A Brief History of the Mile Straightaway
By Fred Farley, APBA Unlimited Historian
On June 26, 1950, at 7 a.m. on Seattle's Lake Washington opposite the Sand Point Naval Air Station (north end of the lake), driver Stan Sayres and riding mechanic Ted Jones became the fastest men on water with a mile straightaway record of 160.3235 miles an hour with the Allison-powered Slo-mo-shun IV. The boat was the first -- successful -- prop-riding, three- point hydroplane.
Slo-mo obliterated the former world mark of 141.740 miles an hour, set in 1939 by Sir Malcolm Campbell in Bluebird II. Sayres and Jones also consigned to history the North American record of 138.645, set in October, 1949, by Harold Wilson in Miss Canada IV and the United States record of 127.063, set in August, 1949, by Dan Arena in Such Crust I.
On July 7, 1952, Stan Sayres raised his own mile straight-away record of 160.3235 to 178.497 miles an hour with Slo-mo- Shun IV on Lake Washington's East Channel (adjacent to Mercer Island). Sayres and co-pilot Elmer Leninschmidt made one run with the wind at 185.627 and another against it at 171.428.
Two weeks after the close of the regular season, a heavily promoted mass assault on the Slo-mo's 178 mph record was attempted on Lake St. Clair, near Detroit. Rough water reduced the event to fiasco proportion.
Miss U.S. (George Simon), Such Crust III (Roy Duby), Such Crust V (Bill Cantrell), and Gale III (Lee Schoenith) participated.
Miss U.S., Such Crust V and Gale III never left the dock. Only Such Crust III made it out to the measured mile, where Duby broke a strut and bent the propeller shaft. Roy would have to wait until 1962 to make his claim to straightaway record fame.
Laura 3, an Italian unlimited, surfaced briefly and tragically in 1954. Owned and driven by Mario Verga, Laura 3 unofficially exceeded Slo-mo-shun IV's 178.497 straightaway average with a one-way reading of 186.6 on the placid waters of Lake Islo, near Brescia.
Measuring 29 feet, 10 inches with an 8-foot, 6-inch beam, and weighing 2,000 pounds, Laura 3 was a Timossi-built three-pointer, powered by twin supercharged Alfa-Romeo 750cc engines set in tandem, which developed 800 horsepower.
On October 9, the craft leaped clear of the water and dove beneath the surface. Verga's body was still in the cockpit at the time of the salvaging, having been fatally injured by the impact.
On October 31, 1955, Bill Braden and Miss Supertest II sought to achieve the propeller-driven straightaway record. They settled for a Canadian record of 154.845 miles an hour.
(On July 23, 1955, a non-propeller-driven craft set a new water speed record of 212.32 mph over a kilometer course on England's Lake Ullswater. This was accomplished by Donald Campbell, son of Sir Malcolm, in the new jet-powered Bluebird II. The British speed race would continue to make periodic assaults on his own non-propeller-driven straightaway mark until his death in a 1967 crash.)
Henry and Edgar Kaiser sent two boats to Hawaii in early 1956 to try for the prop-driven straightaway record: Hawaii Kai with Ken St. Oegger and Scooter Too with Jack Regas.
In trial runs on Keehi Lagoon at Honolulu, Regas was unofficially clocked at 130 mph and St. Oegger at 170 mph. (The Too had done 156.250 the previous October at Salton Sea, Calif.)
On March 4, the Kai made an official run through the speed trap. Some 1,140 feet into it, the official clock read 193 miles an hour. Then the Kai lost her rudder and crashed, shearing off both sponsons. St. Oegger was badly injured but survived.
Two more record attempts by unlimiteds were made in late 1956. These were Miss Supertest II with Danny Foster and Shanty I with Col. Russ Schleeh. Both failed to eclipse the Slo-mo mark.
Shanty I came close -- but could only post a speed of 173.91 miles an hour. This was done on the same water (Lake Washington's East Channel) as the Slo-mo.
After three years of trying, J. Gordon Thompson's Miss Supertest II finally made it into the world record book. In November, 1957, the Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered projectile established a kilometer reading of 184.494 mph with Art Asbury driving.
The mark would stand less than a month.
Hawaii Kai III, after winning five races in a row during the regular season, set new standards for the mile and kilometer distances on Lake Washington at Sand Point with Jack Regas driving.
Maintained by the Slo-mo crew, the "Pink Lady" set a new mile record average of 187.627 mph and posted a one- way reading over the kilometer at 200.44.
The Kai used a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which was generally considered as state-of-the-art in unlimited racing at the time.
Hawaii Kai III, like Slo-mo-shun IV, was designed by Ted Jones. In the space of seven years, Jones-designed hulls had raised the propeller-driven record by 45 miles an hour. Two other unlimiteds joined the Kai at Sand Point: Thriftway Too with Bill Muncey and Sunnee with Lyle Parks. But neither made any officially timed runs through the traps.
Bill Muncey and the third Miss Thriftway raised the mile record to 192.001 miles an hour on Lake Washington's East Channel.
In the space of a decade, now, Ted Jones-designed hulls had increased the world straightaway mark by better than 50 miles an hour.
Years later, Muncey admitted that going after the record on February 16, 1960, was the most frightening experience of his life. Before stepping into the boat, Bill made sure that his will and other personal affairs were in order.
The first boat to average over 100 miles an hour on water was Gar Wood's Miss America IX with a clocking of 102.256 mph in 1931.
The first propeller-driven boat to exceed 200 miles an hour was George Simon's Miss U.S. I in 1962. Driver/crew chief Roy Duby did the honors on Lake Guntersville in Alabama on April 17 at 200.419 mph with the Dan Arena-designed craft.
(Arena was no stranger to straightaway records. He had set a supercharged Gold Cup class mark of 100.987 in 1940 with Herb Mendelson's Notre Dame.) Duby and Miss U.S. I also set a kilometer record of 198.168 mph in Guntersville.
Recent Failed Attempts
1966 -- Lake Tahoe, Calif. -- Tahoe Miss (Mira Slovak), Miss Budweiser (Bill Brow)
1969 -- Lake Guntersville, Ala. -- Pride of Pay 'n Pak (Tommy Fults)
1974 -- Lake Guntersville, Ala. -- Red Man (Jim McCormick)
1979 -- Lake Washington (Sand Point) -- Miss Budweiser (Dean Chenoweth, crashed at 226 miles an hour); The Squire Shop (Chip Hanauer)
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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