Randy Walls never has been fond of the spotlight.

Walls is a builder and a racer, not an attention seeker – but unlike his surname suggests, Walls isn’t one to throw up barriers on well wishers and fans of his long and storied career in drag racing.

Walls, who made his name racing funny cars in California at tracks like Bakersfield and and Orange County International Raceway when he wasn’t criss-crossing the country for match races, is in Bowling Green for the weekend to serve as grand marshal for the 17th annual Holly NHRA National Hot Rod Reunion at Beech Bend Raceway.

It will be a busy weekend for Walls, starting with Friday night’s honoree celebration at the National Corvette Museum at 6 p.m. (admission is free for the event) where he’ll mingle with fellow racing legends Army Armstrong, Art Marshall, Richard Maskin, Paul Smith and promoter/track operator Steve Earwood.

There will be time for catching up with old friends and exchanging handshakes Saturday before Walls fires up his 1969 “Super Nova II” to kick off the Cacklefest at the track. Then its back home to Breckinridge County outside Hardinsburg, where Earwood relocated a few years ago after moving back to his native state from El Cajon, Calif.

“I’m having a real hard time accepting all this attention today,” Walls said Thursday at Beech Bend. “Like I’ve always told everybody, my car is what did it and my car is what was in the spotlight. I didn’t want to be in the spotlight.”

Walls stepped into that spotlight with his success on the drag strip, where he fashioned a highly successful career as a self-taught builder and driver in California’s burgeoning racing scene. Walls stood out in his Chevy-powered big block machine in an era when Chrysler’s powerful Hemi engines dominated the circuit.

In 1969, Walls had 75 match-race dates across the U.S. highlighted by an 8.2, 180-mph run at the NHRA Winternationals where his was the fastest Chevy there.

“I raced here in 1969 – I still haven’t found a picture of my car between the grandstands,” Walls said of Beech Bend. “I match raced somebody here, don’t remember who it was.”

After running a best of 6.90 seconds at 220 mph early in the 1971 racing season, Walls walked away from the sport. Fed up with “politics” that cost him track records and potential prize money and victimized by a devastating theft, Walls didn’t race again for nearly 26 years.

“It was terrible doing that, walking away when I did,” Walls said. “It was like I was halfway lost, that’s why I did a lot of motors and such.

“ ... One of the big deciding factors of me quitting too was I had decided to go ahead and convert the car to Chrysler and I had the motor all built and ready to go in the car and somebody stole it.”

Walls never lost touch with the sport, though, as a talented engine builder and entrepreneur. His full-time occupation during that time centered on automotive care, too, and he even served as the first service manager for Mitsubishi Motors in the U.S. starting in 1983.

In 1997, he tracked down his old Nova in a barn and soon after hunted down the original molds used to fabricate the body (first taken off a rental car in 1969).

“Basically in 1997 I found my racing car, my 1970 car, and started restoring it,” Walls said. “You couldn’t buy a body for the car. You could buy a door or what have you, so I went looking for the mold that I had made in 1969 for my 1969 and 1970 car and I actually found the darn thing in the backyard of a 97-year-old guy with all kinds of junk and stuff. It took a dozen of us about four hours to get it out – trees growing up through it and everything else.”

He started making exhibition runs with the rebuilt “Super Nova II” in 1997 and was an instant hit with fans. NHRA took notice, and in 2004 the Nostalgia Funny Car class was born. Not surprisingly, Walls was the series champion that first year.

“I was really concerned that I’d lost my touch due to age because I was 60 years old then,” Walls said. “There was an article in National Dragster that said ‘If you ever had it and you never got run over by a car, you’ve still got it.’ So I went out and I was really careful at first, but I made sure the car was correct and stuff. It ran good right off the bat and I had no problems controlling it all.”

In 2007, Walls survived a frightening incident on the track when his yellow Nova caught fire at the start line and erupted in a fireball down the track. Walls suffered severe burns and his machine was totaled in the incident at Bakersfield.

Walls rebuilt that car, which he brought to Beech Bend for the weekend.

His success in the Nostalgia series also earned Walls a unique racing opportunity, when he was invited to compete in New Zealand in 2009. Walls spent a month there on the other side of the globe, racing his 1970 Nova and working with New Zealand racers as a reliable problem-solver for engine issues.

Walls is no longer a regular on the Nostalgia circuit, though he remains a hero to drivers and fans of the series as a pioneer and steadfast proponent to keeping the spirit of the class alive. That has been a losing struggle, as Nostalgia race cars have moved away from the look and feel of those original machines.

Walls isn’t a fan of the radical modernization in the class, but even he isn’t sure how to fix the issue. He has ideas, though.

“The problem is, how do you limit it?,” Walls said. “The first thing, I think, is it should look like a nostalgia car. It should look like a 1970s-type car. I don’t even thing it should go to ‘78 – I think it should go to about ‘73.”

“This narrowing thing now ... they’re so streamlined. Yeah, they look a little bit like a stock-type car, but that’s about it. Now they’re being wrapped instead of painted. I think they ought to have a paint job.”

Walls plans to continue making the occasional exhibition run and is always in demand for public appearances when he can be lured from “chasing coyotes” on his spread in Breckinridge County.

And he intends to keep right on working on engines.

“I don’t know why I’ve got the knack,” Walls said. “When I started out, I didn’t even know what the inside of a motor looked like. Just like a lot of people do, I had to rebuild my motor. A friend of mine did it for me and screwed it all up.

“... I get into something, it pisses me off if I can’t figure it out.”{&end}

– Follow sports editor Jeff Nations on Twitter @Jeff_NationsBG or visit bgdailynews.com.


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