Whether he’s building custom Ford F650 trucks, collecting sports memorabilia or buying his next performance boat, Chris Walker goes all in.
By Eric Colby
When Chris Walker decided to buy a new Adrenaline 47 ZXR Carbon Series boat, he didn’t just purchase one. He thought it would be a good idea for the company to build an outboard-powered version so he told Adrenaline owner Mike Layton, “If you design one with outboards, I’ll buy it right now,” so the two friends agreed and Walker cut the check.
When Walker started building custom Ford F650 supertrucks, Ford asked him if he could build 40 in a year. His answer? Of course.
Walker doesn’t just like sports memorabilia. His collection is so extensive that the only worthwhile addition would be a ball signed by every player of the winning team in a world series. After he met his wife Christine in a bar when she questioned his sexual preference, they were married six weeks later.
In short, Chris Walker doesn’t do anything halfway.
“I love having fun. Travel, food, work,” said Walker, 56.
Ironically, when he went to his first poker run, he wasn’t a participant. He didn’t even go on a boat. He was there to sell trucks.
If there’s one thing that poker runners love almost as much as their water-based works of art, it’s a cool truck to tow them and no one builds cooler trucks than Walker and his company, Truck Customs by Chris, which many people know as Extreme Supertruck, in Augusta, Ga.
The company builds as many as 60 to 70 custom Ford F650 trucks each year. That’s in addition to another 50 or 60 that come in annually for upgrades. Walker calls them “Love Trucks” for the owners. The 15,000-square-foot facility has six bays with two employees working in each bay.
He started bringing trucks to poker runs figuring it would be good exposure and soon, he was getting inquiries from around the world. The company has offices in Beijing, China and Santiago, Chile as well. He has also sold trucks to Sheikh Hassan of Qatar, who formerly owned the Spirit of Qatar powerboat racing teams. Walker’s company’s trucks have also been sold at the famous Barrett-Jackson auctions.
He built his first F650 in 1999 for his primary business, Southeast Utilities of Georgia, a utility contractor that does aerial and underground construction throughout the southeastern United States. He bought his first F650 for economic reasons. “I could get five or six men in one truck,” he said.
One time, one of the trucks had a mechanical issue and Walker took it home to fix the problem. Then he customized it and used it as his daily driver. People started asking how they could get their own truck and Walker said, “I’m the guy.”
He built one for a marina owner in Palm Beach, Fla., and another for former NFL star Plaxico Burress and things took off from there.
Eventually, the folks at Ford got wind of what Walker was doing and he made a trip to the blue oval’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., where executives asked if he could mass produce the custom vehicles.
“I said of course I could do 40 a year and they made me a final-stage manufacturer,” Walker explained. “I was able to build them and sell them for less than people would pay for a chassis.”
He said there’s one reason why the company has been so successful. “The customers made it what it is today,” said Walker. “I just always said yes.”
One downside to always saying yes and building his business empire was that it was costing Walker time with his family. When he and the mother of his children divorced, Walker was granted minimal custody because the judge felt he was on the road too much, so Walker made a change. He shut down those offices and stayed closer to home and was granted 50-percent custody. He spent more time with his kids and helped raise them.
After playing baseball through high school, Walker coached his sons’ baseball teams. During the Little League World Series after he finished coaching a game, he was at a bar having some dinner and a woman who was there with friends noticed that Chris had earrings. She walked up and asked him if he was gay.
“I said, ‘I’m not gay, and I have a nicer butt than you,’” laughed Chris. It turned out her name was Christine and they started talking and playing darts. Six weeks later, they were married. That was 13 years ago. Today, they have four kids in a combined family, Christopher, 25, Cameron, 19, Whitney, 30 and Savannah, 18.
Walker learned the importance of family growing up in Miami with parents Ben Walker Sr., and Loretta. His father is still alive, but his mom passed a couple of years ago. He has two brothers Ben Jr., 58, Wayne, 55 and a sister, Laura 53.
When he was younger, Walker met a girl from Boston when he was working at a camp as a teenager so he finished high school in Massachusetts and worked for Digital Equipment Corporation in the Bay State after graduating from Wentworth Institute of Technology with degrees in industrial and mechanical engineering. Walker got married when he was 18 and things didn’t work out, so he moved back to Miami at 21 to work with his brother Ben Jr. in the family business, Cable Connections and Utilities. Today, Ben Jr., still runs that business and he and Chris have co-owned that very boat that Chris has had, including the Adrenalines.
Their boating experience started at a young age when their dad bought the boys a 13’ Checkmate with a 40-hp Mercury outboard. When they were done with their chores, they would spend their time exploring the Intracoastal Waterway and the canals of South Miami. When Chris was about 25 years old, they moved up to a 26’ Corsa with twin 200-hp Mercury outboards. “That’s a boat I’ll never forget. Every time I went out in the ocean and came back, we came back without a cowling,” Chris said. Of course, in true 20-something year-old style, they named the Corsa Wet Dream.
