A Look Back and a Look Ahead
Eileen Crimmin reflects on the 1966 Unlimited Hydroplane season and reports on what to expect this year on the thunderboat circuit
When the clocks tolled midnight Dec. 31st, 1966, they sealed into history the most tragic year in unlimited racing.
Blemished early by the racing deaths of four top unlimited drivers, it was an uneasy year for the rest of us to live.
Rising from the accidents were inevitable anguishes, guilts and hindsights.
And the year became, once initial shock subsided, a year which the Chinese, were there such an animal, would name The Year of the Scapegoat.
Criticism flew at favorite targets like sidewinder missiles. Blame was laid with all the shotgun accuracy of a fuse exploding a barrel of scrap metal.
Only those under fire fully understood how insistent, prolonged and thorough was the criticism leveled at the sport and anybody near it. During the worst of it many had the feeling that some long-concealed well of antipathy against unlimiteds had been tapped. The accidents were the drill which loosed a ferment that spewed forth with surprising force.
Eventually, for every attacker of unlimited racing there rose a firm defender of the sport. But by this tune all that we could wish, those of us in the middle, was that these two factions attacker and defender could confront each other head on instead of obliquely, through non-combatant parties!
Meanwhile, throughout 1966 another, larger group remained verbally uninvolved in the wrangling, but physically committed to the sport. These were the crowds of spectators who attended every subsequent unlimited race.
Their presence said everything they needed to say. "Unlimited racing is great to watch. Here I am."
All these foregoing circumstances and situations played havoc with Hot Boat's annual summary of the past season. It was unthinkable to skim through the 1966 circuit with a blithe reminder of who won, then leap into forecasts for the 1967 season as if the 1966 turmoil neither existed nor continued.
For continue it does. Much feeling still exists. Much re-examination of the sport of unlimited racing goes on. Discussion among officials, course judges and crewmen centers upon ways to sustain the sport without turning it into an afternoon tea party.
For this is the crux of the matter.
That big U on each boat means the same as the X on an airplane wing-experimental.
Unlimited racing is experimental racing.
The reason for an "unlimited" class is to open up water speed to a division hampered with the least rules possible, so that speeds can he increased in any way that the fertile minds of men can devise.
Unlimited rules always have been more famous (and infamous) for what they leave out than what they contain. Two examples are construction and propulsion.
Unlimited rules cite almost no construction requirements. You may build and race an unlimited of butterfly netting if you can prove to Safety Inspectors that such material will withstand impact loads of 90 to 190-mph.
Also, you may power your unlimited with nylon inboard engine fueled with salad oil if, again, you can prove to inspector that both materials are compatible with speed and safety.
The unlimited class of racing was founded upon the same premise our Constitution espouses that government which governs least, governs best.
Historically, when the unlimited class has tightened its rules and restricted creative activity within its division, the water speeds of the limited inboards steadily have closed upon and threatened to overwhelm the speed range of the unlimiteds.
Certainly we respect the emotion which causes people, after multiple racing deaths, to cry out for more regulation of the activity.
But we must point out that if the class becomes strait-jacketed with restrictive rules and requirements the letter U must be stricken from its designation, because it will have become simply another Limited Inboard Racing Division, rather than an Unlimited Racing Division.
As this article is written the unlimited officials struggle with this difficult problem how to sustain the class yet increase its relative safety without tying it up so thoroughly that no design or speed progress is possible.
Whatever decisions are made will spark the inevitable howl of derision from dissenters and cries of approval from supporters.
Unfortunately, many sound opinions of thoughtful persons will influence none of the foregoing decisions. These opinions are ones Hot Boat, other publications, reporters, writers and sportscasters receive through simple misdirection.
Hot Boat and I deplore the fact that the energy and knowledge forming these opinions is lost when directed to (or at) us. We have compiled the following directory and suggest that readers wishing to impress their ideas upon the unlimited sport send such ideas to the proper personnel, such as:
Design and construction: Don Merz; Unlimited Chief Inspector and Measurer, 17110 Second S.W., Seattle, Wash.
Officiating: William J. Newton, Unlimited Referee, 3 Edgeclift Road, Towson, Md. 21204.
Course sites and selection: J. Lee Schoenith, Unlimited Sanctioning Committee, 704 Balfour Road, Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan 48230.
