IndyCar teams– and their Pro Stock brethren in NHRA drag racing — especially guard against engineering espionage. Likewise, elite chefs — and sometimes paranoid amateurs in the kitchen — don’t like to share their recipes.
Donnie Walsh understands that. He has figured out his own recipe for success, at the moment in the NHRA Pro Care Rx Pro Modified Series.
He’s reluctant to divulge his specific special ingredients that have helped him improve in the past four races from semifinalist to runner-up to winner at The Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio. He also scored a Pro Street victory at the recent NMCA/NMRA Super Bowl at Joliet, Ill.’s Route 66 Raceway.
But the popular Fun Ford Weekend-rooted competitor stepped away from racing in 2007 to guide his and his father’s businesses (including D&D Performance) through tough economic times and “give them the attention they needed because without them we can’t do this kind of stuff.” He returned in March to debut in a Pro Mod at the NHRA’s Gatornationals.
He said he’d come back to the track only if it made sense. What made sense, Walsh said, “When we started talking about doing this and the people who wanted to do this, I felt that there was the recipe for success . . . and that if we went out and worked hard, we could find it.”
When we started talking about doing this and the people who wanted to do this, I felt that there was the recipe for success . . . and that if we went out and worked hard, we could find it.
In another sense, Walsh knows the recipe really is pretty basic. As with any business, success comes from having quality personnel, quality equipment, and a positive outlook.
“I don’t think anything’s done without a good team,” Walsh said. And he has that for his 2011 Mustang that used to belong to Brad Anderson, along with plenty of support from the Anderson-Jay Payne group.
Harry Hruska, mastermind at Turbo Precision and of this effort, serves as crew chief, and has a trusty crew in Justin Haddon, Chris Tumpkin, Carlos Tumpkin, and renowned driver-tuner-engine expert Todd Tutterow.
He had planned to run as a teammate to Payne, and that’s how his season began. But after the second event, at Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway, Walsh decided to split the set-up for geographic and logistical reasons.
“The only thing that ‘fell through’ was that they are in California and we are in Michigan and Harry is in Indiana,” Walsh said. “So the East Coast / West Coast thing made things too difficult. It made challenges — if we wanted to test or wanted to work with the car, it was with them in California. We felt it was in our best interest to have the car in our hands.
“There’s been speculation that there were problems, and there definitely weren’t,” he said. “We all get along really well.”
He said he has the technical and moral support from Anderson, Payne and Company but that it’s just not official.
“We still share information. They’re still very helpful to us. There’s still an alliance there. We just physically have the car,” Walsh said. “Even to this day, either Brad Anderson and his people can be found in our pits a lot or we can be found in their pits a lot. The whole Brad Anderson crew has been super helpful throughout the entire season. And after we won the race [at Norwalk], they were elated for us. They’re good people.”
So, too are the “people who make it happen,” Walsh said. They’re his sponsors: Precision Turbo, Walsh Motorsports, D & D Performance, John Meany/Big Stuff3, Ford Racing, AFIS, Red Line Oil, and VP Racing Fuels.
“To be honest,” Walsh said, “we’re just trying to make this all work however we can.
“This isn’t a big-money deal,” he said, acknowledging that his team is earning some attention lately, after adding his name to the NHRA Pro Mod winners list alongside two-time winners Rickie Smith and Danny Rowe and Charlotte victor Mike Castellana. Moreover, Walsh said he wouldn’t mind any new investors: I don’t think any team out there is not seeking more help.”
Technically, Hruska owns the team, but what makes it work is mutual respect and no real pecking order with the team. “When we decided to do it, the best thing was that everybody had a common goal — and that was to go out and try to win. It wasn’t a thing in who does what. We all want to win. Everybody involved respects everybody., and that makes a big difference in decision-making and moving forward with a program. We asked, ‘How can these people all give to this program to make it that way?’ ”
I have driven other turbo cars, so it wasn’t the first — it was the one with the most power.
But the Wixom, Mich., racer who won his first race at age two and a half in a snowmobile going no faster than eight miles an hour is adapting well to his new assignment. It’s no surprise that Walsh is moving seamlessly from a small-block Ford to a Hemi, from a supercharged motor to turbocharged power.
After all, he’s nothing if not flexible and versatile. A few years ago, he started road racing for a lark, pulling Chris Tumpkin into the venture.
“We had just come off of winning three championships in a row at NMRA. We took the same approach to the road racing that we had done to drag racing and we learned a lot. And in the second year we won a championship,” Walsh said.
As for the “new” engine, Walsh said, “I have driven other turbo cars, so it wasn’t the first — it was the one with the most power. We just snuck up on the tune-up. The car, it’s not a whole lot different. We’ve worked on the car to make it a good car on race day. Turbo cars were known for a really long time to be fast cars fro qualifying but not such good race cars. Technology and people like Harry Hruska working night and day on turbocharger technology have made it so it’s good on race day, which we’ve proven in the past two races.”
However, Walsh isn’t strutting after his most recent achievements. “I’m a pretty humble guy,” he said, “and I know that you can do really well in motorsports and be really good at it. And the next weekend you can fall on your face. You pick yourself back up, try to figure out what went wrong, and try not to do that again. I hope that attitude helps us move forward at a pretty good rate.”
Walsh says he loves competing in the NHRA program: “Running that NHRA deal, that’s a huge deal for us.”
Its future is in limbo as it seeks a sponsor to replace Roger Burgess’ Pro Care Rx funding. But Walsh said he’s optimistic.
“I know that a lot of people are working right now to try to come up with a plan,” he said. “There are some good plans out there. Nothing is cemented. But there are some very good ideas on how to make this work financially. So that’s very positive.
“I hope that it can continue. The NHRA has given us a great place to race,” Walsh said. “I thoroughly enjoy racing there. I hope a program can be put together to keep it. I think we put on a good show.
“The spectators who come through our pits, what they’re so excited about is a Mustang against a Camaro, a turbocharged car versus a nitrous car, a blower car versus a nitrous car. Everybody can come into this and have something they like,” he said. “I think NHRA would lose something if they did lose the class. I’m not trying to say we bring the whole show. I’m just saying I think we’re a good part of it.
“The neatest part right now, to me, is that anybody in the top 10 can win this thing [the championship]. The field’s pretty close. It’s real close from No. 5 up to No. 1. Three rounds change everything,” Walsh said. “So when there’s four races left, that’s pretty cool. I think it’s pretty cool for us.”
The Pro Car Rx Pro Modifieds will race next at the August 29-September 3 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Raceway. But Walsh said he plans to race this coming weekend in the ADRL’s Dragstock IX at Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway.
“We’re there to learn. We’re testing a lot of things at ADRL. I don’t know how successful we’ll be, but hopefully we’ll be successful in learning a lot.”