Fred Farley's Ten Greatest Gold Cups
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
The APBA Gold Cup is to power boat racing what the Super Bowl is to football, what the Kentucky Derby is to horse racing, what the World Series is to baseball, and what the Indianapolis 500 is to automobile racing.
Officially known as the "American Power Boat Association Challenge Cup," it is the ultimate prize that every competitor strives to win at least once.
Yours truly watched his first Gold Cup in 1951 as a seven-year-old youth living in Seattle, Washington. That race, won by Slo-mo-shun V, was a life-defining experience, the start of a hydroplane preoccupation that continues to this day.
The Gold Cup's long and fascinating history is one of the great sports stories. This writer has paid close attention to that story and traced its origin back to 1904.
A truly definitive history of the "Golden Goblet" has yet to be written and could fill many volumes. There have been many, many highlights, too numerous to be retold here.
The following is a personal list, based upon one man's opinion, of the ten all-time greatest Gold Cup races, arranged in chronological order.
I have chosen not to include the Gold Cups of the 1990s in this retrospective. It's my belief that a recent race experience requires the perspective of time to be properly appreciated. A fond memory, like fine wine, needs time to ferment.
Since every fan looks at the sport with his or her own unique perspective, readers of this column are invited to send in their own "Ten Greatest Gold Cups" list for consideration. Perhaps a consensus can be reached.
(1) 1915 (Winner: Miss Detroit)
The community-owned Miss Detroit scored an upset victory in the race of races on Manhasset Bay, New York, and won the right to defend the Gold Cup on the Detroit River in 1916.
Up until 1915, the Gold Cup had been strictly an upstate New York phenomenon. Thanks to Miss Detroit, a creation of the distinguished Christopher Columbus Smith, the Motor City became a key influence in big-time power boat racing. For much of the next half century, Detroit would remain unchallenged as the capitol of Gold Cup and Unlimited hydroplane racing in North America.
But all of this almost didn't happen. Miss Detroit driver Johnny Milot was a last-minute choice to pilot the craft when the scheduled driver couldn't be found on race day morning. Then, midway through Heat One, Milot got seasick and riding mechanic Jack Beebe had to take over the wheel. By some miracle, they managed to win the race.
(2) 1926 (Winner: Greenwich Folly)
The 1926 Gold Cup on Manhasset Bay was one of the classics of the series. George Townsend and Greenwich Folly held off a dynamic challenge from Vic Kliesrath and Shadowvite. At the end of 90 miles of racing, it was Greenwich Folly 978 points and Shadowvite 944. Richard Hoyt's Imp failed to finish but posted the fastest lap speed of the race at 53.580 miles per hour.
(3) 1933 (Winner: El Lagarto)
This was the year of the "Dodge Navy" with five of the eight entries at Detroit belonging to Horace Dodge, Jr., of the Dodge automotive family. Unfortunately for Mr. Dodge, three of his boats were brand new and none were any match for El Lagarto, "The Leaping Lizard of Lake George" (New York), which had made a lackluster debut in the 1922 Gold Cup as Miss Mary II.
Owner/driver George Reis and riding mechanic Anderson "Dick" Bowers pushed the resurrected El Lagarto to the fastest heat (60.866) since the cubic inch piston displacement limitation of 1922.
"The Lizard" went on to become the first three-time consecutive winner in Gold Cup history.
(4) 1946 (Winner: Tempo VI)
After time out for World War II, Gold Cup racing resumed in 1946 at Detroit. The sport needed a strong show of strength in this, its first, post-war outing.
Bandleader Guy Lombardo drove Tempo VI to a spectacular victory and generated reams of favorable publicity for the sport. Lombardo set a Gold Cup record for a 30-mile heat at 70.890, which eclipsed the previous standard of 70.412 set in 1920 by Gar Wood's Miss America.
Also present at the 1946 Gold Cup were a couple of boats (Miss Golden Gate III and Miss Windsor) that utilized Allison and Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 engines, previously used in World War II fighter aircraft. The Allison-powered Miss Golden Gate III ran the fastest 3-mile lap of the race at better than 77 miles per hour. For the next four decades, Allison and Rolls engines would define the state-of-the-art in Gold Cup racing.