Driver requirements: Dr. Randolph Pillow, Unlimited Chief Medical Officer, The Mason Clinic; 1118 Ninth Ave., Seattle 1, Wash.; also, Unlimited Drivers Representative, Unlimited Safety& Technical Committee, both c/o American Power Boat Association, 2534 St. Aubin Street, Detroit, Michigan 48207.
Course patrol and safety: J. Lee Schoenith, Chairman Unlimited Racing Commission and Sanctioning Committee: 704 Balfour Rd., Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan 48230.
Equipment safety: Don Merz, Unlimited Chief Inspector and Measurer; 17110 Second S.W., Seattle, Washington.
Unlimited racing rules: J. Lee Schoenith, Chairman, Unlimited Racing Commission: 704 Balfour Rd., Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan 48230.
With the annual selection of awards, unlimited racing moved into a new season. Mira Slovak was Driver of the Year in Harrah's Tahoe Miss. Together they won the 1966 Gold Cup and National High Point standing.
George McKernan of Miss Budweiser was named Crewman of the Year and Jerry Duty of Wayfarer's Club Lady became Crew Chief of the Year.
Rookie of the Year had to be Jim Ranger and was. The slim California rancher showed he could manage horsepower as well as horse flesh.
Looking ahead to the 1967 race circuit we find a season expectant with 10 races. January was not yet over before the following cities announced intention to produce regattas: Tampa, Fla.; Washington, D.C.: Detroit, Madison, Ind.; Pasco, Wash.; Seattle, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Kelowna, B.C.; San Diego and Sacramento.
Whether all will be delivered is not certain at this moment.
Boats in competition? Reporting winter activity of unlimited racing is like predicting whether fish will bite. However, more camps have solidified their plans earlier in the year than ever before. So, we compiled a report, alphabetically and with crossed fingers ....
MISS BARDAHL U-40 This racing team will be on the water in 1967 to carry on a competitive tradition which brought them three Gold Cup trophies and four national high point titles, the final three with the late Ron Musson driving, the first one with Mira Slovak at the wheel.
A new boat is under construction by Ed Karelson in the Bardahl boat shop. Jerry Zuvich was named new Crew Chief following the retirement of award winning Leo Vanden Berg. Crewman Gary Crawford continues with the boat and one additional crewman is expected to be hired.
Owner Ole Bardahl personally has watched construction of the craft, a modified copy of the previous Gold Cup winner. Another constant spectator at the shop is the new driver, Bill Schumacher.
Schumacher has raced outboards, limited inboards and unlimiteds; has to his credit a minimum of 8 world records and 5 national championships.
Bardahl's famous racing colors change emphasis this year. Yellow will predominate with green and black used as feature colors.
$ BILL U-21 This boat is expected to follow as much of the circuit as equipment will allow. Driver for 1967 will be Chuck Hickling. Owner Bill Schuyler and family probably will "work" the boat as in the past. The craft races out of the Southern California Speedboat Club.
MISS BUDWEISER U-12 The "Bud" is scheduled to compete in all 1967 races with substantially the same racing team as in 1966.
Bill Brow continues as driver with George McKernan named Crew Chief. His crewmen are Scotty Freeman, Tom Frankhauser, Nelson Kenny and Howard Lichtenwalter.
Owner Bernie Little seems content with the engine switch from Allison to Rolls, so the boat continues with Rolls power. Some sponson changes are contemplated to provide more consistent handling of the craft which, it may be remembered, bounced some in 1966.
Crew Chief MeKernan reports the camp has four racing engines ready for the money, number 5 on the stand, four more to make ready, and nine to go at season's start. The camp expects to be testing in early March.
Meanwhile, in one of those trading sessions for which owner Bernie Little is famous, he divested himself' of the four-seater Busch Bavarian and acquired Shirley Mendelson McDonald's two-seater Shu-Shu. This latter craft
may be used for exhibition only, or temporary racing if the main campaigner falters.
Miss Budweiser is sponsored by Annheuser-Busch, based in Seattle, but races out of the St. Petersburg Y.C.
MISS CHRYSLER CREW U-77 This Lauterbach hull powered by twin Chrysler hemi-head auto engines is said to be. getting ready for the 1967 circuit, but sponsoring Chrysler Corporation has not yet confirmed sponsorship plans.
