How It Feels
(Riding in Hurricane IV in the 1949 Gold Cup)
|Editor's note: In the realm of motorboating, the annual Gold Cup is a perennial classic combining all the color and drama found at most major sports events. A mixture of men, motors and high octane gasoline, the Gold Cup also holds a liberal sprinkling of humor. Such a dash was recently added by Jack Horsley of Miami. In a recent letter to Al Hart of Walnut Creek, Calif., Jack, who is secretary of the American Power Boat Association's Region 5, described his adventures or more appropriately, mis-adventures while riding as mechanic with Morlan Visel in the Allison-powered, unlimited class hydroplane Hurricane. With kind permission of the author, we reprint herewith seveal passages from his rollicking narrative which, if it doesn't live as a saga of the sea, will certainly become a twice-told tale along the banks of the Detroit River.|
Since you've known Morlan for quite a while, there's probably not much point in my writing you a lengthy note describing him as a sterling character filled with daring-do. But I would like to mention the fact that he's a gentleman who believes in the old adage that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points and that the quickest way to travel over a straight line from one point to another is with the aid of an Allison.
Morlan qualified for the Gold Cup by turning up a comfortable 76 miles an hour shortly after his arrival in Detroit. We took Hurricane out for a trial run the day before festivities and as soon as we hit 2,100 r.p.m.'s we started flying Above that speed I found it impossible to stay in the boat, much less read any instruments. Just as the tack would come up to 2,100, several little men would crawl out of the woodwork and start belaboring me with baseball bats. As Morlan would back off, the little men would return to the woodwork. After eight laps of this my arms were so tired from resisting the catapulting motion every time the transom rose and fell into the sea that I knew it would be impossible to muster up enough strength to last 12 laps, much less 36. The more I thought of being thrown out of the cockpit at that speed with four or five other boats right in our wake, the more I thought of how beautiful the palms used to look along the banks of Indian Creek. The day before the race, I was desperately thinking of some excuse to head back to Miami. I thought of phoning my wife and asking her to send a telegram something to the effect that business had taken a terrible slump and that I'd better get the first flight home in order to keep the wolves away from the ledger.
Needless to say, I got very little rest on Friday night and by Saturday morning I was ready to admit to almost anything. I tried to cajole Morlan into saying that he really didn't need me, but he just refused to make a statement. By 11:00 o'clock Saturday morning, they called the drivers' meeting and everybody signed an entry blank except me. I still held hope that somebody would figure out a reason why I wouldn't have to get into the boat. Then, a half hour before race time, I decided that the humiliation would be worse than the most certain death I was about to face, so I reluctantly signed on as riding mechanic, As soon as the ink dried, I knew I was doomed.
When the five-minute gun sounded I climbed into the cockpit and started inspecting the instrument panel in a desperate attempt to give the impression that I knew what I was doing. The fact that I thought some of the boys had been making book as to whether or not I'd ride certainly didn't bolster my morale. It took just two minutes to fire up and then we swung onto the course to get into position for the take-off. This was it!
When I opened my eyes, the starter's flag was just a blur and I thought it was Skip-A-Long and Such Crust going over the line first, with Hurricane third, and Sweetie slightly astern on the outboard side. It took only a few seconds before Morlan was convinced that he had made a legal start. Then he turned loose all four rockets and we went by Skip-A-Long and Such Crust with several r.p.m.'s to spare. When I opened my eyes again, we were going around the second buoy and turning nicely. We started down the back stretch and by this time My Sweetie was coming up on the outside at what I thought was more than 15 miles an hour faster than our speed I tried to block Morlan's vision but he saw Sweetie coming and shoved the throttle to the stop. The next thing I knew, we both had our heads wedged in against the Plexiglas windshield and this unusual maneuver, of course, pulled Morlan's foot off the throttle. By the time we got back into the cockpit, Sweetie was running merrily on her way and Morlan started out after her. About this time, the little men from the woodwork department reappeared and started giving me another going-over. Apparently, Morlan couldn't stand the jostling any more than I could because he let Sweetie go on and I believe we went around another lap before Such Crust caught us. As he came in sight, Morlan poured it on again and by this time I started out over the side of the boat. Morlan caught hold of my coveralls before I was able to get clear and off we went again.
The next thing I remember, Stan Dollar was coming along on the outside and we raced him around for about three laps. Morlan would push Hurricane as hard as he could never at full throttle but as hard as he could without being tossed out of the boat. That was our maximum speed. In this manner we were able to keep Skip-A-Long from going around us by making up on the turns the few feet we lost on the straightaway.
Fortunately the gas line broke after about five lips. The fuel spewed all over us and Morlan decided he would rather go into the pits than look like a flaming plum pudding at a Christmas party. Needless to say, this maneuver was the most welcome one of the race as far as I was concerned and we were pretty fortunate in being able to shut off without any backfire. I had just enough energy left to crawl up over the railing into the pits.
Morlan didn't look any happier about running the second heat than I did. When I finally got back enough energy to talk, I asked him what he intended to do. He admitted quite frankly that he couldn't take any more beating, and, in less than five minutes, we were besieged with offers to drive the boat. The ambitious hot rods in. the pits had seen her tremendous acceleration, and, to themselves, thought that the only reason we couldn't handle the boat was because we were chicken.
Morlan finally let a 135 jockey by the name of Al D'Eath take over the wheel. Fortunately, A1 had his own riding mechanic, a young lad by the name of Jack Bartlett. I joyfully turned over to Mr. Bartlett my gloves, jacket, helmet, goggles, corset, elbow and knee pads and carefully instructed him in the fine art of holding onto the handle with the left hand and working the grease pump with the right. Unfortunately, this handle was on the seat and the pump was on an engine stringer, so the riding mechanic had no method of resisting a forward and upward motion (except with his head against the windshield).
Both Mr. D'Eath and Mr. Bartlett made loud noises about what they were going to do in the second heat and by that time, Morlan and I were in condition to busy ourselves with rounding up a driver and mechanic for the third heat. We had a pretty good idea that our immediate successors would be throwing in the towel. Bartlett gave her too much prime at the start and the rest of the field was on the backstretch before they got underway but that was just as well for once Al stated he wanted to take a lap or two to get accustomed to the boat (little did he know what a surprise he had in store).
At the end of the third .lap Hurricane came off the course and started to the pits. I thought possibly to gas line had let go again, but as she came close to the bulkhead, Al slowed down to about 40 miles and hour and Senor Bartlett dove overboard. When we fished Bartlett out of the drink and took his gloves off, we found that both his hands were cut up so badly that they were bleeding. He promptly started cursing us for not putting something in the cockpit to hold on to. I told him I knew what he was talking about but refrained from reminding him of the boasts he had made a few minutes earlier. Al spent about three more laps trying to find out how you could uncork all that power and still sit in the boat. When he finally floored it for a short ;burst, the gear box let go and that crushed the second Gold cup experience of Morlan Visels Hurricane.
In the meantime, Skip-A-Long, My Sweetie and Such Crust were making up the boat race with the rest of the entries having varying degrees of trouble. Had I not been in the race myself, I would at this point unleash some caustic remarks about the performance of the rest of the field. But, believe me when I say I've learned by lesson never again will I ever criticize anybody for anything he does on a race course.
(Reprinted from Motor Boating, November 1949, pp.12, 70)
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