The Chuck Thompson Story
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
Charles F. ("Chuck") Thompson of Detroit was one of the sport's all-time great drivers. A member of the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame, "Champion Chuck" won fifteen major races and two National High Point Championships during a Thunderboat career that began in 1949 with Miss Pepsi and ended tragically in 1966 with Smirnoff.
Thompson advanced to the Thunderboat ranks after a distinguished career in C-Outboards. His first Unlimited ride was the original single-Allison powered Miss Pepsi, which had been driven in 1948 by her designer, Clell Perry. Truth to tell, the first Miss Pepsi was no great shakes as a competitor, but Thompson certainly got more out of the boat than Perry ever did. After a crane operator dropped Miss Pepsi at a race in New Martinsville, West Virginia, Chuck's team decided to build a new hull for 1950.
Designed by John Hacker, the second Miss Pepsi was a lengthened out version of Hacker's highly successful My Sweetie. Powered by twin Allisons in tandem, the second Miss Pepsi proved to be the fastest step hydroplane of all time. During an era when the trend was toward smaller single-engine three-point boats, Thompson and the Miss Pepsi could never be taken for granted on the race course.
It took a while for the new boat to be "dialed in."
Miss Pepsi almost won the 1950 Detroit Silver Cup. But Chuck, in a sporting gesture, admitted that he had cut a buoy and had to be disqualified. Then, in Washington, D.C., at the 1950 President's Cup Regatta, everything came together for Miss Pepsi, driver Thompson, and owners Walter and Roy Dossin. The team scored a sensational victory. And from then on, until 1956, Chuck and the mahogany U-99 were the scourge of the Unlimited Class.
They were the first to run a lap at 107 miles per hour in competition (in 1950) and the first to average 101 miles per hour in a heat of the Gold Cup (in 1952). Thompson won the National High Point Championships in 1951 and 1952, hands down. Following the retirement of the Miss Pepsi, Chuck proved that he could also win with three-pointers. Between 1957 and 1960, he won three races with his own boat, Short Circuit, the former Tempo VII, which he later renamed Miss Detroit.
When asked to describe the biggest thrill in his career, Thompson replied, "Winning so many races with the Miss Pepsi and receiving the President's Cup from Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy."
After several years in the doldrums, Chuck's career shifted back into high gear when he was hired to drive Bill Harrah's Tahoe Miss in 1962. He won the 1963 Seafair Trophy, the 1964 and 1965 Indiana Governor's Cups, and the 1965 Spirit Of Detroit Trophy for the Harrah team. The one major trophy to elude his grasp was the APBA Gold Cup, which he came close to winning in 1952, 1956, and 1964.
After taking first in the first two heats of the 1966 Gold Cup at Detroit with Joe Schoenith's Smirnoff, Thompson confided to his crew, "This time, I've got a winner." But this was not to be. While contending for high position in the run down to the first turn in Heat 3-A, Smirnoff became airborne and crashed. The Allison engine was ripped completely out of the boat. Chuck Thompson was fatally injured doing what he loved best.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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