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Brother tags along to victory lane

After nearly five years, Tony Walker charges into fast lane

TALENT — Tony Walker doesn't often show his emotions, but the hooting and hollering definitely came from inside his car on May 13 at the Southern Oregon Speedway.

Walker had just captured his first pro stocks victory of the season and only the second of his 4?-year career at the White City track. Equally gratifying, Walker held off his brother, Jim, for the win.

It was a breakout victory in what has been a breakout season for Tony Walker, who has languished in Jim Walker's shadow ever since the Southern Oregon Speedway opened in 1996.

Not that Tony Walker has been alone in his obscurity. With 127 victories and seven points titles in his 18-year career, Jim Walker has overshadowed most of his fellow racers.

But the younger Walker, who at 24 is 10? years Jim's junior, is doing just fine these days carving his own niche around the quarter-mile dirt track. His victory last week moved him within 23 points of pro stocks points leader Brad Alfrey and within 10 points of runner-up Frank Word III with more than half the season to go.

Tony also has won a trophy dash for the first time in his career.

This is my fifth season, and I think I've finally gotten the hang of what it takes to be successful out there, Tony says. The more laps you make, the more races you complete — it adds up bit by bit.

Tony also attributes his recent success to the 1999 Rayburn chassis he bought last year, along with his meticulous preparation for each race, something he learned from his brother.

I check out each bolt each week to make sure everything is tight, Tony says. Fuel lines, battery cables, shocks, springs ?you name it and I've checked it.

One of the reasons Jim has been so successful is that his car rarely breaks down, and he finishes almost every race. If you?re going to be in the thick of it (the points race), you can't have many DNFs (did not finishes).

No one is happier for Tony Walker's breakout season than Jim, who has scaled down his racing schedule for the second straight year so he can spend more time with his family. Separated by more than a decade in age, the bond between the two had never been particularly close until the last couple of years.

I was out of my parents? house while he was still a kid, Jim says. But it goes beyond the age difference. Tony wanted to do things his own way when he first started racing and was probably a little jealous of me for winning so often.

But that's water under the bridge now. We've gotten a lot closer the last year or two. Whenever I'm not racing I pit for him. I'm definitely one of his biggest fans.

The two are rivals on the track, however. The night they finished 1-2, Jim narrowed a two-car deficit with two laps to go to a few feet by the checkered flag. Had it been any other year, the older Walker ?who once slid across the finish line on his top to win a race — surely would have found a way to win.

I've never been so excited after a race, Tony says.

Tony's strong finish was in contrast to the season-opener, when he led most of the way only to get past by Alfrey on the final turn of the final lap.

I tried to protect the lead instead of staying aggressive and just doing what I'd done for the previous 24 laps, Tony says. Right then I said, ?Never again.???

The Walkers are a second generation racing family. Their father, Jim Sr., and uncles Jack and Les all competed at defunct tracks in Medford, Ashland and White City.

All had moments of glory. After a slow start, Tony has found his way into the fast lane, too.

Tony Walker, who comes from a celebrated racing family in the Rogue Valley, won his second pro stocks race of the season last weekend at Southern Oregon Speedway. - Photo fromCurt Ballard of Westover Photo