George "Skipp" Walther III


Rookie driver Skipp Walther was killed [June 2, 1974 at Miami Marine Stadium, Miami Florida] during a race morning test run [before the 1974 Champion Spark Plug Trophy race]. Skipp, the brother of Indy 500 and Unlimited driver Salt Walther, had just taken over the wheel of Jim McCormick's Red Man boat and was logging time in the cabover craft prior to his first competition when the rudder sheared off at 150 miles an hour. The hydro was completely out of control as it went into a wild spin down the front straightaway, throwing Skipp out and running him over. Rescue crews rushed the stricken driver to the hospital, but he was unable to survive his massive injuries.

Walther's catastrophe cast a pall over the race and the drivers cautiously went through the motions of completing the event.

Tragedy nearly struck during the first heat as Leslie Rosenberg's new Valu-Mart also lost its rudder in a close race with the Pay 'n Pak. Valu-Mart driver Ron Armstrong was thrown out as the boat hooked and spun to the right, but he was not injured.

Both the Red Man and Valu-Mart hulls were Ron Jones-designed and, since the two mishaps were related as to their causes, the two other new Jones craft, Miss U.S. and Lincoln Thrift were withdrawn from the race pending further inspection of their rudder bracket set-ups. Safety tests later showed the rudders to be more than adequate; so any thoughts of their being defects in the rudder brackets were quickly erased.

One theory in relation to the Red Man accident contended that Walther's boat had hit a manitee, a walrus-like creature that had been seen swimming in front of the Marine Stadium grandstand only minutes before the course was opened to the Unlimiteds for testing. This assumption was never substantiated.

The Miami race concluded with Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser, driven by rookie Howie Benns, taking top honors after the favored Pay 'n Pak and new driver George Henley failed to finish the final heat. Bill Muncey, driving the back-up Atlas Van Lines could only muster 225 points for a third place in the second stanza, and finished eighth overall.

(Reprinted from Bill Muncey : Boat Racing Legend / Stephen A. Garey, 1982)

1982 Steve Garey Unlimited. For reprint rights to the above article please contact the author at  sgarey34@aol.com.

External Links:

[In addition you might check out the essay on the Country Boy, "The Little Boat That Couldn't" by Brad Haskin with help from Fred Farley at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum website.]


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