By now the story of actor Paul Walker’s tragic death has been reported and covered by every major news outlet. I don’t have any more information that would shed any more light on the cause of his death, but I do have a thing or two to say about the reason why so many people seem to have connected with him.
I would say I am firmly in the camp of “gearhead.” I didn’t grow up street racing. I don’t know how to do an engine swap with my own two hands. But I grew up collecting Hot Wheels, building model cars, playing racing games, and modifying in some way or another just about every car I have ever owned (much to my wife’s chagrin). I grew up loving speed and everything with wheels.
I didn’t grow up loving the “Fast & Furious” movie series. To be honest after the first two or three movies I stopped watching unless it happened to be on somewhere like an airplane or when trapped in a hotel room somewhere. I ended up working in the automotive industry, doing marketing for the aftermarket companies provided the performance parts (wheels, lowering springs, intakes, exhausts, lights, you name it) that the F&F series glamorized and doing some freelance writing. Amongst the enthusiast and industry circles F&F was often derided as not “authentic” enough, not “realistic” enough for our tastes.
Looking back I’m not sure what we all expected; it’s not like Top Gun was a 100% accurate portrayal of the military life of our nation’s fighter pilots, but this was in 2003 – 2004 and I think the aftermarket industry was having our cake and eating it too. We all rode the wave of enthusiasm in car modification that the F&F series helped launch but we were disappointed that the way Hollywood was depicting our lifestyle wasn’t authentic enough.
With this lens I really struggled personally to figure out why I was not just sorry to hear the news but really troubled by Paul Walker’s passing. It seemed based on my Facebook feed that many other of my “car guy friends” felt the same way. Then this article in Motor Trend by Michael Schaffer resurfaced, and one of my friends called it… he was “one of us.”
I didn’t know Paul Walker. I didn’t even particularly love his movies. But the more I learn about him the more I respect who he was and what he was about.
His actual knowledge of cars and his car collection was also incredibly impressive and cool. Unlike many celebrities who suddenly come into wealth he seemed to actually have a genuine passion for cars beyond some prop for an episode of MTV Cribs. How else do you explain cars like an E30 BMW M3, BMW M1, R34 GT-R, and so many other super-cool cars that only a fellow gear-head would think to own? No flashy Maybachs or Bentleys with 32” rims. Paul Walker was a real car geek and he lived the life (including racing in events like the Redline Time Attack) that so many of us work hard to live.
Walker tribute Dec. 8, 2013, courtesy AFP/Getty Images
Only after his death did I learn that Paul Walker cared so much about others that after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 he started a charity called Reach Out Worldwide to send first-responders out to help with natural and human disasters. In fact Walker had just wrapped up a toy drive supporting ROWW when he jumped into Roger Rodas’ Carrera GT.
It’s estimated this more than 6,000 people made the trip to Valencia Sunday morning, some coming from as far away as Washington, to pay tribute to Paul Walker eight days after the Nov. 30 accident.
I don’t think that many people loved him so much because his movies inspired them to lower their cars or put decals on their quarter panels. In fact, many of us “car guys,” if we’re being honest, have made fun of the F&F franchise at one point or another for everything from the gaudy decals to the way they said “NOS” a million times in the first movie. I’m man enough to admit I was one of the haters at times. But the more I find out about Paul Walker the man, the more I feel the world has lost someone much bigger than his undercover cop character Brian O’Connor. His untimely passing troubled even my wife, who has no interest in cars and would sooner burn down our house than modify a car.
His lasting legacy seems to come down to this: he was one of the stars in a most unrealistic but wildly successful and entertaining movie franchise. But at the end of the day he was probably more real than most people ever dream of being. Beyond the fact that he was a real car guy, he was just a really great guy – a guy who was grateful for the chance to help raise his daughter and a guy who looked outside his own immediate circle and tried to give back to this world by helping those most vulnerable. He deserves to be remembered for that more than anything else.
I hope in some small way this article can pay tribute to Paul Walker and help you remember him in that light.
— By Glenn Oyoung
Glenn Oyoung, a founder of Turn 3 Creative marketing and merchandising services, lives in Arcadia with his wife, kids, and three dogs.