George "Skipp" Walther

Was It The Rudder?

Walther’s Death Blamed On Sudden Failure

George 'Skipp' Walther
George "Skipp" Walther

MIAMI — (Special) — Tragedy struck the Walther family for the second time in little over a year yesterday when George (Skipp) Walther of Owensboro, Ky., was killed while testing the Red Man unlimited hydroplane prior to the start of the season-opening Champion Regatta.

Walther, 27, is the, older brother of David (Salt) Walther, Dayton, Ohio, who was severely injured and burned in the crash of his race car during last year’s Indianapolis 500. Salt spent several months recovering at the University of Michigan burn center and returned to the Indy 500 this year and placed 17th.

Skipp Walther was to be a replacement driver for Jim McCormick, owner of the Red Man who was thrown from the boat and suffered severely lacerated legs last Thursday.

Skipp Walther never had competed in unlimited-class racing before Friday.

Witnesses said the Red Man was going about 140 miles an hour down the straightaway when it appeared to dip on its right sponson. After two bounces, the boat spun and rolled toward the infield. Walther was thrown out and was hit by the boat.

Walther’s wife, Sandy, was watching the test run and accompanied her husband to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead from a skull fracture, a severed right arm and other lacerations.

Bill Newton, unlimited-class referee, said a preliminary inspection indicated "a sudden failure of the rudder attachment structure." Race officials offered a $100 reward to anyone finding the lost rudder so that a detailed inspection could be completed.

Ron Armstrong of Lakewood, Calif., driving the Seattle-based Valu-Mart, was tossed from his boat during Heat 1A. The spinout also was attributed to rudder failure.

The two mishaps prompted Buddy Byers, unlimited commissioner, to request the withdrawal of the Lincoln Thrift and Miss U.S., the Red Man, Valu-Mart, Lincoln Thrift and Miss U.S. all were built by Ron Jones in Costa Mesa, Calif. Byers, in concert with Harry Volpe, chief of the sport’s technical and safety committee, wanted a closer inspection of the boats’ rudder systems.

Ironically, the Red Man used to belong to the Walther family. McCormick purchased the hull (Country Boy) from the Walthers last year.

A new Country Boy, to be driven by Salt Walther, was not completed in time to run in the Champion Regatta.

Walther is survived by his wife; his father, George, Jr., of Dayton; his mother, Mrs. Minas Joannides of St. Petersburg, Fla., and two brothers, Salt and Jeffrey.

(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, June 3, 1974)