If the craft races, owner Bill Sterett undoubtedly will continue as driver. Some crew changes are predicted and more intensive work on the engines by Keith Black promises to bring the squalling contender to race courses with an even better showing than 1966.
MISS DIXI COLA U-8 This camp will campaign with a new boat, although it is not yet on the jigs at this writing. The former boat was beached at the end of last season. Owners Laird Pierce and Earl Noyes are said to contemplate burning the craft.
The New Dixi Cola is a three-point design by Chuck Hickling. Bob Patterson will build it. Fred Alter will drive it. Crew Chief Marv Hendricks will baby the Rolls engines and direct activities of crewmen Sandy Ross, Barney Losey and Tom Potts.
The craft is expected to race in at least eight of the 10 probable races. It races for the Southern California Speedboat Club.
GALE'S ROOSTERTAIL U-44: The craft slated to race for this team has been Big News this winter as various rumors insisted Joe and Lee Schoenith had ordered a new hydro designed along lines of the famed Miss Pepsi.
Eventually, rumors were confirmed. Sources differ about whether the boat is a 7-pointer or 4-pointer. Take your pick. Watch for the boat's appearance on the circuit and decide for yourself.
Jerry Schoenith is slated to drive. Whether Gale Enterprises or a different sponsor will campaign the craft is not known at present. Bud Meldrum is the only Crew Chief possibility named thus far to groom the twin-engine boat before and during the season.
HARRAH'S TAHOE MISS U-3 The dominant competitor of 1966 is listed as a 1967 competitor at this moment, but even Team Manager Harry Volpi and other Harrah spokesmen admit the boat's future activity depends upon the Nevada Legislature.
A stiff tax boost aimed at the state's casinos will, if voted into law, force cutbacks in many Harrah-financed promotional and sports programs. So the boat may become a victim of TAX, baby, even as you and I!
However, until this tax ax falls Harrah's Tahoe Miss remains scheduled to race in 1967 same hull, cleaned, brightened, tightened and ready to win.
Driver Mira Slovak is expected to retain his cockpit seat if the boat campaigns.
MISS LAPEER U-9 This boat and irrepressible driver Warner Gardner are reported by one source ready to go the whole circuit again.
Another source says owner Jim Herrington may build a new boat. Either way, this camp will run out of the Detroit Y.C. and it's expected that Gardner, in addition to driving, will be Crew Chief, crew and "whole shebang" for this camp. As usual.
MISS MADISON U-6 We're told this craft is somewhat short of equipment, without a driver, and currently without rumors about whether she will run.
Since the Madison Regatta is on the proposed circuit, it's expected she will at least manage to be the host boat at her own regatta.
However, only time and conferences will tell the racing story about this camp of 10,000 community owners.
MY GYPSY U-15 This orange and black beauty is being readied for the circuit on the basis of one of the finest first-year competitive records of any unlimited.
Driven last year by owner Jim Ranger, the new boat and new driver racked up second in point totals and won the Seafair Regatta.
The boat will carry the same colors and use the same Allison power but, hopefully, to even better advantage in 1987 due to the driver's increased experience.
Crew Chief Graham Heath undoubtedly will have the craft in top trim to give top performance to the driver named Rookie of the Year in 1966.
NOTRE DAME U-7 Shirley Mendelson McDonald's new racing craft begins competition in 1967 dressed in identical colors as previous boats -blue, white and green.
The camp's replacement vessel was designed and built by Les Staudacher in his Michigan boat shop, then trailered to Seattle for final painting, rigging and mechanical installation.
Crew Chief for 1967 is Jim Kerth who has been with the camp since its owner returned to racing in 1962. Team Manager is Mike Welsch of Slo-Mo-Shun and Hawaii Kai fame and long an advisor about unlimited activities to various camps, the press and racing officials.
Named to drive the new boat is Jim McCormick of Owensboro, Kentucky, formerly a competitor in limited inboards. His major experience was in the 280 class. In 1966 McCormick drove Miss Madison the entire circuit.
The new Notre Dame is aluminum construction with plywood decking. Her lines are a composite of "probably six boats," according to Staudacher, but mostly of two Hawaii Kai and Wahoo.
However, even these basic lines have been modified so she's her own boat -sturdy, slightly deeper through the sponsons, not as long... well, you'll see.
Testing is scheduled to begin around March 15th. The boat is based in Seattle and races out of the Seattle Y.C.
