Phil Walters, AKA Ted Tappett, was born in 1916 in New York City. After running street rods as a teenager, Walters turned to midget racing. He won in his first outing in a midget, then finished his "rookie" season by taking down 11 victories and 11 second place finishes in 45 starts. His second year saw him in victory lane for 26 consecutive races. He dominated at the Riverside Park Speedway, becoming their first track champion in 1949.
An innovative car builder as well as racer, Walters and partner Bill Frick built Fordillacs, a kind of customized Cadillac powered Ford. He met one of his customers, Briggs Swift Cunningham II, at Watkins Glen in 1949. Cunningham talked to him about racing at the 24 Hours of LeMans, and the two teamed up in June of 1950. Walters and Cunningham finished a respectable 11th at LeMans in their Northstar LMP endurance racer.
Walters had set the standard for auto racing by 1955, when tragedy struck. Phil had signed to drive for Ferrari, and was 2 hours into the 24 hours at LeMans when he saw a Mercedes fly off the track and into a crowd of fans. 83 people died instantly, and another 16 died later, in the worst tragedy in the history of racing. "I decided at that point", Walters said later, "that if that's what can happen in this business, I think it's time to get out. So I retired right there on the spot."
Walters operated the Walters Donaldson VW-Audi dealership in Hicksville, N.Y. for several years after retiring from racing., and took up sailing as an avocation, becoming a very accomplished sailor. He retired to Florida with his wife, Sheila in the early '90s. Phil Walters, aka Ted Tappett, passed away on February 6, 2000 at the age of 83. We welcome him posthumously into the NEAR Hall of Fame.
Drafted in 1942, Walters flew gliders and C47 transports in WWII before being shot down during the invasion of Holland. Ironically, the German surgeon who saved his life by removing a lung and a kidney had watched Walters win a Philadelphia midget race five years before. When he returned home after hostilities had ceased, Phil weighed 130 lbs - not counting the Air Medal, Purple Heart, and seven bronze stars pinned to his chest. Before the War Phil Walters was known for manhandling his machine in the turns. After the War, lacking the energy resources to support such a technique, he drove smoothly as possible. Much to his surprise the new style was significantly faster.
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.
Before the War Phil Walters was known for manhandling his machine in the turns. After the War, lacking the energy resources to support such a technique, he drove smoothly as possible. Much to his surprise the new style was significantly faster.
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, Fla.
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 Leveghs 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. Phil Walters, aka Ted Tappett passed away on February 6, 2000 at the age of 83.
New England Antique Racers