Phil Walters

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Phil Walters
Nationality United States American
Born (1916-04-20) 20 April 1916 (age 102)
New York City, US
Died 6 February 2000(2000-02-06) (aged 83)
Homosassa, Florida, US

Philip F. Walters (20 April 1916 – 6 February 2000) was an American racing driver, who won both the 12 Hours of Sebring and Watkins Glen Grand Prix twice.

Early career[edit]

Walters was born in New York City and grew up in Manhasset, New York, and in his late teens began racing midgets at tracks on Long Island. He races under a pseudonym - "Ted Tappett" – so that his family did not he was racing. By all accounts, Walters’s style was brute-force, all-arms-and-elbows sort of oval racer.[1][2]

The War Years[edit]

It was January 1942 when he joined the United States Army Air Corps, as a transport and glider pilot. He flew a Waco CG-4A glider during a disastrous invasion of the Netherlands, which the Germans knew of in advance. He was able to safely land his troops although he was wounded, and taken prisoner. Whilst in a German hospital, ironically, the German surgeon who saved his life by removing a kidney and half a lung had watched Walters win a midget race in Philadelphia five years before. As a result, his strength and stamina was reduced. He finished the World War II with the Air Medal, a Purple Heart, seven Bronze Stars and the rank of Flight officer.[3][4][5]

Following those injuries sustained during the war, he adopted a smoother, less forceful driving style and found this faster, and well-suited to sports car road racing.[6]

Racing career[edit]

post-war career[edit]

After the war, Phil went back to racing in Kurtis-Offenhauser midgets. He resumed his winning ways, stringing together 26 feature race wins in row in 1947, and in another 47 events, he would never finish lower than third in the final results. He dominated at the Riverside Park Speedway, becoming their first track champion in 1949. Later he moved in stock cars and posted a record number of victories in USSCRC events, at places like Agawam, Deer Park, Hinchcliff and Cherry Park. In addition to his racing, he formed a business partnership with Bill Frick, called Frick-Tappett Motors, which did race car preparation and they built the well-known ‘Fordillac’ performance cars (Cadillac engines in Ford chassis). Eventually the partnership became a Volkswagen and Porsche dealership.[7][8][9]

The Cunningham Years (1950–1955)[edit]

During 1949, Briggs Cunningham bought a Fordillac with an eye on racing it in 24 Hours of Le Mans and approached Walters with the idea of an all-American sports car for endurance racing. After a short while, Phil became the general manager of the Cunningham Car Company, who built the first post-war American cars to race at Le Mans. The organisers of Le Mans, Automobile Club de l'Ouest rejected the Fordillac, so Cunningham took two Cadillacs to the Circuit de la Sarthe in 1950. Walters paired with Cunningham and finished 11th in a special-bodied roadster, dubbed ‘Le Monstre’, despite Cunningham getting stuck off-course in some sand for half an hour.[10][11]

Setting a shop in West Palm Beach, Florida, served as a base to the Frick-Tappett division of the B. S. Cunningham Co., the team set its sights on the 1951 Le Mans. Walters, by now Managing Director of Cunningham formed a new driver partnership with fellow American, John Fitch, ran as high as second before finishing 18th. He returned in 1952, this time alongside Duane Carter, only to record a DNF because of a blown Chrysler engine.[12]

Though the Cunningham team did not win at Le Mans, Walters did record a third place in 1953, the car he co-drove with Fitch. They finished the race at an average speed 8 mph faster the winning Mercedes-Benz 300SL the year before, but the disc brakes in the Jaguars gave then an advantage and the Cunningham C5-R took the bottom step of the podium, before two C-Types and just ahead of another. Walters also won the 1953 12 Hours of Sebring with Fitch, against the European factory teams, in the inaugural race of the World Sportscar Championship. The Cunningham team contested the SCCA National Sports Car Championship series in the US, and here Phil won many races, including the Watkins Glen Grand Prix. Walters won three times at the Glen, including the Seneca Cup in 1950, and the Grand Prix of 1951 and 1954. During the 1952 race, he set the fastest lap, exceeding 82 mph on the original 6.6-mile course, which still stands as the official record. Following an accident during this race, the GP was moved to an interim “second course”, with a shorten 4-mile closed course. Walters was the only driver to claim Watkins Glen victories on both the original open-road course and the closed circuit.[13][14]

Cunningham idea of the all-American dream team ended with his fifth place in the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans. This enabled Walters to race competitively with the major European marques of the era. During his time racing for Briggs Cunningham, he drove Cunningham, O.S.C.A., Porsche, Cooper, Ferrari and Jaguar sports cars, on road courses across the US and in Europe. It was in one of Cunningham’s Jaguar D-Types that he his second Sebring title, this time partnered by Englishman, Mike Hawthorn.[15][16]

His ability brought him an offer from Enzo Ferrari to drive for him, in Formula One just before 1955 Le Mans. However, just before joining the Italian marque, he was the first witness the horrendous tragedy at Le Mans, in which the Mercedes-Benz 300SLR of Pierre Levegh went into the crowd and killed 85 spectators. Walters said “I had gotten used to drivers killing each other, but I could not adjust to drivers killing spectators“, and at the age of just 38, he walked away from the sport.[17][18][19]