SAVAIR'S PROBE U-50 This white and rose vessel is expected back on the circuit, but without her stablemate Savair's Mist.
Owner Mike Wolfbauer intends that Red Loomis will drive the Probe; Walter Kade will Crew Chief the camp as usual.
Presently the Probe is being refurbished. She'll start the season with a new bottom and some hull modifications.
Savair's Probe races out of the Detroit Y.C.
MISS SMIRNOFF U-90 At last report this craft (formerly Roostertail) will campaign with Bill Cantrell driving.
The boat is owned by the Schoeniths, raced out of the Detroit Y.C. and sponsored by Heublein, Inc.
Bud Meldrum seems set for the job of Crew Chief (which may mean working two boats?) and one source claims the camp will run fuel injection.
SUCH CRUST U-70 Never a sure entry for all races, the Such Crust usually manages a minimum of two regattas near her home base of Detroit.
If owner Jack Schafer can attract a new sponsor, the boat probably will appear in the World Championship Race contemplated for the Detroit River, and at Madison, Indiana.
Ed O'Halloran is expected to be the driver again.
MISS U.S. 5 U-2 This camp will compete again but also with a new boat. Their craft was designed and built by Les Staudacher in his Kawkawlin, Michigan, boat shop.
This is the camp which holds the prop-driven straight-a-way speed record of 200.419-mph with their U.S. II hull and Roy Duby driving.
Owner George Simons of U.S. Equipment Company races the boat out of the Detroit Y.C. but bases it in Seattle at the Mercer Island home of driver Bill Muncey.
The former Thriftway four-time Gold Cup winning driver now doubles as team manager and pilot. His Crew Chief is Dave Seefeldt who had worked with Muncey on limiteds and unlimiteds for eight years.
Other crewmen include Jack Ramsey serving as consultant; Joe Lewis, Dave vonTrotha, Bob Coward, Ray Ballard, Stan Adsit, and Charles Burdell.
The new U.S. is constructed of aircraft birch (plywood) combined with aluminum stringers and frames. It's a traditional 3-point design and "very much the same as the previous U.S. because we were pleased with that boat's performance," said Muncey.
Will the new hull become the U.S. 5 or progress to being the U.S. VI? Not resolved at this moment.
WAYFARER'S CLUB LADY U-19 -This team is expected to be in competition in 1966 but which hull will carry the name is a moot question just now.
Owner Bob Fendler is having a new boat built so there are rumors the present hull may be parked for use as a back-up boat.
Fendler's new Wickens craft is supposed to be a modified cabover design and will, possibly, be powered by automotive engines.
But none of the foregoing is confirmed. At any rate, go-getter Fendler probably will campaign some boat, new or old. The Loaner, seen a couple of times last year, is a doubtful starter.
Fendler's Crew Chief, Jerry Duty, garnered top 1966 honors by being named Crew Chief of the Year. Fendler's boats race out of the Southern California Speedboat Club.
WHAT ELSE? In the category of totally unreliable, completely unsubstantiated rumors comes talk that a guy from Texas, formerly a 135 and 266 driver-owner, is trying to buy Loaner, Savair's Mist, Mariner and one of Gilliam's Fascinations to race out of Houston. It's said he already has a sponsor, too. Well, that sounds about right for a Texas rumor!
Also, Paul Sawyer is supposed to have one of his boats up for sale.
There's also that news item about a West Coast committee hoping to break speed records with Hawaii Kai III Edgar F. Kaiser; Dr. Dudley Bell; William F. Knowland and Michael G. Rafton.
KAPUT, or WHO KNOWS? category:
Mariner Too for sale
The Loaner for sale
Sav-Air's Mist for sale
Miss Tri-Cities kaput (Beached by inspectors)
Miss Dixi Cola kaput (Owners may burn)
Hilton Hy-Per-Lube ? who knows
Meeting adjourned until the Tampa, Florida, opening race of the 1967 unlimited season.
Which just about concludes the Rumor of the Minute Club meeting and discussion of unlimiteds and speed.
If your favorite boat wasn't talked about, maybe it's in the FOR SALE.
And right now Craig Breedlove is in Seattle with a model of his proposed jet boat Aqua-America for which he hopes to interest a sponsor willing to pony up about $150,000 object, a new world water speed record.
(Reprinted from Hot Boat, April 1967, pp.32-36, 48)
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