The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 4, 2013

Shawn Wood's Inside Track column: A boy named Phil


Daily Item

---- — In his 28 years of racing, Phil Walter, of McClure, has seen the highs and lows of the sport.

From his eight career 358 sprint car wins at Selinsgrove to returning to the sport from a broken neck, nothing could have prepared him for what happened this past Sunday.

Walter, 47, got a call at 3:30 a.m. from his son 24-year-old son, Phil Walter II.

"He called home and said he didn't feel good and that he was having chest pains and his arm was numb and that he couldn't use it," he said.

Walter's wife, Lori, went to pick up Phil II and realized that going home was not going to be the right thing to do.

She instead took him to the emergency room at Evangelical Community Hospital in Lewisburg.

"Luckily, they treated him for a heart attack," Walter said.

And that was the right thing to do.

Walter II suffered a massive heart attack and had a 99 percent blockage of his main artery.

"After the surgery, they said 15 more minutes and he would not be with us," Walter said. "The doctors told us that most of the time when people come in here like that, they don't make it. It has been hard on both Lori and myself."

Walter knew that his son was going to be alright when they entered the operating room after the surgery, where they placed a stint in his heart, one step away from open-heart surgery.

"They were getting ready to wheel him out and we heard the two nurses laughing and giggling and I said to Lori, 'I know he's a awake.' He was in bad shape and he was still able to keep a positive attitude."

Last year, father and son raced in the 358 sprint car division for the first time ever and it just happened that the two were next to each other waiting to be pushed off before the start of the feature. It was something that was not planned.

"You think you have all of these problems that are insurmountable and then something like this happens and it makes all those things insignificant," Walter said.

Thankfully, the doctors found no major damage to Phil's heart.

"The doctor said that it was amazing that with the type of heart attack Phil had, that there was no damage," Walter said. "He said that they don't see people Phil's age come in with problems like that."

The doctor told him right after surgery that his life is going to change forever.

"It's going to be hard to keep that boy down, but we are going to have to for a little bit," Walter added.

Walter II works at Conestoga Wood factory where he sorts, separates and stacks lumber. He had worked on the railroad for three years before that fixing railroad ties.

"Right now, they didn't say about work or activities," Walter noted. "Phil has to go back in a week for some more tests."

Phil and Lori experienced a great outpouring of support from the racing family on Sunday.

"We struggled on Sunday," he said. "It was very hard to see your kid lay, all hooked up to machines, and not to be able to do anything. It's a humbling experience. I would trade places with him in a minute.

"You hear talk about the racing family and until you go through something like this, you don't fully understand it. At times like this, I don't know what we would do without them. We race against people, we're competitors, but when push comes to shove, in times like this, they come together. It's a different kind of bond than just a friend."

Walter noted that he was blown away by the number of people Phil has touched when he saw the large amount off get-well wishes on his Facebook page.

"Phil is a very unique individual; he likes everything from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Cash," Walter said. "In town, he can sit down with the older guys at the store and play cards and fit right in. He has a very positive outlook and attitude. Lori and I thank everybody for everything. It's been really something."

Walter II is bound and determined to be at the race track on Saturday after getting released from the hospital on Wednesday. That should come as no surprise when you look at his upbringing from a true gentleman in every sense, both on and off the track.

n Shawn Wood covers motorsports for the Daily Item. Email comments to sports@dailyitem.com.