In addition charging around the water, Chris raced Formula 3 cars in the Sports Car Club of America’s Formula Atlantics category from 1987 through 1989. “I crashed or came in first or second,” he recalled. He aspired to a motorsports career, but said, “Back then you had to be an Unser or an Andretti to get a ride.”
He has no desire to go offshore racing, but does enjoy running in close quarters during a poker run. “I’ve always liked speed,” said Walker. “You can’t really race on the road, but you can go out on the water and bounce. Sometimes you don’t need to go 150 mph. You get in that crowd of boats at 70 to 90 mph and it’s the thrill of your life.”
After the Corsa, Walker turned to fishing boats, first with a 25’ Ocean Master center-console and followed that with a 31’ Ocean Master. He would catch Mahi-Mahi, grouper, snapper and yellowfin tuna and come back to the docks and sell it. “I fished what the conditions would call for,” said Walker. “I went after something I could sell.”
Being around poker runs with his trucks eventually got Walker back into performance boating. About 12 years ago, at the Desert Storm Poker Run in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., he bought a 25’ Domn8er with a Mercury Racing HP525EFI. He had that boat for a couple of years and moved up to an Eliminator Daytona catamaran with twin Mercury Racing HP700Sci engines.
“I was honing my skills at this point and I said, ‘I’m tired of not being able to keep up and getting beat up at these poker runs,’” he explained. So he moved up again to the only DCB M31 widebody with bowrider seating up front. It had a hard hatch that screwed into place when he wanted to run fast and he would take it off when he was just cruising. That boat was powered by twin Ilmor Marine 725-hp V10s and the company’s Indy drives. He bought the boat from the Hennessy Cognac family.
After having that boat for about a year, Walker traded it for a 38’ Fountain. Walker had ordered a Mystic M4400 catamaran and was waiting for it to be finished. The Mystic was powered by twin Mercury Racing 1100SCis with M6 drives.
To get the paint job he wanted, Walker turned to Layton at Adrenaline Powerboats, which is about 15 miles from Augusta in Lincolnton, Ga. Walker got to know Layton through the years by having him work on other performance boats that Walker had owned. Layton explained to Walker that Adrenaline had done the three-dimensional imagery on the M4400 for Mystic Powerboats president John Cosker. Walker had him design the paint and graphics scheme for his Mystic and a friendship was born. With his company’s advanced composites capabilities, Layton has done some custom components for Walker’s trucks and he did the paint scheme for Sheikh Hassan’s truck.
“They’re the most precious and honest and sincere people I’ve ever talked to,” said Walker of Layton and his wife/business partner, Robin.
Like many performance-boat enthusiasts, Walker likes to have something different from everyone else and one day, out of the blue, he told Layton, “My next boat will be an Adrenaline.”
Even though he called the Mystic “the best riding, best-handling, funnest cat that I’ve ever owned, period,” Walker sold the boat and its matching F650 and built an Adrenaline 47 ZRX Carbon Series powered by twin 1100SCis. He’s also having an outboard version of the 47-footer being built that will have four Mercury Racing Verado 400R outboards.
The stern drive version of the boat is finished and it seats six. The outboard-powered boat will seat 10. The V-bottom has a four-step running surface and the stern drive powered boat has hit 130 mph in initial testing. It’s built with carbon fiber and epoxy, and the laminate is fully infused for proper distribution of the resin and maximum strength with minimal weight. Adrenaline expects to have the outboard model finished for the Poker Runs America 1000 Islands Poker Run in August.
The Walkers attend about four to five poker runs each year. Some of his favorites include Desert Storm, the Tickfaw 200, Boyne Thunder and the Key West event.
They just built a new house on Lake Thurman in Appling, Ga., and in true Walker fashion, the house is on the smallish-side with only two bedrooms, but it has a 4,000-square-foot garage for his exotic cars that he enjoys driving. He also has an extensive sports memorabilia collection including a baseball from the 100-year anniversary All-Star game that was signed by 94 of the living world series MVPs that is valued at $500,000. He has a half-dozen coins used for the opening toss at Super Bowls and a pair of Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves.
After he moved to Georgia to raise the family, Walker didn’t boat for a while. Now that he has his boating life re-established and the kids are grown, he and Christine want to take some time to travel. He has 200 employees at his businesses and feels that he has good people in place that will allow him to travel without worrying.
“We’re hardcore foodies,” said Walker. His wife is Taiwanese and when they went to visit her family in Taiwan, they indulged in the local cuisine. “All they do is eat,” said Walker. “They eat on the way to eat.”
In addition to his other businesses, Walker also distributes tuk tuks, those little three-wheel cabs used in cities like Bangkok, Thailand, where he and Christine were planning to visit in June.
“I want to get to where Christine and I can take some time off and enjoy life,” said Walker. And he will enjoy it to the fullest.