We're racing through history!
By Jack Schmale
Reprinted from MotorBoating, February 1967
Six months ago a miscellany of thoroughly unqualified public speakers was soap-boxing the doom of unlimited hydroplane racing. Lady Luck in 1966 had finally flown the thunderboat coop and four of unlimited hydroplaning’s drivers were lost, their magnificent speed steeds reduced to twisted hulks of metal and splintered wood - all within the swiftness of two short weeks, two successive regattas: 1966 was cursed as the blackest season in hydroplane history.
But today, with distain for feckless prophets and a salute to the memories of Ron Musson, Rex Manchester, Don Wilson, and Chuck Thompson, the hydronauts are gearing up for a vigorous 1967 schedule with a massive program of building, revamping, and far-out experimentation.
The ten-race coast-to-coast unlimited circuit, which indeed could introduce new trends in power and boat design, will embark in June with a hull muster far exceeding last year’s record starting crop. Like the pitied Texas whooping crane, its decimated flock threatened with extinction just a couple of seasons ago, the unlimited hydroplane species also appears to be repopulating in extremely fertile fashion. Fact has ten new boats awaiting the 1967 go-gun, rumor at least four more. And fancy might spring still another hush-hush contender at the last minute.
Two of the four famous hulls destroyed, the Misses Budweiser and Smirnoff, were quickly replaced following the accidents and the subs punctually resumed the ‘66 season on behalf of their sponsors. Spanking new boats will succeed the other ill-fated pair for two of the fraternity’s most successful owners. Miss Bardahl and thrice-defending champion Ole Bardahl and Notre Dame for persistent national runner-up Shirley Louise Mendelson.
Together with a new Miss US, the ‘67 models in the famed Green Dragon and Shamrock lines will bestow upon hydro-proud Seattle a solid nucleus toward restoration of its annihilated thunder fleet. A rumor hull could base another strong contender in the zealous city that’s perennially unchallenged for spectator attendance and for pinnacle performances in hydroplane racing’s hallowed record bible.
Crew-cut Kentuckian Bill Sterett, a bit bored with his invincible 7-liter class supremacy, elected to try boat racing’s major league last year - with Miss Chrysler Crew, a self-built, lightweight 29-footer, and a staunch conviction that a pair of automotive engines could successfully sprint with Rolls and Allison aircraft powerhouses.
Chrysler Crew generated as much roar, threw as plumey a roostertail and cockily challenged all her orthodox rivals to prove she was indeed a qualified unlimited hydroplane. Her twin V-8 Hemi’s, despite modest horsepower, spanked Sterett to two heat victories and various near-misses in 21 heads for tenth place in the final national standings. Most of her eight DNF’s were attributed to madly frustrating “nickel and dime” failures. Significantly, 1966 season’s champion Tahoe Miss endured six heat flunk-outs.
Sterett clearly has broken the power barrier - sufficiently at least to induce a long look by other auto engine builders at unlimited hydroplane racing. And, very definitely, vice versa. And quite probably he has successfully pioneered the compact package with his 5000-pounder, minimum heft tolerated by American Power Boat Association standards.
Both gates are now open. Whether either or both will touch off a revolutionary trend will be an interesting experiment in evolution adding to the excitement and intrigue of the upcoming season. Off-season gossip whispers that Sterett will have a little auto-powered cousin or two among his rivals come June. At least two boats currently under construction are fashioned for options of aircraft or auto energy.
The growing California stable will produce at least four new foals. Bob Fendler, ‘65’s rookie-of-the-year, will present his Wayfarer’s Club lady with a new baby sister, a cab-over or read-engine 34-footer, built by Fred Wickens and very possibly auto-powered. And Laird Pierce, who campaigned the former Blue Chip last season as Miss Dixie Cola, will arm veteran jockey Freddie Alter with stronger artillery in a new Allison-powered conventional hydro by Patterson.
Bob Mart will make a splashy debut as driver and co-owner with a really far-out rig that qualifies as unlimited but will bear not the vaguest resemblance to an orthodox hydroplane. Scheduled for completion this month in Mart’s Long Beach shop, the radical 25 ½ footer is a rear-sponson twin-screw fiberglass original by well-known designer Leon Danforth of Northrup Nortronics Corp. It’s “captured air bubble” hull was created for installation of either Holman & Moody modified Ford 427s or standard Allisons, side by side with independent driveshafts just forward of the maximum 12-foot beam at the transom.
