We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
The 1955 Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy contains an unusual historical footnote. It had two winners. That's right, TWO winners.
Well, yes and no.
The 1955 Mapes Trophy took place on September 10 of that year. Only three Unlimiteds participated. So the race didn't count for APBA National High Points. SCOOTER TOO, HAWAII KAI, and BREATHLESS squared off against a trio of 7-Litre Class hydroplanes: RESTLESS, GALLOPING GAEL, and WAR PAINT.
Reports that ZEPHYR-FURY (with Bill Stead reportedly in line to drive) and SHORT SNORTER (with Stan Dollar) would participate proved false.
Edgar Kaiser's new HAWAII KAI was a 28-foot Allison-powered Les Staudacher product with an 11-foot 9-inch beam. It was similar in outward appearance to the future HAWAII KAI III, except for the absence of a fantail. Slated to be driven in competition by Ken St. Oegger, the KAI was delivered to the Kaiser estate on Lake Tahoe just three weeks before the race.
Defending Mapes Trophy champion Jack Regas piloted the other half of the Kaiser team--SCOOTER TOO--to a decisive Heat One victory at a 15-mile average speed of 85.782 around the 3-mile Tahoe City course. Roger Murphy checked in second at 79.051 with GALLOPING GAEL, ahead of Floyd Ciochon in BREATHLESS and Barney Novarro in RESTLESS, while Morgan Keaton failed to finish in WAR PAINT.
St. Oegger and HAWAII KAI remained on shore after having suffered their second broken propeller and bent propeller shaft in as many days during a race day morning test run. A third propeller had been ordered but was not delivered in time for the first heat.
In a sportsmanlike gesture, to encourage St. Oegger to participate in the next two heats, a "gentlemen's agreement" was reached in that physical possession of the Mapes Trophy would be granted to the boat accumulating the most points in Heats Two and Three alone. Although, the official order of finish, for APBA purposes, would be determined on the basis of points earned in all three heats, as usual.
HAWAII KAI then proceeded to annex both of the remaining 15-mile events at speeds of 82.783 and 87.491. This enabled the KAI to claim the top prize in a situation without precedent in the annals of Unlimited racing.
The official Mapes Trophy winner--in the eyes of the APBA--was BREATHLESS, which took a pair of second-place finishes in Heats Two and Three. Roger Murphy, the owner's younger son, replaced Floyd Ciochon for Heat Three. This gave BREATHLESS an overall point accumulation of 825 to HAWAII KAI's 800. The Ciochon/Murphy/BREATHLESS combination also posted the fastest 45-mile average of the contest with a reading of 79.662.
Finishing behind BREATHLESS and HAWAII KAI was SCOOTER TOO, which ran third in Heat Two but couldn't start in Heat Three. RESTLESS was next with a fourth, a fifth, and a third, followed by GALLOPING GAEL, which posted a second and a fourth before being withdrawn to allow her driver to transfer to the BREATHLESS cockpit. Accumulating no points was WAR PAINT, which failed to appear in the last two heats.
In addition to the "double winner" phenomenon, the 1955 Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy was distinctive as being the second Unlimited event in the space of five weeks wherein the overall first-place finisher was triumphant without having won a single heat. (GALE V had done likewise on August 7 at the APBA Gold Cup in Seattle.) Not until 1961 (at the Pyramid Lake Gold Cup) would a similar scoring fluke occur in the Unlimited Class.