We're racing through history!
The recently published book, A CENTURY OF GOLD CUP RACING by Fred Farley and Ron Harsin, is dedicated to two extraordinary men: Ted Jones and his son Ron Jones, Sr., whose trend-setting designs defined state-of-the-art in Gold Cup racing in the second half of the 20th Century.
Ron was asked to write the introduction to A CENTURY OF GOLD CUP RACING. It contains a moving tribute to his late father. Due to space limitations, Ron's preface had to be shortened for publication. The full unedited introduction to A CENTURY OF GOLD CUP RACING is presented here.
Read and enjoy!
PREFACE, by Ron Jones, Sr.
I gratefully acknowledge the privilege to contribute a few lines in preface to a book which reveals the drama, thrill, excitement, heartache and joy felt by those participants competing for hydroplane racing’s pinnacle of achievement, the American Power Boat Association Gold Cup. My thanks also goes to Fred Farley, the unlimited hydroplane historian and co-author of this book, for his unflagging loyalty to the truth and his uncanny memory for the details and events covering many years of unlimited racing. Without Fred, a lot of our past would fade away, soon to be forgotten.
Remembering back as a young boy, my dad was always either designing, building or driving a race boat ~ or helping a friend get their boat going to make sure the race to be held on the following weekend would have enough participants. Hydroplane racing became his whole life, his dream, and most of his energy was spent building a better boat or fixing the one he had. He might be building a new engine or somehow figuring out how it would go faster.
Pre-WW2, he started a Seattle hydro club to establish and promote race sites and boat racing, and in so doing – helping his favorite sport to take hold in the Pacific Northwest. The reason I can remember the racing club meetings is because they were held in our home. My mom served homemade chili, doughnuts, ice cream and coffee to the members. Of course, when they left, my sisters and I got the remaining ice cream. Dad often spoke of the “Gold Cup” in those days, but at that time I didn’t understand its meaning.
By 1946, WW2 was past and life began to return to normal. Not long after my 14th birthday, Dad called me into his bedroom and I could tell by the look on his face that whatever it was that I was about to hear, it was serious. From a drawer full of t-shirts, he pulled out a drawing, which by that time was a number of years old and he handled it almost reverently. He looked me in the eye and laid a real trip on me. “Son, you are now at an age where you may have to become the man of the family.” Gulp! “Something may happen to me and if it does, your mom and three sisters are going to need direction, help and money.” Gulp again! “I want you to know that this drawing is for an unlimited hydroplane that I believe can win the Gold Cup, the Harmsworth (British International Challenge Cup Trophy) and set a new prop-driven straightaway record. You will have to find the right person, but it will be worth a great deal of money to someone ~ enough to keep the family going.”
I didn’t know whether to salute, pass out or run! But I did know he was serious and meant every word because his entire life was on that drawing. Those three events were what had driven him on for all those years – building, designing, racing, starting clubs – all directed towards winning the Gold Cup, bring the world’s water speed record back to America from England and win the British Harmsworth Trophy.
Why the Gold Cup? Because it was the oldest water sports racing trophy on the planet and it was the top event of the hydroplane world. It’s the Indy 500, the Kentucky Derby, Daytona 500 or whatever turns your crank. There is nothing higher, more challenging or more noteworthy to the hydro racer than the Gold Cup!
It would take another book to recite all the events that had to fall into place for Dad to meet another man to whom boat racing meant enough to put his money where his mouth was. Suffice it is to say, that a chance meeting between Mr. Stanley S. Sayres and Ted Jones ended up rewriting all the hydroplane record books. Moreover, it was paramount in establishing an entire new era for hydroplane racing.
That drawing Dad showed me when I was 14 became the design of a 3-point hydroplane for Mr. Sayres, and it was built at the facility of Anchor Jensen of Jensen Motor Boat Co. in Seattle. In early June of 1950, “Slo-mo-shun IV” established a world straightaway mark for propeller driven boats of 160+ mph, eclipsing the former record by nearly 20 mph. Subsequently, Mr. Sayres filed an entry to challenge for the Gold Cup, which had been held in Detroit, Michigan for many years.
Upon arrival in Detroit, the local newspapers began their evaluation of this boat, which “supposedly” had established a straightaway record. They seemed to feel their local “armada” would have no difficulty dispatching this backyard creation from somewhere out west. They even admitted it may have been fast in the straightaway, but would be a “worm in the turns.”
In the 1940’s and ‘50’s, a winning God Cup driver became an instant hero, a folk-hero of sorts and Dad finally realized his dream. He not only won the God Cup, he won all three 30 mile heats, settting heat and race records. In one heat, he lapped the entire field. The winning driver also received the privilege of determining the location of the next race, and of course, he chose Seattle.
For a man who had to drop out of high school to get a job to help support his family, this was the fulfillment of a lifetime of effort and dreams. It had all become worthwhile as he received the Gold Cup, a symbol of boat racing’s very best.
