Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Updated: April 10, 4:13 PM ET
Walker trying to revive racing career derailed by positive drug test
By David Newton
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tyler Walker was on his way to a sprint car race in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, hoping to win for the second straight week and wow the crowd with the patented backflip that he was doing long before Carl Edwards made it famous.
The 28-year-old Californian is attempting to revive a career that was sidelined in May when NASCAR suspended him indefinitely after he failed a drug test following qualifying for a Craftsman Truck Series event at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.
He says he's been drug-free and sober for more than 10 months now.
Had the governing body had a more stringent drug-testing program when he began driving trucks in 2003, Walker says he likely would have cleaned up his act a long time ago out of fear of being caught.
|Tyler Walker's career in the Craftsman Truck Series crashed and burned with the May 2007 suspension.|
"For sure," he said. "I would love to see a stricter policy. I'd like to see everybody getting tested so there's no ifs, ands or buts. Let's clear the table and make sure everybody is on the same page, and that way it will prevent others from making the mistakes I did."
NASCAR tests on reasonable suspicion, which means an official, another driver or crew member sees or hears something to indicate there could be a problem.
Walker would like to see mandatory testing as done in other major sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.
"Every three or four months for everybody," he said. "You watch all of these TV shows now, these celebrities you would never have thought, they have drug addictions.
"I would love as much time and energy to be spent on it as possible because drugs and alcohol affect even more than just NASCAR's life. It affects everybody's life. It's horrible to see what it does to people's families and lives and relationships. It's sad."
Some fall through the cracks in every system, and NASCAR is no different. Truck Series driver Aaron Fike was suspended last season only after being arrested for possession of heroin. Fike admitted in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine that he actually was under the influence of heroin while racing.
Walker said he never drove under the influence of drugs or alcohol even though both had been a big part of his life since the age of 12. He's not sure what prompted NASCAR to test him at LMS, but knows that he's thankful he was tested before ruining his life -- or somebody else's.
NASCAR officials, who in the past have said their system works just fine, did not return phone calls to explain why Walker was tested.
"All my life pretty much I had done drugs and struggled with addiction," said Walker, who was driving for Bill Davis Racing at the time of his positive test. "Until my publicity and all that happened with NASCAR, I didn't really take it seriously. I never really got in trouble. I just had a good time.
"But until I realized what it was doing to me and how it was affecting my life, I couldn't really change it."
Walker didn't realize how much harm he'd done to his career until he attempted to regain his ride in the USAC Silver Crown Sprint Car series for NASCAR star Kasey Kahne.
"Sponsors said they didn't want to take a risk on me because of what happened," Walker said. "Kasey is one of my best friends. He supports me all the way. For him to have to tell me I can't drive for him because the sponsors said, that was heartbreaking.
"It twisted my stomach, put it in knots. I had tears. I couldn't believe it. It's a struggle enough without having anything attached to you."
Kahne said Thursday that Walker is getting his life back on track and making the right decisions.
"I really like Tyler. He's a good person. He just got sidetracked," Kahne said. "He's worked hard to get back to where he needs to be. He wants to race and he's a good racer.
"It was disappointing that we couldn't put him in the car. As time goes on, maybe we can get past it and hopefully do something with Tyler."
Kahne said he had no idea Walker had a problem.
"Sometimes you just can't tell."
Walker knows the only way to regain that lost trust is to stay clean. He declined to comment on whether drug abuse is more widely spread in NASCAR than the governing body and other drivers would have you believe, saying he wants to distance himself from such issues.
"I would hate to say yeah," Walker said. "I don't want to be the guy to throw that out there.
All the people I was involved with, I have no idea what they're doing. I'm in California. I have completely eliminated myself from those situations and all of those people. I am completely outside the loop.
"I am focusing on staying in good shape, spending time with my family, which I haven't been able to do for 12 years because I've been driving all over the country. For me to be with my family is a blessing and really awesome. You forget what it was like to have family support and friends that care about you and support you no matter what."
Walker is thankful he is young enough to turn his career around. He hopes his story can be an inspiration to others headed down the path he was.
"It was really embarrassing, really humbling," he said. "I felt horrible for all of my fans and friends and sponsors that supported me. I absolutely feel like I let them down, and I'll never do that again."
Walker now gets his highs from racing. He hopes one day to work his way back to NASCAR and show fans where Edwards got the backflip he does off the door of his car or truck after every victory.
"I did a backflip last Saturday night," Walker said. "The announcer said, 'Oh, you did the Carl Edwards thing.' He was new, I guess. But it was a good backflip. I caught a little extra air, I think.
"And it was so nice to see the fans smiling, saying, 'I love to see you back.' It's inspiring to me to keep doing right. I don't know if I'll get back to where I was or to a better position. But I'm happier, and I'm solid emotionally and I want to enjoy it a lot more."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. ESPN.com's Terry Blount contributed to this report.
I felt horrible for all of my fans and friends and sponsors that supported me. I absolutely feel like I let them down, and I'll never do that again.
-- Tyler Walker