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From Batmobiles to BattleBots, Ted Walters has helped build it all

HIGH ROCK LAKE — A light flickers on in Ted Walters’ eyes as he looks over the silver contraption parked in his backyard workshop.

The partially constructed vehicle in front of him is little more than a metallic chassis, an empty cab and four wheels. There’s no windshield, doors or engine, but when Walters is done with it, he says it’ll be one of the world’s fastest street cars.

“It’s technically a 1980 Chevy pickup on a NASCAR truck frame,” Walters said. “I’m turning it into a complete street truck with no NASCAR rules. I’m trying to keep it down to about 2,500 pounds with a turbocharged 1,000 horsepower motor, which NASCAR doesn’t allow you.”

Transforming an old truck into a souped-up street racer is the kind of project Walters can take on now that he’s retired. Well, partially retired.

“I’m still working in my shop seven days a week,” Walters said.

The project itself may seem unorthodox, but not when compared to some of the other outlandish automotive challenges Walters has tackled during his career. 

Using his sheet metal manipulation abilities, he’s helped build award-winning show cars, a 200-pound battling robot and several stunt Batmobiles featured briefly in the Batman Dark Knight movie franchise.

Wanting to be closer to many of his racing friends, Walters, 63, retired and moved from his longtime home in New Jersey to Rowan County more than a half-decade ago. Although Walters has brought his skills south, he first learned them from an unexpected teacher as a teenager growing up in New Jersey.

“I was 16 when I was introduced to this mad Russian named Gene,” Walters said. “He was in the Russian military during WWII, fixing Russian planes that were used to bomb Germany. He moved after the war to the United States.”

Gene taught Walters how to use an English Wheel to turn flat pieces of metal into elaborate, curved shapes — a skill that is valuable when crafting car fenders, hoods and more.

“He was hardcore. He beat it into me,” Walters said. “I think he basically knew 10 English words and seven of them were curse words.”

Walters said he immediately fell in love with metalworking. Like a sponge, he absorbed as much knowledge as he could from his Russian mentor and started working in automotive body shops. In his mid-20s, Walters decided to set out on his own and launched T.R.I.X. Rods and Racers in Toms River, New Jersey.

The company’s acronym, fittingly, stands for Ted’s Radical Inventions and Experiments.

“I have built some of the strangest things,” Walters said. “I am the king of weird stuff.”

Among his abnormal creations are parade floats, traveling advertisements and even a pizza truck. Perhaps the most unusual of his masterpieces is “BattleRat,” a robot he built in the early 2000s to compete in “BattleBots,” a reality TV competition show that features robots of various shapes and sizes fighting each other.

Using a large hydraulic arm, BattleRat launched opponents into the air or simply maimed them. Walters said BattleRat even made an appearance on the “Today” show.

Walters has also worked on plenty of conventional projects as well, including restorations of antique cars, trucks and motorcycles. His “claim to fame” and proudest accomplishment is being named Builder of the Year for 1981-1982 in the northeastern division by the International Show Car Association. Walters built several cars that competed in arenas across the country and took home a few other top awards that now ring his mantle.

Walters’ reputation as a skilled metal manipulator and eager experimenter landed him a gig crafting Batmobiles for Warner Bros. He first built replicas of the Batmobile driven by Michael Keaton’s Batman that were shown off in amusement parks across the country. At one point, Walters said his shop was filled with multiple Batmobiles and looked like a car production company just for Batman.

In the mid-2000s, Walters said he was again enlisted by Warner Bros. to construct a few stunt replicas of the “tumbler” Batmobiles driven by Christian Bale in the Dark Knight trilogy. 

The military-inspired tumbler posed perhaps the most difficult challenge of Walters’ career.

“The biggest problem we had to solve with my engineering was that it had to be able to fly through the air for 20 feet,” Walters said.

Relying on expertise from friends who worked as Naval engineers, Walters and his team figured out how to ensure the vehicle would land like an airplane, with its back wheels touching down first.

Constructing the tumbler Batmobile was not only a laborious process, but a secretive one.

“We had to put limousine tint in the windows we did have, and nobody was allowed to come into the shop with a phone,” Walters said. “Nobody knew what it looked like.”

Although Walters didn’t get to keep the stunt Batmobiles he helped bring to life, he does still have BattleRat stored near his Rowan County home — a dangerously fun toy he still breaks out on occasion.

Walters may have dialed back the amount of work he’s taken on since moving south almost a decade ago, but he’s still accepting  jobs here and there for friends in New Jersey and elsewhere. He’s also sporadically helped out some of his NASCAR friends by serving as a part-time member of pit crews, specifically as a fuel specialist.

“I’ve done gas for a lot of teams over the years,” Walters said. “I’ve been doing five, six, races a year. I’ve been doing it since my 20s. The rush of going over the wall when there’s a caution and you know the cars are coming in, there’s nothing more exciting. It is an adrenaline rush.”

Walters even forayed into NASCAR with his own team at one time.

Whether it’s shaping a metal door for a decades-old automobile or hanging out at local NASCAR tracks, Walters is constantly thinking and obsessing over cars. When he’s taking a break from working on a car in his shop, he’s watching car shows on TV.

“I love what I do,” Walters said. “I’m so passionate about it.”

As for his current Chevy truck project, Walters said he is hoping to have it ready in time to display at the SEMA car show in Las Vegas this fall.

More information about Walters’ work can be found online at rodsandracers.com or by calling 732-245-6369.

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