Sunday 6th February 2000
Midget and sportscar racer Phil Walters, AKA Ted Tappett, died at age 84 in Florida, US. Born in New York City and raised in Manhassett, Long Island, N.Y., he started racing in midget cars on tracks around Long Island in the late ‘30s, using the pseudonym “Ted Tappett” to hide his avocation from his parents. He joined the Army Air Corps as a transport and glider pilot in Jan. ‘42 as World War II was getting up to speed. He flew a Waco CG-4A glider in the disastrous invasion of Holland, which the Germans had advance knowledge of. He delivered his troops safely, but was wounded and taken prisoner. He lost a kidney and half a lung in a German hospital and was later awarded The Air Medal, a Purple Heart, seven Bronze Stars and the rank of Flight Officer.
Walters returned to racing following the war, driving Kurtis-Offy midgets around Long Island, and later also started driving stock cars with great success. He raced at the Riverside Park Speedway, Agawam, Mass. in 1949 the first year they ran stock cars and became the first Riverside Park Speedway Champion, winning 14 features during the 1949. A record for the most wins in a season, which will stand forever, since the famed Riverside Park Speedway closed in 1999 after 50 years of operation. Richie Evans came the closest to breaking Ted’s record when he won 11 features in 1980 on his way to his only Riverside Park Speedway Championship. He founded a business with partner Bill Frick which was known as Frick-Tappett Motors, which became well known for producing Fordillacs and Studillacs (Fords and Studebakers with the 331ci Cadillac V8 engine installed). They sold a Fordillac to sportsman Briggs Cunningham, who eventually hired both Frick and Walters to run the new Cunningham Car Company in West Palm Beach, South Florida.
Walters became a road racing star driving for Cunningham, making a name for himself on road racing circuits throughout America and Europe. He finished third in the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice, as Cunningham sought in vain to procure a win for an American entry in the famed enduro, and dominated SCCA national races in America. Among the marques he drove were Cadillac, Cunningham, OSCA, Porsche, Cooper, Ferrari and Jaguar, with which he won the 1955 12 Hours of Sebring with Mike Hawthorn (photo, flanked by Hawthorn on the left and Cunningham).
By this time, Walters had attracted international attention to himself, and was offered an F1 contract with Ferrari. However, before he could make the move, he went to Le Mans three months later with Cunningham to drive a D-Type, and was a first-hand witness to the awful carnage that ensued when Lance Macklin and Pierre Levegh crashed on the front straight, causing flaming wreckage of Levegh’s Mercedes to fly into the crowd and kill 83 spectators.
Walters retired from racing on the spot, and returned to the life of a businessman in Long Island. He ran the Walters Donaldson VW-Audi dealership in Hicksville, N.Y. for many years, and took up sailing as an avocation, becoming a very accomplished sailor. He retired to Florida in the early ‘90s