Tuesday, December 27, 2016

"Indy Car Veteran" David "Salt" Walther Dies - December 27, 2012

November 22, 1947 - December 27, 2012
David "Salt" Walther
(Photo: Vukie1953 via photopin cc) 
Home:Dayton, Ohio, USA.
David was a driver in the USAC and CART Championship Car series, whose career and life saw some memorable peaks and many terrible lows. He also drove NASCAR stock cars, unlimited hydroplane boats, and was a car owner in USAC. He was the son of George Walther, owner of Dayton Steel Foundry, who fielded Indy 500 cars for Juan Manuel Fangio in 1958 and Mike Magill in 1959. His brother, George "Skipp" Walther III, was fatally injured while trying to qualify as an Unlimited driver at Miami Marine Stadium, in 1974.

David Walther was given the nickname "Salt" during his teen years while racing boats, and is one of only eight unlimited hydroplane drivers to qualify for the Indy 500. Walther raced in the 1970-1981 seasons, with 64 combined career starts, including the Indianapolis 500 from 1972 to 1976, and 1978 to 1979. He finished in the top ten 16 times, with a best finish, four times, of 7th position.

In his second appearance in the race in 1973 Walther qualified 17th but again finished last after one of the most spectacular and famous accidents in the history of the race. At the start of the race, as the field received the green flag, Steve Krisiloff, on the inside of the third row, developed engine trouble and slowed down, producing a traffic jam on the main straightaway as the rest of the cars accelerated. As Walther accelerated he touched wheels with Jerry Grant and was catapulted over the wall and into the fence above it. The impact tore down the fence and snapped off the nose of Walther's car, exposing the driver's legs and breaking open the fuel tanks, which at that time were located beside the driver. The fuel immediately began spraying out of the car, some of it reaching the front rows of the grandstand where several spectators suffered burns. The car crashed back onto the track and spun down the main straightaway upside-down, still spraying fuel which ignited into a huge fireball that enveloped the rest of the field. Blinded by the burning methanol, several other drivers crashed into Walther's car and each other, though none of them suffered serious injuries.

Walther's car finally stopped at the entrance of turn one, with the driver's legs clearly visible sticking out of the broken nose. Walther was quickly rescued by track safety workers, with the help of Wally Dallenbach, Sr., and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. Walther was trapped upside down in the flames for six minutes. Much of the car melted and he was badly burned on about 60 percent of his body, suffered several broken bones and was given a five percent chance to live. Twice he was given last rites. His crash is considered the worst Brickyard carnage that anyone has survived. His left hand, where the fingers were burned down to nubs and mended by three dozen operations, was usually concealed in a black leather glove after that. Walther was in the Michigan Burn Center for two and a half months, and lost around 50 pounds.

After a year of recovery, Walther returned to Indianapolis in 1974, finishing 17th. In 1975 he again finished 33rd and last, making him the only driver to finish last three times at Indianapolis. Walther scored his best result of 9th in the rain-shortened 1976 race. Following struggles with an addiction to painkillers, he attempted a comeback in 1990. Walther qualified for the race only to be bumped out by a last-minute run by Rocky Moran, and the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association, Inc. awarded him the dubious "Jigger Award" for his efforts.

He also appeared in 4 NASCAR Cup races from 1975 to 1977. His last NASCAR race was the 1977 Daytona 500, where, in a race in which several drivers crashed due to the high winds that day, he veered in front of leader Buddy Baker, sending both cars into the wall, and causing damage to the car of Dave Marcis, which was also involved in the incident. His best finish in NASCAR came in the 1976 Daytona 500, finishing 12th, despite spinning out early in that race after running into fluid from another car.

Due to his lack of success, as well as the considerable financial backing of his father, Walther was sometimes regarded as a rich playboy with more money than talent. In the December 1999-January 2000 issue of Champ Car magazine, racing journalist Robin Miller named him the third-worst Champ car driver, saying, "This wealthy young man had some of the best cars available in the 1970s. But vanity and a horrid attitude kept him from ever reaching the podium." 

In a brief acting career, Walther appeared in an episode of "The Dukes of Hazzard", and an episode of "The Rockford Files".

Following the 1973 accident, Walther ended up addicted to morphine and that led to abuse of other drugs and a long path of self-destruction and arrests. Walther died in Trotwood, Ohio on December 27, 2012 at the age of 65.

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