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A Seattle Hydro Roared Home First In The Gold Cup But Then Officials Stepped In, And The Affair Became A Detroit Debacle.
By Jim Atwater
Reprinted from Sports Illustrated, September 10, 1956
Covered with grime, Bill Muncey bounced out on the orange deck of Miss Thriftway and did a happy jig. "By golly," shouted the husky driver as his big hydroplane swung into its pit, "by golly, it's about time." On shore Owner Willard Rhodes and Ted Jones, the designer of Miss Thriftway, gleefully pounded each other on the back like a couple of happy schoolboys. "We've got it," cried Rhodes. "We've got it right back in our mitts."
At that moment last week nearly every one of the thousands who lined the Detroit River thought that Rhodes, a Seattle grocery king, had closed his mitts firmly around the biggest "it" in powerboat racing: the Gold Cup. His Miss Thriftway had just won the final and deciding heat and seemingly had fashioned suitable revenge for his disappointment a summer ago when, after Miss Thriftway had apparently won the Gold Cup on Lake Washington, the judges gave the race to Gale V, owned by Detroiter Joe Schoenith.
Still laughing, Rhodes, Jones and Muncey piled into a motor launch and headed upstream for the winner's circle by the judges' stand. But as they pulled up, the loudspeaker blurted some sudden, bitter news: the judges had disqualified Miss Thriftway for hitting a buoy - the Gold Cup would go to the second-ranking boat, Miss Pepsi of Detroit. Bellowing with rage, Muncey didn't bother to use the stairs to get to the judges; he swung agilely up the rail framework of the stand. "I didn't touch a buoy," he shouted. "Every time I do something good they throw a fly into it."
As Chuck Thompson, the gnarled, grizzled veteran driver of Miss Pepsi, was tossed triumphantly into the murky Detroit River, Muncey, Rhodes and Jones decided to toss a fly into the laps of the judges. Rhodes dictated a protest to a Seattle reporter. The gist of Rhodes's complaint: Miss Pepsi, not Miss Thriftway, had hit the buoy, and he had 200 witnesses to prove it. Then up stepped Jones to dictate a protest that his earlier beef that Miss Pepsi had cut a buoy in the second heat had been disregarded by the judges. Finally, Norm Evans, driver of Miss Seattle, protested that Miss Thriftway did indeed sway the buoy with her spray and wind but that Miss Pepsi, following close behind, had done the actual damage.
This Seattle counterattack caught the racing committee off guard.
Two hours later the group had announced that, as of now, no one had won the Gold Cup. Rhodes's protest has been forwarded to the Inboard Racing Commission of the American Power Boat Association, a 16-man group, which will take testimony - probably by mail - and come up with a winner within 60 days.
There is, however, much more on the minds of the committee than irate Seattlites. The 1956 Gold Cup race might be declared illegal. Roly-poly Playboy Horace Dodge went to court to charge that the Detroit Yacht Club race committee - sponsors of the Gold Cup - allowed boats to qualify on the morning of the race after the announced deadline for qualifying had passed. As a result of these runs, he claims, his boat - Dora My Sweetie - was bumped from the list of finalists (those with the 12 fastest times in the qualifying runs). Judge Joseph Moynihan of the Wayne County circuit court has set September 7 as the date by which the race committee should show cause why the Gold Cup race should not be declared "no contest." The committee refused comment on Dodge's legal dodge and went home to a troubled rest, leaving the Gold Cup hovering in mid-air and getting more tarnished by the minute.
This slapstick ending marred an important fact: Gold Cup week produced some dramatic and brilliant racing on the rough Detroit River. Early in the week Lieut. Colonel Russ Schleeh easily defended the Harmsworth Trophy for the U.S. in Shanty I, owned by Bill Waggoner. Schleeh was never pressed by the Canadian challenger, Miss Supertest II, owned by J. Gordon Thompson and his son, Jim, and driven by Bill Braden, 41, a slim, handsome figure who hit the beaches of Normandy as a major in the Canadian army. Braden doggedly fought the bucking Supertest as she porpoised through rough water. At the finish he collapsed at the wheel.
Of the 12 boats that qualified for the Gold Cup, the third and final heat soon turned into a battle among three: Shanty I with 625 points from her first two heats, Miss Pepsi with 600, and Miss Thriftway with 569. After Shanty conked out with a broken quill shaft in her supercharger, there remained only a contest between Miss Pepsi's speed in the turns and Miss Thriftway's speed on the straightaways. Miss Thriftway won easily?when she streaked home in the 10th and final lap, she had a 16-second lead. This gave her 400 points for a first-place finish, plus 400 bonus points for the fastest lap, for a total of 1,369. Miss Pepsi, finishing second, got 300 points, plus the 400-point bonus for best overall time for the 90 miles, for a total of 1,300 points.
Rhodes hugged Jones, Jones hugged Muncey, Muncey hugged Rhodes and all three hugged Muncey's pretty wife. Then they embarked for the judges' stand and disillusionment.