The Fate of Stars & Stripes (Part 1) ( [1963]
By Robert B. Evans

Guy Lombardo, Les Staudacher and the Tempo Alcoa [1960]
Les Staudacher and the Jet Boats  [1960]
Miss Stars and Stripes II Crashes in Speed Run [1963]
The Fate of Stars & Stripes Part 1
The Fate of Stars & Stripes Part 2
{The Fate of Stars & Stripes Part 3 [Not yet available]}
Miss Stars and Stripes IV : The Mystery Boat

Why the courageous and dramatic effort to break the world record for speed on water had to be marked by near-tragedy before the world realized and appreciated the tremendous achievement of Miss Stars and Stripes II and her driver, Les Staudacher, as boat and man attained 280 miles an hour, is a phase of nature difficult to understand.

But the interested know now that every test run, first on Saginaw Bag and later at Hubbard Lake through last summer into October and again this spring, was a joust with disaster. Staudacher knew it. I knew it. Les' crew, Don Morin, Jack Chosey and Lawrence Fouchea knew it. It was appreciated, too, by a few newspapermen like Mike Sturm, sports editor of the Bay City Times, and "Skeets" Dena, sports editor of the Alpena News, Chuck Preston, radio sportscaster, Lou Kramer and his wife of the Alcona County Chamber of Commerce.

These and a few others understood well that Les was risking his very life every time he made a test run.

None more than I appreciates Les' contribution and, were I to digress, I could say a lot more.

My purpose in this first effort is to try to tell exactly what happened when Miss Stars and Stripes II went out of control on that fateful third Thursday in May 1963, so that all of us may better understand the great hazard involved in attempting to bring the world record for speed on water back to the United States.

There was no eye-witness but Les never lost consciousness though even he could not see what was happening to him as he escaped from the cockpit of the 5,800-pound projectile that he had accelerated beyond 280 miles an hour, some 20 miles an hour faster than the world record of 260.35 mph, still held by Donald Campbell and his Bluebird of England.

Les knows he tried to get out of the cockpit twice as the rudderless monster swung 90 degrees and wildly headed straight for shore. The first and second times he tried to roll out the pressure of air knocked him back.

The boat's drastic deviation from its course when its rudder let go started a full three-quarters of a mile, more than 3,000 feet, from shore.

The craft's speed, freed of rudder drag and probably going close to 300 miles an hour, was eating up the distance to shore and to death and destruction at something like 400 feet a second.

Les has told me that he estimated he was only 800 feet from the beach when he made his third and truly desperate and super-human attempt to get out of the cockpit - and did.

Les and I conjecture that 800 feet as something miraculously sensational in what can happen to the human form and still permit survival. He must have cart-wheeled, pin-wheeled, skipped, whirled, spiraled and bounced as his ricocheting body followed the catapulting Miss Stars and Stripes.

("Guess I really went a winging and a dinging" Les now smiles.")

Nothing else can explain his multiple fractures of arms, legs, hand, hip and shoulder; from which, thank God, he is recovering.

As the press accurately reported, Les lost his helmet some distance from the shore. His wrist watch, also ripped off, was found 100 feet out in the Lake.

We learned something as the result of this catastrophe. It was that no attempt of this type ever again be made without the boat always being in sight of a rescue craft.

The Stars and Stripes’ accident wasn't discovered until 10 minutes after it occurred.

Les was completing the third of three runs through the one-kilometer trap and had disappeared beyond a jutting point of land south of Hardwood Point, which is almost midway of the course.

His crew was waiting for him to show on the horizon after making the usual wide turn. In fact; the crew and

their outboard-powered tender were down by the Alpena Power Company dam, where the permanently installed launching crane is located.

This was general procedure, procedure that will have to be changed, though the defense of the practice was that if the tender took a position midway of the course it might disturb the water.

At any rate, minutes passed. The crew neither saw Stars and Stripes come into view nor did they hear a crash or a noise of any kind. That was because they were more than five miles away from the scene.

As they moved up the lake, Les' crew had not begun to worry. Thought was that he may have run out of fuel or encountered some minor trouble; that he probably was waiting for them to give him a tow.

When the tender passed Hardwood Point and the whole south section of the Lake could be seen but no sign of Miss Stars and Stripes, alarm gripped them. Hearts sank.

With frantic minds and anxious eyes, they searched the shoreline. They saw two cottagers and drove toward them. No, they had seen nothing but they had heard a terrific roar.

"Down that way," one said, pointing north toward Hardwood Point.

The tender moved fast in the direction. They saw an orange helmet but Lei was nowhere. Then they saw the Stars and Stripes 250 feet into woods and upside down after cutting a path through trees small and large, one with its 18-inch trunk snapped off.

It was then they heard screaming. For all its agony it was a welcome sound. Les was alive.

They found Staudacher conscious but mangled in a swamp puddle. Unable to rise but trying, he was in groveling pain. His head and face were up. They were unmarked. The crew scrounged some old scaffolding and made a litter before lifting him into their boats, lest he have internal injuries.

By that time others were assisting and he was taken in an ambulance to Alpena General Hospital where Dr. Fred O'Dell and others took over; and so capably that within 10 days Les had gone through an operation a day for seven days to reset bones and to place pins in his hip and shoulder.

(Tomorrow: Les and I converse on our future plans).

[Reprinted from The World of Boat Racing, August, 1963, pp.7-8, 44]


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