Away from the track[edit]

After motor racing, Walters took up sailboat racing and became an accomplished sailor. With his family as crew, he won the competitive Block Island Regatta, sailing a *Peterson 34 *(The Peterson 34 was named OBSESSION and with Phil Walters and his crew, became known as one of the hottest racing sailboats on the Long Island Sound during the 1970s; having won a very impressive number of races during this decade - including the prestigious Block Island Race Week). In the eight years prior to his death, Phil had been a resident of Homosassa, Florida. Before that, he lived in Syosset and worked in Hicksville, where he ran a car dealership – Walters Donaldson VW-Porsche-Audi of Hicksville, New York.[20][21]

Racing record[edit]

Career highlights[edit]

Season Series Position Team Car
1950 Seneca Cup [22] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Healey Special Cadillac
1951 100 mile Bridgehampton [23] 2nd Briggs S. Cunningham Ferrari 195 S Berlinetta
Sports Car Grand Prix of Watkins Glen [24] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C2-R
SCCA National Sports Car Championship [25] 26th Briggs S. Cunningham Ferrari 195 S Berlinetta
Cunningham-Chrysler C2-R
Healey Special Cadillac
Cooper 500
1952 Giants’ Despair Hillclimb [26] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-RK
Brynfan Tyddyn [27] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Porsche 356 America
The Convair Trophy Race [28] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-RK
European Road Races at Thompson Raceway [29] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-RK
Elkhart Lake Cup [30] 2nd Allen S. Guiberson Ferrari 212 Export
200 mile Elkhart Lake [31] 2nd Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
SCCA National Sports Car Championship [32] 3rd Briggs S. Cunningham
William Spear
Allen S. Guiberson
Ferrari 166 MM
Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
Cunningham-Chrysler C5-RK
Ferrari 212 Export
1953 Vero Beach 6 Hours [33] 3rd William Spear Ferrari 166 MM
Grand Prix, 12 Hours of Sebring [34] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
Floyd Bennett Cup [35] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
les 24 Heures du Mans [36] 3rd Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C5-R
Turner 250 [37] 3rd Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C5-RK
1954 Gov. Dan McCarthy Memorial Race [38] 2nd Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
Sports Car Grand Prix of Watkins Glen [39] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
SCCA National Sports Car Championship – Group BM [40] 5th Briggs S. Cunningham Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R
SCCA National Sports Car Championship – Group CM [41] 13th Briggs S. Cunningham Ferrari 375 MM
SCCA National Sports Car Championship – Group DM [42] 14th Briggs S. Cunningham Ferrari 250 MM
1955 Twelve Hour Grand Prix of Endurance [43] 1st Briggs S. Cunningham Jaguar D-Type

Complete 24 Hours of Le Mans results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1950 United States B. S. Cunningham United States Briggs Cunningham Cadillac Le Monstre Spider S8.0 233 11th 3rd
1951 United States B. S. Cunningham United States John Fitch Cunningham-Chrysler C2-R S8.0 223 18th 1st
1952 United States B. S. Cunningham United States Duane Carter Cunningham-Chrysler C4-RK S8.0 DNF
(engine)
1953 United States Briggs Cunningham United States John Fitch Cunningham-Chrysler C5-R S8.0 299 3rd 1st
1954 United States Briggs Cunningham United States John Fitch Ferrari 375 MM S5.0 120 DNF
(Transmission)
1955 United States Briggs Cunningham United States Bill Spear Jaguar D-Type S5.0 43 DNF
(Valve)

Complete 12 Hours of Sebring results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1952 United States B. S. Cunningham United States John Fitch Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R S8.0 0 DNS
(withdrawn)
1953 United States Briggs S. Cunningham United States John Fitch Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R S8.0 173 1st 1st
1954 United States B. S. Cunningham United States John Fitch Ferrari 375 MM S5.0 104 DNF
(Engine)
1955 United States B. S. Cunningham United Kingdom Mike Hawthorn Jaguar D-Type S5.0 182 1st 1st

Complete 12 Hours of Reims results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Laps Pos. Class
Pos.
1953 United States Briggs Cunningham United States John Fitch Cunningham-Chrysler C5-R S+2.0 DNF
(Accident)
1954 United States Briggs Cunningham United States John Fitch Cunningham-Chrysler C4-R S+2.0 208 6th

Complete Carrera Panamericana results[edit]

Year Team Co-Drivers Car Class Pos. Class
Pos.
1951 Chrysler Saratoga DNF
(accident)

References[edit]

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  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
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  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
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  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015-03-22. 
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  27. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Brynfan_Tyddyn-1952-07-26-16104.html
  28. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Convair-1952-08-03.html
  29. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Thompson-1952-08-17.html
  30. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Elkhart_Lake-1952-09-07a.html
  31. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Elkhart_Lake-1952-09-07.html
  32. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-22. Retrieved 2015-04-20. 
  33. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/race/Vero_Beach-1952-03-08.html
  34. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/results/Sebring-1953-03-08.html
  35. ^ http://www.racingsportscars.com/results/Floyd_Bennett-1953-08-29.html
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