Phil Walters aka Ted Tappett
Class of 2002

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.

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.

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.