We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
For sheer acrimony, nothing tops the protest-ridden 1956 Gold Cup, which took 85 days to settle.
MISS THRIFTWAY and Bill Muncey were eventually declared the winners (after the cup had initially been presented to the Detroit-based MISS PEPSI and Chuck Thompson) and the race went back to Seattle for 1957.
Muncey was erroneously disqualified for hitting a buoy in Heat Three, until TV film of the event proved that this didn't happen. (The buoy was still visible in the spray after MISS THRIFTWAY had passed it. Then, on the following lap, the buoy was no longer upright.) The matter of the buoy foul was cleared up rather quickly.
The reason for the long delay had nothing to do with anything that happened in the race itself. Horace Dodge, Jr., owner of DORA MY SWEETIE, filed a lawsuit against the APBA. He claimed that his boat, piloted by Doc Terry, had been illegally "bumped" from the starting field of twelve boats during qualification. Dodge sought to have the race declared "No Contest" and asked for six cents in damages.
Dodge was eventually persuaded to drop his lawsuit when the Gold Cup Contest Board agreed to prohibit "bumping" at future Gold Cup races.
First-place in the 1956 Gold Cup, which was run on September 1, was finally awarded to MISS THRIFTWAY on November 25.
Following and as a result of the 1956 Gold Cup, the Unlimited Racing Commission (URC) was formed to administer Unlimited hydroplane activity, because of dissatisfaction with the Inboard Racing Commission. All but nominal ties with the parent American Power Boat Association were severed.
Despite all of the extraordinarily harsh feelings, the 1956 Gold Cup was a top-drawer competitive event. The Dossin family brought MISS PEPSI out of retirement and, as the last formidable step hydroplane, she certainly made the three-pointers work for it.
Thompson and MISS PEPSI decisively beat Muncey and MISS THRIFTWAY in Heat 1-A. Muncey then rebounded to defeat Thompson in Heat 2-A and the Final Heat.
MISS PEPSI won the Bonus Points for the fastest race ( 96.601), but MISS THRIFTWAY won the Bonus Points for the fastest heat (100.906 in the Final).
MISS THRIFTWAY also posted the fastest lap of the race at 104.846 on the 3-mile course.
MISS PEPSI's fastest heat was 99.343 (in the Final).
Heading into the race, Bill Waggoner's new Ted Jones-designed SHANTY I had been highly favored. A representative of the Seattle Yacht Club with USAF Lieutenant Colonel Russ Schleeh driving, SHANTY I had won each of her first three races in 1956: the Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy, the Seattle Seafair Regatta, and the British International ("Harmsworth") Trophy on the Detroit River.
In the Gold Cup, SHANTY I finished ahead in Heats 1-B and 2-B but then conked out on the first lap of the Final Heat.
Speed-wise, SHANTY I was 4 miles per hour of the pace of MISS THRIFTWAY. SHANTY I's fastest time was 96.901 for the 30-mile distance in Heat 2-B.
The 1956 Gold Cup sadly marked the final appearance of three-time Gold Cup winner SLO-MO-SHUN IV, which crashed during a trial run on the Detroit River. At 150 miles per hour, SLO-MO had encountered the wake of an illegally moving patrol boat and broken apart, inflicting serious injuries on driver Joe Taggart, who would never race again.
Sorrowful over the misfortune to his boat and driver, owner Stan Sayres refused to even look at SLO-MO-SHUN IV in her wrecked state and died in his sleep three weeks later.
Sayres did, however, leave a final legacy to the sport that he loved, in the form of an offer to HAWAII KAI III owner Edgar Kaiser, who had assisted in transporting SLO-MO to Detroit. Sayres made available his spare Rolls-Royce Merlin engine for use in the KAI, together with his experienced crew to maintain it.
Beginning with the 1956 President's Cup Regatta, the entire team would affiliate with "The Pink Lady" HAWAII KAI III, which, for the next two years, would win eight races (including the 1958 Gold Cup) and fill the void as the sympathetic successor to SLO-MO-SHUN IV as far as Seattle fans were concerned.