Paul Walker? Influential in my life? Come on. No way. But here I am, watching The Fast and the Furious for the thousandth time, feeling a little lost.
It’s been less than 24 hours since I first heard about Paul Walker’s passing. I’d just spent my Saturday driving nonstop from New York to Ann Arbor. When I got home, I got the news—Paul Walker had been in a car crash. I opened my iPhone, and the first post I saw said that the crash was a hoax. With Fast and Furious 7 currently in production, I thought that could’ve been true or that a bystander had mistaken a movie stunt for a car accident.
But then I saw big-name news outlets posting that not only was the crash real, Walker had died in it. I went to his website. It was down. I looked at his Twitter feed. Nothing. I went to Facebook and looked for any information I could find, and that’s when I saw that a few members of one of my groups, a group of automotive enthusiasts on the west coast, were at the charity event Walker had attended that day. They said that everything was true, that Paul Walker was gone.
Now I’m watching a bright orange Toyota Supra, driven by a shaggy-headed dude, race a Ferrari along the California coast. I’m wondering what twelve-year-old Chris Nelson thought of Paul Walker when he first saw the blue-eyed surfer boy. “Why does he drive a Mitsubishi Eclipse?” “Why does he order tuna every day?” “Why doesn’t he double-clutch like he should…and what’s double-clutching?” What I do remember is really connecting with Paul Walker’s character, Brian O’Conner. I didn’t know why, but I did.
Because of the film, I decided to dip my toes into the world of import tuners, which turned into a headfirst dive after attending my first Hot Import Nights in Chicago. At age fourteen, I was buying parts for and stealing the keys to my dad’s 1993 Acura Integra. Two years later, I got my license and had it promptly taken away by the police. My life has revolved around cars ever since. By the time I turned sixteen, The Fast and the Furious franchise had churned out 2 Fast 2 Furious. I continued to relate to Paul Walker’s character and had a better idea of why by then. In the movie, there’s a part where Paul Walker slides his character’s Nissan Skyline GT-R sideways to a stop right in front of the camera. Not a stunt man—Paul Walker. After seeing that, I started to dig into the actor’s life. I didn’t have to dig deep to figure out he shared my passion for cars. There I was, thinking he was nothing more than a California-raised, Hollywood-pampered pretty boy. But no. He collected cars. He raced cars. He loved cars.
I believed that the Steve McQueens and Paul Newmans, the weekday actors and weekend racers of the world, were remnants of a much cooler time. Then there’s this guy, who is exactly that but for my generation. I began to respect Paul Walker, not just relate to his character. I followed the growth of his company, Always Evolving. I paid attention to his racing, including his time behind the wheel of an E90 M3 in Redline Time Attack. He transformed from an on-screen persona into a bit of real-life role model, but I still didn’t admire him.
I pause The Fast and The Furious at that part where the Toyota Supra and big-blower Dodge Charger are about to drag race. I can’t find my phone. I want to listen to the recording of the interview I did with Paul this past spring. When I find my phone, I see that the recording is gone. I’m pissed, because the interview made me stop respecting Paul Walker and start admiring him. Before we dove into talking about Fast Six, Paul told me that he was on his way to pick up his daughter from school. He’d bought her flowers. For Valentine’s Day, I think. For about ten minutes, he talked nonstop about her and told me that more important than anything—more than cars, more than racing, more than surfing, more than movies—was being a good father to her.
More details about the crash that took Paul Walker’s life are trickling out. That he was a passenger in a Porsche Carrera GT owned by Always Evolving. That his business partner and racing buddy Roger Rodas was driving, and that he, too, passed away. That the event Walker was at prior to the crash was co-hosted by his charity, Reach Out WorldWide. That bystanders heard the crash, ran to it, and tried stop the fire, but they couldn’t. That a memorial is already forming on the accident site.
Until now, I never really thought about the impact that Paul Walker had on me. Probably because if you’d asked, I would’ve told you he didn’t have an impact on me. Come on. No way. But here I am, listening to the Ja Rule song in the credits for The Fast and the Furious for the thousandth time…and it feels different. I’ll hear it a thousand more times, because I’ll watch The Fast and the Furious a thousand more times, but it’ll never be the same knowing that Paul Walker is gone. That a man I grew to admire is gone.
Paul Walker is survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow Walker.