Another Cal watch-charm hydro will be a 25-7 cabover, a do-it-himselfer by Walt Knudson of El Monte. This one reportedly will be gunned by auto-type propulsion, twin overhead-cam Ford 427s. And Texas will toss its ten-gallon cowboy hat into the hydro ring with a conventional hull under construction by George Goethan of Tyler, using Allison power. Famed designer-builder Les Staudacher declares he’ll assemble a boat for one of several freshman prospects who’ve approached him, following completion of three new models for veteran stables.
Following is a mid-winter muster of the established camps:
NOTRE DAME: Shirley Mendelson’s replacement, first of the ‘67 models, was delivered by Les Staudacher in November. The new U-7 will be driven by Jim McCormick who handled Miss Madison last season. Rolls-powered, the 30-footer will be all aluminum except for its oak-laminated deck beams and mahogany deck.
MISS BARDAHL: Eddie Karelsen of the Karelsen Boat Company in Seattle is building the newest Green Dragon, a conventionally styled - except, like her predecessor, her engine will be forward - boat, in Ole Bardahl’s Seattle shop. Bill Schumacher will throttle the Rolls-Merlin engine.
Miss US: Staudacher began construction in mid-November at this Michigan plant on an almost identical sister-ship successor to George Simon’s distinguished lightweight 29-footer, which just plain came unglued after mishaps at Tampa and Detroit. Four-time national king Bill Muncey will skipper and manage the rapid, red 200 mph rocked. Rolls.
GALE: Staudacher’s third production will be a real power monster, an 11,000 pound heavyweight for Gale Enterprises in Detroit. At 36 feet, she’ll be the biggest battlewagon in the fleet with Jerry Schoenith the probably accelerator of tandem Allisons.
TAHOE MISS: Owner Bill Harrah and racing manager Harry Volpi plan only minor tinkering with the Allison hammer for their Czech charioteer, Mira Slovak. Midyear reports hint drastic curtailment of Tahoe Miss’ program for ‘67. Latest plans show her defending the Gold Cup at Seattle, Aug. 6; and possibly in the July 2 Detroit regatta.
MY GYPSY: Similarly, few improvements would appear in order for this combine after Jim Ranger wrote hydro history by whipping his dependable Allison-powered 32-footer to a convincing second place in his rookie year aboard an unlimited - or any other kind of boat. Ranger plans only some pre-season experiments with nitrous oxide injections for quicker acceleration.
MISS BUDWEISER: Latest of the 1966 models, this Staudacher-built “early ‘67” replacement finished a creditable overall third despite complete absence at Governor’s Cup regatta. Owner Bernie Little installed a new deck in September and plans few further adjustments for veteran pilot Bill Brow. Rolls.
WAYFARER’S CLUB LADY: Bob Fendler, rookie of 1965 with U-19, plans to keep her as standby or running mate to his new boat. The Beverly Hills attorney will retire or dispose of this third hull. The Loaner.
$-BILL: Bill Schuyler reportedly will increase the Rolls engine inventory of his 30-footer, which missed the Sacramento finale due to power shortage, yet salvaged fifth spot nationally. Veteran Chuck Hickling will be in the driver’s seat.
MISS LAPEER: This one sprang to life spectacularly to close the ‘66 whirl with a convincing victory at Sacramento. Doubtless Jim Harrington will have her Rolls mills primed for Col. Warner Gardner to parlay his victory into the ‘67 opener.
MISS CHRYSLER CREW: Bill Sterett, the other wonder boy of ‘66, will continue to test his twin auto engines all winter and go gunning for more aircraft scalps this year. Unconfirmed rumors have the sponsoring company building a similar hull - with THREE Chrysler spankers.
MISS SMIRNOFF: Lee Schoenith will have seasoned Bill Cantrell pumping the Dubenhauser, combined Allison-Rolls power lashup, with refinements.
SAVAIR’S: Reportedly this camp will concentrate on the more consistent Probe this year, at the expense of the other half of the entry, the Mist, either Wally Kade or Red Loomis first string captain. Allison.
MISS MADISON: Frank Byers looms new pilot of this Allison-powered craft. Jim Wright, Detroit 266 driver, is possible replacement for McCormick.
MISS TRI-CITIES: Sacramento’s Ken Murphy will retire the former Gold Cup queen Slo-Mo-V and is currently remodeling the ex-$-Bill with Allisons. Is also reported dickering for construction of a new hull.
SUCH CRUST: George Schaefer’s huge twin-Allison, 11,500 pounder mostly idle last season. Plans undecided.
HILTON’S HYPERLUBE: Bob Gilliam will be in there pitching again with Rolls power, but could prove more of a menace if he succeeds in building a new one.
MISS DIXI COLA: Probable standby for Laird Pierce’s new hull. Allison.
All of which adds up to 26 of the snorting monsters in captivity - biggest muster in history - and prospects for a real wild season.