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NASCAR - Walker finding sprint car racing to his liking

Tyler Walker is making the ascension from the depths of NASCAR hell to sprint car heaven. Usually, it's the other way around for drivers in auto racing. Years of success in sprints, sometimes even a decade, often go by before the call to the proverbial big leagues comes in.

Walker has proven to be a little more old school. He has embraced a destiny toward dirt tracks, which has become clearer in recent weeks. His romp so far this season on the Golden State Challenege-King of California Series has made the circuit's swing through Silver Dollar Speedway on Saturday for the Dave Bradway Jr. Memorial the ideal opportunity for Walker to pick up his first win in Chico.

It marks a turnaround for the 28-year-old Southern California native after a failed drug test helped put an end to an already rough stint on NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series at this time last year.

"I don't know if I could ever go back to NASCAR," Walker said. "I don't have any passion for stock car racing. I get enthusiastic when I talk about getting into the sprint car and how fun it is. Without it, I find myself looking forward to the next time I get to race one."

The romance has been freshened by the good performances in the Scott Chastain-owned No. 24 car to ring in his first year back on the Golden State Challenge leading into this weekend. In five of the last six races, Walker has either been the fastest qualifier or the feature winner.

His qualifying record at American Valley Speedway in Quincy earlier this month, victory last week at Tulare Thunderbowl and four fast-time marks for the season could be the momentum needed to earn the unusually large $1,200 prize that the top qualifier alone can earn at the Bradway on Saturday.

Walker's surge wouldn't shock most people. He was once viewed as a prodigy of sorts on the West Coast sprint car scene with his five California go-kart state titles from 1992-96 and is seen as being right at home with former King of California champions Brent Kaeding and Jonathan Allard in the current top three standings.

"I'm just having a blast and a good time with the rest of the team, that's the biggest thing," Walker said.

The short full-time stay Walker spent in NASCAR began in 2004. By then, he had been tabbed as an emerging talent in the national ranks with a World of Outlaws Gumout Series championship and United States Automobile Club Silver Crown Series Most Improved Driver award under his belt.

It earned him three appearances on the Busch Series with two different teams and eventually a more permanent gig with Akins Motorsports in 2005. After a lack of top-10 finishes, Walker was released.

No year, however, damaged Walker's reputation like 2007. He was the No. 1 driver for Davis Racing when the Craftsman Truck season began; six races in, he was relegated to share primary responsibilities with Ryan Mathews.

Following the May 18 race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Walker failed a random drug test administered by NASCAR. He was later cited by the sanctioning body for "actions detrimental to stock car racing" and put on indefinite suspension, with no additional details released. Davis Racing dropped Walker from its operation soon after.

"It wasn't difficult for me to leave behind," he said. "I set a goal for myself to get to NASCAR and I got there."

Walker's reaction underlies the genuine disinterest he said he held toward making the commitment to the famous lifestyle that television networks often portray about the nation's elite racing league.

"I don't like the politics that go with it," he said. "But the biggest thing is (that) there's no racing. You spend three days in one place and get to race one time. I want to get out there three times, four times a night if I can.

"I'd be coming down a backstretch, looking up and watching a plane go by. It was almost boring being on the track sometimes. I never got that excited about it. There was no thrill for me."

Walker finished the year racing 360-winged sprints in the south before returning to his family's home in Encino. He credits fellow California standout Bud Kaeding with alerting Chastain about his availability.

Meshing with pit crew leader Lee Lindgren and his staff has helped Walker stay confident about his free-wheeling approach despite sustaining a significant leg injury while break dancing and later breaking his arm racing in the months before the season began.

Following his first win at Antioch Speedway on April 5, Walker staked his comeback claim during the post-race interview over the public address system.

"I want to say sorry to all of the NASCAR fans whom won't ever see me there again," Walker told the crowd. "I love dirt and am glad to be back on it."


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