Whether Running From Alligators Or The Competition, Wall Is One Tough Guy
Some would say race-car driver Chris Wall gets more than his share of excitement during his work week.
Wall has one of those jobs you only read about in magazines or see on television — he’s an alligator farmer. Wall is the owner of C&M Gator Farm, where he spends his workdays dealing with creatures that can weigh more than 1,000 pounds and snap a human in half like a twig.
For most that would be more than enough excitement during a given week, but for Wall, a 40-year-old native of Holden, La., it’s only the start.
“I’m an alligator farmer who races, not a racer who’s an alligator farmer,” jokes Wall, a first-year driver in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series but a regular dirt-late-model driver since 2001. “Right out of high school me and my dad — it was a new thing in Louisiana at the time — we started an alligator farm.
“We do (raise) 15,000 alligators annually, so it’s a very major operation,” says Wall. “It’s very commercialized, it’s not a bunch of ponds and fences like the average person would think. It’s all indoors, concrete, it’s a very controlled environment.”
It’s difficult to believe that there is such a thing as working in a controlled environment with alligators, creatures that can produce nearly 2,000 pounds of bite force in the blink of an eye.
Then again, Wall does drive a race car in excess of 100 miles per hour almost every weekend. He probably knows a thing or two about control. It’s no surprise that he has earned the nickname “Intimagator” from fans and competitors.
Wall got his first taste of racing in 1999 when his nephew decided to take a trip to a local dirt track. Wall openly admits that he always had an interest in going fast, but he opted to stay away from racing for one simple reason.
“The only reason I hadn’t went was because I was afraid I would like it,” Wall says with a sly grin.
His nephew pushed the matter.
“He said, ‘Man, I’ll tell you what, if you do it then I’ll do it,’” says Wall. “So the next thing you know, like a week later, we owned a race car together. The first time I went to a race track I was a car owner and I’d never even seen a dirt track before.”
That was all it took. It didn’t take long for him to become the driver, too.
“He (his nephew) kind of fell out of it a few months later and voila! Here we go,” jokes Wall. “Ten years later, here we are running on a national level.”
Wall started his career running local dirt tracks in what he called a super stock.
“It kind of looked like a late model,” says Wall. “We raced that from ’99 until 2001, which was our rookie year in a late model.”
Wall slowly gained experience in the heavier, more powerful late model. He says the highlight of his first year in a late model was traveling to the Talladega (Ala.) Short Track for the Ice Bowl and making the feature as a rookie.
“Just making the show, I think we started 20th or 21st, but you’d have thought we won the World 100,” says Wall. “We were just so excited to be there.”
Since then Wall has gotten better and better. He’s collected a few track championships and he won 12 Mississippi State Championship Challenge Series races en route to the 2006 series title.
For Wall, those victories and championships don’t even compare to what he considers his biggest moment in racing: winning the 2005 edition of the Magnolia State 100 at Columbus (Miss.) Speedway.
“We came into that race almost as an unknown,” Wall says. “Everybody was there, Billy (Moyer), Scott (Bloomquist). There was nothing else going on nationally. All the national guys were there.
“We were in the house. We really dominated that race. By far that was the highlight of my career; to win that $20,000 at the Magnolia State 100. Not as much as the race, just knowing the caliber of the cars that were there.”
Wall added a second Magnolia State 100 victory in 2008.
“It seems like every year we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to pick up one more notch,” says Wall.
For 2010, Wall decided to take it up another level and follow the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series tour and compete for top rookie honors.
Wall says he considered joining the World of Outlaws Late Model Series, but opted for the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series because it would allow him to keep his day job.
“Their schedule is a little more flexible; it’s mostly weekend racing,” says Wall. “It’s a better working-man’s schedule to be able to have the majority of the week to go home and make a living and maybe cut out a day early to make it to the races.
“Their schedule just suits us better,” Wall says of the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series. “I think they’ve got a really good program. I like their points purse and we are eligible for their rookie program. I think they’ve got a first-class operation.”
While racing a dirt-late-model has plenty of dangers, Wall’s job as an alligator farmer has its own unique set of complications.
“I would say the most exciting and dangerous part of our occupation is our egg collection,” says Wall. “We collect our eggs from the wild, so we go out in helicopters and spot the nests from the air and mark them with GPS units. Then we go back with air boats and retrieve the eggs.
“Obviously, as you can imagine, some of those mamas aren’t very fond of you taking their eggs. It can become a two-man operation, one person entertaining old mama while the other person is scooping up the eggs. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart,” Wall says.
So what exactly is the point of an alligator farm? As the name suggests, Wall and his family raise alligators. The money-making portion of the operation comes from harvesting the hides of the alligators to create leather products.
“We utilize everything on the alligator, but the leather goods, the skin, is definitely where our living’s at,” says Wall. “Our market is a worldwide market. From watch straps to purses, belts, any type of leather goods. Actually, the majority of our leather goods are consumed by watch straps.”
The success of the C&M Gator Farm has enabled Wall to work during the week and play during the weekend.
As far as 2010 is concerned, Wall has kept his goals realistic. He wants to win the rookie-of-the-year award and stay in the top 10 in points. He says that winning a race along the way isn’t out of the question.
“I think we can win a race or two before the end of the year, I really do,” says Wall. “I’m confident enough in our program that we’ll hit some tracks that suit us well, and I’m optimistic that we can bring home a win or two.”
Wall is the first to admit that he loves racing, yet he will quickly follow that up by saying it’s the alligator farm that pays the bills.
“The gator farm is our bread and butter, it is our livelihood,” Wall says. “Do I enjoy racing? Absolutely. Make no mistake about it, whenever Chris Wall doesn’t enjoy racing, he won’t be racing.
“I just feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world,” Wall says, smiling from ear to ear.