When Liz Cannon joined Walker Racing in February 2006, team owner, Derrick Walker issued one stern warning: “Don’t even think about dating the driver.”
Liz recalls, “I was like, ‘Don’t even worry. I have no interest.’”
And she didn’t. For one thing, Liz – who grew up in Texas and Indiana before earning her degree at Purdue – had her hands full learning the ins and outs of her new job. She started as the team’s part-time receptionist and “Girl Friday,” but soon became its full-time PR professional. For another, Will – who had recently moved to the United States from his hometown of Toowoomba, Australia – had, she said, “This … mop of hair.”
But working as the team’s PR rep put Liz in constant contact with her driver. Before long, Liz could see his appeal.
“At first, Will’s quiet,” she said. But soon, she “could see Will’s personality.” He was, she realized, really funny.
Like, funny enough to moon an entire restaurant in Milwaukee during a team dinner.
“He pulled down his pants near this mirrored window and stuck his tush right in there,” she said. Despite Walker’s warning, Liz realized she was warming up to Will.
As it happened, the feeling was mutual. Indeed, Liz had piqued Will’s interest the very first time he saw her, that day in February when she interviewed with Walker.
“Tall, blonde girl?” he recalled with a laugh. “Yeah, I started to work on her.”
It wasn’t just that Liz was gorgeous, she was nice, too. Even better, she also had a sharp sense of humor. That, more than anything, won Will over. By the time mid-season rolled around, the two were dating.
“We tried to keep it secret for two years,” Liz said. At work, “We kept it professional.”
Eventually, another team employee ratted them out.
“Derrick has a pretty even temper,” said Liz. “He can keep his cool.” But, “when he gets mad, and it’s not very often, there’s a vein in the middle of his forehead that will pop out. And oh, was it popping.”
After a two-hour meeting – more a “full-on argument,” she said – Walker agreed to let it slide. Liz would work for Walker for another two and a half years before taking on a similar role at Dreyer & Reinbold.
In 2009, Will and Liz faced another, more serious challenge: Will’s physical rehabilitation following a terrifying crash at Sonoma Raceway. The accident, in which Will’s car crested a hill in a blind turn and T-boned a stalled Nelson Philippe at speed, left Will with a concussion and two broken vertebrae.
“It was terrible,” Liz recalled. But as often happens in such situations, it brought the couple even closer, so much so that Will decided to propose that December. (“It was on my mind before that, too,” he admitted.)
“I knew it was coming,” Liz said. She figured he would ask in Hawaii, where they planned to attend the wedding of Ryan and Nicole Briscoe, right before Christmas. Or maybe he’d ask in Australia, while celebrating the winter holiday with Will’s family.
Instead, Will popped the question before they departed, during a horse-and-buggy ride through downtown Indianapolis.
“Well, I was not expecting it at all, not one bit,” said Liz.
Will tells the story this way: “When I proposed, she was like, ‘Oh! You’re doing it now?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah!’ And she kept saying, ‘You’re doing it now?’”
Finally, the woman driving the carriage turned around, pointed her gaze at Liz, and said, dryly, “He’s doing it now.”
The couple wed a year later, in Hawaii. “All my family was coming from Texas and all his family was coming from Australia, so we chose Hawaii because it was exactly halfway,” Liz explained. “It was fun! All the Texans got along great with all the Australians. It was one big weeklong party!”
Afterward, the newlyweds island-hopped before finishing their honeymoon in California, at Disneyland.
Liz no longer works in PR. She left the profession in 2012 to better support Will, who by then was a full-time driver with Team Penske. But given the uncertainties associated with Verizon IndyCar Series racing, Liz has trouble watching Will on track. It explains why she spends most races pacing behind her husband’s timing stand in pit lane, nervously gnawing on a plastic water bottle.
No doubt that’s in part because, when Liz started at Walker Racing, “I wasn’t there to date the driver. It just happened that way.”