In my own case, you would think such a successful father would encourage his young son to continue on in the family tradition. But that was not to be the case here. In fact, during all those years he spent building boats in our basement, he used to lock the basement door and take the key with him to keep me out. When I graduated from high school, he made a final attempt to discourage me from building boats with another of those past feelings – should I salute, pass out or run speeches. I recall him saying that I would be better off in real estate or some business that offered a good living. He warned me that if I did become successful, people would copy my designs, while others would take credit for all my efforts and I would end up not making a dime out of it.
I did it anyway an! d even though he was painfully accurate, I can look back and be thankf ul for a lifetime of friends won, a lot of successful ‘firsts,’ inventions and designs. I can truly say that it was worth it all. Although I didn’t have Dad’s lifetime dream of winning the Gold Cup, I had thought to myself that if I could just be one-half as good as he, I could probably make it.
But reality has a way of bringing you up short In 1963, I redesigned and rebuilt one of Dad’s boats and really got it to go. The ’63, ’64, and ’65 “Miss Bardahl” was virtually unbeatable, winning three Gold Cups, establishing numerous records and winning the points championship three years in a row. So for the 1966 season, Mr. Bardahl and driver Ron Musson had enough confidence in me to enable me to build them a new boat which at that time was termed “radical.”
In 1966, I came close to abandoning it all when my new rear-engine low profile wide transom “Miss Bardahl” sheared off a propeller during the second heat of the Presidents’ Cup on the Potomac River and crashed, destroying the boat and costing Ron Musson his life. I was devastated, and it took a long time to decide to keep going.
So during those following years, the Gold Cup was far away from my mind. I turned my attention to drag boats, world record holders, Mercury factory racing tunnel hulls, ocean racing tunnels and a lot of limited inboard hulls. From 1966 on, most unlimited people wouldn’t even speak to me.
But in late 1969, Seattle business tycoon Dave Heerensperger came to my shop with world renown engine builder Keith Black in tow. Together, they convinced me that I should build him a rear-engine boat for two KB Chryslers. We built the boat and unfortunately it didn’t do well. I had designed it after many of my very successful limiteds of that day and I had anticipated that it would be run with a three-blade propeller. But someone told Mr. Heerensperger that a three-blade prop was a Jones crutch for a bad design so it never raced with a three-blade. However one time, after much carping from me, Mr. Heerensperger allowed a t est run at the San Diego race with a borrowed three-blade from Bill Muncey. On that one run, the boat ran extremely well, making a timing lap faster than Muncey had gone, and riding very well. But Muncey wanted his prop back, so it was all over.
The boat was sold and even though it won the gold cup in 1973 and it had the driver in back with the engine in front ~ a Rolls Merlin, the Gold Cup ‘shine’ was gone for me. Apparently, Dave Heerensperger had enough confidence in me to try it again. So in 1973, the “Pride of Pay ‘n Pak,” unlimited hydroplane’s first winged boat came out smoking. It won races in 1973, but not the Gold Cup. That was for 1974 and 1975 when my brother-in-law at the time George Henley won back to back Gold Cups, and those cups really had a lot of ‘shine.’
Perhaps the most meaningful Gold Cup for me was in 1980 at Madison, Indiana. I had built a rear-engine boat in 1979 for Bernie Little and the “Miss Budweiser” team, but although it won some heats, they did not have a really successful year. In an attempt to set a new straightaway record late in 1979, the propeller broke, causing a crash which destroyed the boat and hurt driver Dean Chenoweth quite badly. It is likely the boat was in the 220 mph range when the accident happened.
So we built a new hull for 1980 and it was a winner, big time. “Miss Budweiser” won the first 20 heats of the season, including the Gold Cup in Madison. I was able to get Jerry Schoenith on the telephone after each heat at Madison. Jerry, who was from a family of hydro racers, gave me a blow by blow account of “Budweiser” winning all four heats of the Gold Cup. I must admit that after hearing the results, I really lost it. There is no way to describe the happiness one experiences at a moment like that. All the years of heartache and frustration melt away with the energy of such great news. A boat you designed and built actually won the Gold Cup!
I hope you have been able to realize as you read these stories that the Gold Cup is difficult to attain. You may have the right boat at the right time but somehow that beautiful trophy can slip away so easily! I am the first to admit that a winning boat has to be the result of a winning team. It takes an owner willing to pay the expense, a dedicated, really talented crew, a heads up driver, hull, engine, propeller, support equipment and so on. If any of those items are out of sync, success may slip away. I just feel fortunate to have been a part of a number of winning teams.
Well, Dad passed away early in 2000, at age 90. But even in his final years, he was always good for another race boat story. Oh yes, some of the stories got better and better each time but you didn’t care because you knew he did it – he was there! He designed the boat and he drove it to win the Gold Cup. Writing these few pages has caused me to think a great deal about Dad, and I look forward to seeing him some day in heaven. No, it’s not because he won the Gold Cup or was a really great guy who deserved heaven, that I believe I’ll see him ~ but because before he passed away, he established a personal relationship with God by accepting His Son, Jesus, as his Savior and received eternal life. I’ll see him because I’ve done the same thing and I trust my reader will also.
Who knows – maybe we will compare Gold Cup stories together!