides ree ferry passage for the truck.
Before the deal with Century Oils Walcer was sponsored by Lucas CAV: "It asted for two years and was a very happy md successful partnership," says Walker. k change to a Cummins engine, however, hade Lucas parts somewhat redundant, m Walker was forced to move on and find mother sponsorship deal.
It is only the disasters which cost Walter money. For example, the Silverstone rang cost him 25,000 in repairs — 2,000 in parts alone. It also kept him iway from the Swedish Grand Prix at Vlantrop Park.
"After the Silverstone crash, when I iext saw the truck it was in three Aeces," he says. "The bottom half had )een torn away and the axles, suspension, ;teering and brakes all needed replacing.
LUCKY TO SURVIVE
'1 dread to think what would have hap3ened if all the 15 trucks behind had not nanaged to avoid me in the middle of the :rack. I know I was lucky to survive. It is rue to say the only part of me which was really hurt in the accident was my pock
The frequent claim that truck racing is 1 dangerous sport is an accusation which frustrates and annoys Richard Walker.
He says: "Truck racing has a good rack record when compared with other motor sports. In four years there have )een no accidents involving the public and rily one driver has died. Surely that is he proof in the pudding that truck racing s not dangerous and that those who :ompete in it are sensible".
Walker likes that fact that 50% of race ;pectators are families and hopes it is an mage which will be encouraged. "It is good fun to watch and parents can be sure hat there will be no violence or hooligansm not like other sports." Crowds keep on coming, despite predictions of certain failure from critics when it first began, and Walker is confident that truck racing is here to stay.
"I think truck racing has now got to a stage where interest in it is sustained. I think there is an average of 40,000 spectators at every race meeting," he says.
Despite this surging popularity, Walker feels that race organisers must resist the temptation to arrange too many more meetings a season.
"Currently there are nine race meetings a year. To maintain interest this should never fall below four. Truck racing, however, should not be on every week. It must keep a certain exclusivity to remain exciting. Wimbledon would not be greeted with the same enthusiasm if it was on every weekend. People would just find it boring," Walker insists. The present number of meetings does not infringe upon the boundaries of Walker and Son.
Walker's grandfather started the firm with several threshing machines before moving into bulk haulage, transporting sand and gravel from Newark to Gainsborough. He was, says Walker, the first man in the area to run petrol trucks.
After the Second World War Walker's father took over the thriving family business which was based in a tiny village outside Newark. He sensed it was time to move on, acquired the firm's present base in 1962 and developed a warehousing side.
Richard Walker came into the business at the age of 18 after finishing his ALevels. He is now in charge of the operation but still has his parents' help at hand.
He no longer owns all of the original site at Tuxford. Half of it has been sold off, leaving Walker with around 5ha, and he is developing a site in Sutton Ashfield. The company runs 34 trucks — mainly Volvos, Scanias and Leylands — nine mobile cranes, 100 trailers and has a workforce of 65, most based at Tuxford.
Under Richard Walker, the company has diversified further since its infant years with his grandfather. It now specialises in large industrial moves (mainly knitting machines) and international haulage.
Walker developed the international side of his business several years ago when a friend told him of a high quote a firm had given for a job in America. Walker immediately got a standby ticket, caught the next plane to the States, saw the firm which wanted the work done and undercut the quote by several thousand pounds. Needles to say he got the job and Walker and Son was into international haulage.
About a third of his business is now international haulage and another 10% is in moving abnormal loads: "We move a lot of inland drilling rigs. Each one means 40 to 50 loads and they have to be moved, more often than not, very quickly — sometimes within a couple of days. This is the area which I tend to get involved in."
Walker readily admits to finding the transport industry soul-destroying: "Being in road transport is more than a job — it is a way of life, and often I find it hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. It is too much of a cut-throat business with rates which encourage bad practices.
"Speaking as a transport operator, I detest speeding trucks. I find it more dangerous driving around the M25 than racing round a grand prix circuit. All too often operators pressurise their drivers to get there that bit quicker, unload that bit quicker and get the next load out that bit ahead of schedule," he says.
Walker feels that something should be done about speeding trucks and he looks to the police and the Road Haulage Association to do it: "At motorway services and ports the police should check lorry drivers' tachographs. This is an easy way to clamp down on speeding and I don't understand why they don't do it more." D by Tanya Cordrey