PETE WALTON: THE PROMOTER, THE RACER, THE MAN
by Randa Johnson JR.
Writer / Co-Founder
Anyone in the dirt racing community – whether a fan just hanging out every weekend getting your racing fix, or a driver slinging up dirt, has heard the name Pete Walton before.
Walton is the founder and president of the USCS (United Sprint Car series). Coming off a boastful career of 16 seasons racing sprint cars, Walton strived to promote the sport while bringing sprint car racing closer to his home.
This season, he has been nominated for the 2018 National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Promoter of the Year Award, following the 22nd season of the series and fulfilling several major achievements.
In a recent interview for USCS Racing and NSCHoF, Walton was quoted speaking on this nomination. “It is quite an honor to be recognized as a nominee for the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Promoter of the Year Award,” Walton said. “To be a part of the many people who work hard to keep sprint car racing in the fore-front and provide a place for competitors to compete in this exciting form of motorsports has always been a pleasure and a privilege to me. I and my Family have made so many wonderful friends from the experiences we have had in over 20 years of being involved.’ Any honor I receive is only a reflection on the many good people who have dedicated their time and talents over the years to help build the USCS into what it has become”, concluded Walton.
“Open wheel racing in the Southeastern region of the country has been rare, and in the past has taken a back seat to stock car and late model racing, I’m proud that our two-plus decades of work with the USCS have produced a product that draws some of the top crowds of the season at many of the venues where we promote and sanction events. And as far as our USCS sprint car drivers, I would put them up against any 360 teams in the country on the race track. We always invite the rest of them to just bring it on!”
We had been planning to sit down for a questionnaire for some time now. Following this nomination, there was no better time to get up close and learn more about Mr. Walton.
MEMPHIS RACING HISTORY QUESTIONAIRE
YOUR NAME : Pete Walton
NAME (NICKNAME) YOU ARE BEST KNOWN : I use to call myself the Flyin’ Fatboy when I raced. But most people wouldn’t know that.
YEARS INVOLVED IN RACING : Well my Dad took me to Riverside when I was three and my uncle Bill Winters was the promoter at the Memphis Fairgrounds 1/4 mile in the early 1950s. I started going to the races with and helping Ken Elam (Jamie’s Dad) when I was 12. Started going over to Hookers when I was 16 or 17 and helping him..built a couple of cars myself with his help at his house. I also went to the races with Benny Howard and Alvin Gatlin. Then I got married to my first wife when I was 25 and quit racing for a while. Got back into racing in go karts after I moved to ATL in 1983. My 1st wife and 8 yr old son Casey got killed in a car wreck on March 23rd, 1984. Started back racing go karts sometime that year, cause I told my son I was gonna win the National Championship in 1984. He raced a little to in 1983 and ran the #10. That was his # so I took it after that. If it hadn’t been for my friends in racing and Church I probably would have just died too. It took me til the next year to win that National Championship.. I won 3 classes in the IKF Dirt Grandnationals and a bunch of WKA races….figured there was no place to go but down so I got into sprint cars …Ricky Hood helped me and he was my mentor. That was in 1986 the year after I was the greatest non factory box stock go kart racer in the country. Been a sprint car guy ever since. Raced 40 times all through the Mid-South & Midwest in 1986 following Hood, Mike Ward, Eddie Gallagher and Bobby Sparks around. Raced against about everyone back then, WOO, ALL-Stars USAC, Etc.
METHOD OF PARTICIPATION (owner, promoter, driver, etc) : Just a driver and the Janitor job I now have at USCS. Never owned a track just leased Garnertown Speedway in Luray/Lexington, TN in 2006. Team owner. just my own. had a few people drove my second car when I race too a few times. Danny Smith actually drove for me one time at Eldora. Just a driver and the Janitor job I now have at USCS.
YOUR HERO (racing or non racing) : Well, how about Jesus Christ..he is really my hero. The rest of us are just imperfect and carnal and jealous, and nothing special compared to him…then next would be both of my wives.
GREATEST RACER YOU HAVE EVER MET : Hooker as far as racing was great, he was great to fans,but, he wasn’t perfect in every way…I really appreciated him as a 2nd Dad. especially since my parents divorced when I was 12 or 13. Sammy Swindell has to be maybe the greatest of all times. He hasn’t been just a sprint car racer. How could you ever leave Tony Stewart off that list. I would never believe he would have races with USCS 15 times this past season. What a tremendous contribution he has made to our series the past 2 seasons. And Terry Gray…one of the most under-appreciated guys out there…he should have been in the sprint car Hall of Fame 5 years ago. How many people do you know that have won at 120 different tracks?
BIGGEST MOMENT IN RACING : I guess one of the most important moments to me was when I was laying in the Hospital after heart surgery in 2000 and our top driver at the time, Kenny Adam’s had won 23 of our features and was named the first ever National Sprint Car Hall of Fame 360 Sprint Car Driver of the Year. The next year it should have been Terry Gray he won 20 and was our Champ Zach Chappel won 1 race and Gray beat him every time he raced against him…but Zach was the ASCS Champ and they gave him the award….pretty sad
BIGGEST REGRET IN RACING (if any) : Maybe just the time it takes to try to be the best. Really enjoy hard work but there is the other part of life I have a new Grandaughter 4 months old and the four coolest Grandsons 5,6,8 and 9 who really are my best friends
FAVORITE EVENT OR TRACK : You know in my position you should be quoted on having a favorite track…but since I went to my first race at Riverside in 1951 ..it would have to be near and dear to me. I also like our Flip Flop 50 event there. It can be pretty exciting…. I also like to go to Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, FL..We have some great events there. And there are quite a few others that we go to that I like the people we work with
BIGGEST CHANGES YOU HAVE SEEN BOTH POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE : Almost too many series and locally some tracks too many divisions….higher and higher costs too do same thing no better…too little promotion in a lot of cases..that is where we excel. Good changes?..that’s tougher. Good…better safety equipment if people will choose to use it.
WHERE DO YOU SEE RACING HEADING IN NEXT DECADE : I think Dirt is getting bigger and you would hope that would bring more attention and sponsorship to the sport, if that is a good thing. But we need more young fans
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IF YOU HAD THE POWER : Try to control some of the cost like these unnecessary high dollar shocks and high dollar cylinder heads.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A NEWCOMER IN RACING : (TO DRIVER) Maybe to try not spend all your money on the highest dollar car and components until you have 25 races under your belt and try to learn car control before speed. Try to find an experienced driver who will mentor you. Most are willing to help if you don’t take up all there time at the track when they are trying to be competitive themselves. Don’t ask everyone and try to blend it. Try to find someone who is competitive and see what works for them works for you. Buy good safety equipment first on the list. Tighten all your bolt TWICE
(TO FAN) Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook…lol
SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF THAT MOST FANS WOULD NOT KNOW : Well of course there’s the nickname many didn’t know about. I sorta live and breathe racing…but I’m just a competitive guy. Did you know I was a sales actually VP of Marketing for Nintendo in the coin-operated game days? I actually sold coin-operated games for 25 years and even created some games. Well I help on some of mostly games like cranes that dispense prizes…there is the one game/crane that is CALLED the Plush Bus was totally my deal the ICE manufactures.
WHAT YOU MOST WANT TO BE REMEMBERED (racing or non racing) : Being the BEST Papaw ever.