(5) 1950 (Winner: Slo-mo-shun IV)
The BIG news of 1950 was the incredible performance of Slo-mo-shun IV from Seattle. Designed and driven by Ted Jones, Slo-M lapped the 1949 winners, My Sweetie and Bill Cantrell, in Heat One.
Slo-mo-shun IV was the first prop-riding three-point hydroplane to run successfully in the Unlimited Class.
The IV's victory in the 1950 Gold Cup on the Detroit River precipitated a Seattle/Detroit rivalry that was to last for more than a decade. Slo-mo-shun IV's triumph can be compared to Miss Detroit's achievement in 1915. Both boats introduced Gold Cup racing to a new area of the country.
(6) 1954 (Winner: Slo-mo-shun V)
For pure boat racing, it's hard to top the classic 1954 Gold Cup at Seattle. Indeed, boats ran head-to-head with each other all day long on that memorable August 7.
Slo-mo-shun V, driven by Lou Fageol, finished first in all three 30-mile heats. But Lou had to win them the hard way-especially in Heat Two, when Slo-mo-shun V, Slo-mo-shun IV, and Miss U.S. shared the same roostertail for seven of the eight laps.
Slo-mo-shun V was also the first boat to achieve competitive results with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. (All of the Gold Cup winners from 1947 to 1953 used Allison power.) The Rolls was more powerful than the Allison but was more temperamental.
(7) 1958 (Winner: Hawaii Kai III)
Edgar Kaiser's Hawaii Kai III, designed by Ted Jones, was arguably the greatest race boat of the 1950s. With Jack Regas driving, the Kai won five races in a row and the National High Point Championship and raised the mile straightaway record from 178 to 187 miles per hour in 1957.
Following a brief retirement, Regas and Hawaii Kai III came back to save the Gold Cup for Seattle in 1958. (This was after the Bill Muncey-chauffeured Miss Thriftway lost her rudder and crashed into a U.S. Coast Guard utility boat at the start of Heat 2-A.)
The KAI had her work cut out for her that year. The Maverick and driver Bill Stead, who represented the Lake Mead Yacht Club of Las Vegas, Nevada, had won their two most recent races in 1958 and qualified fastest with a Gold Cup record of 119.956 for three laps around the lake Washington 3-mile course.
But on race day, August 10, Hawaii Kai III rose to the challenge and beat Maverick hands down. This guaranteed a Gold Cup race for Seattle in 1959 as well.
(8) 1971 (Winner: Miss Madison)
In 1971, the community-owned Miss Madison and driver Jim McCormick made their claim for immortality with a richly sentimental triumph before 110,000 partisan fans on the Ohio River in Madison, Indiana, on that memorable Fourth of July.
The 1971 Gold Cup almost wasn't run in Madison at all. Since 1963, the race had been awarded to the city with the highest financial bid rather than, as previously, to the yacht club of the winning boat. Because of a technicality and a misunderstanding, Madison's smaller-than-usual bid for the race was the only one submitted in time.
Never before had the Gold Cup been run in so small a town (population 13,000).
Down to their last Allison engine, having blown the other in trials, the aging under-financed Miss Madison ran conservatively in the preliminary heats and then "let it all hang out" in the 15-mile finale. Miss M beat such top-flight Merlin-powered teams as Terry Sterett in Atlas Van Lines II, Dean Chenoweth in Miss Budweiser, and Billy Schumacher in Pride of Pay 'n Pak.
McCormick moved to the inside lane before the start, took the lead coming out of the first turn, and streaked to victory. This was a triumph for the amateur, for the common man-a win that EVERYONE could claim as his own.
(9) 1974 (Winner: Pay 'n Pak)
Delays, controversy, and rough water marred the running of the 1974 Seattle Gold Cup, which was contested at Sand Point instead of the usual location, south of the Old Floating Bridge.
The on-shore difficulties not withstanding, the race still had much to offer the fans in terms of excitement. George Henley in the "Winged Wonder" Pay 'n Pak and Howie Benns in the Miss Budweiser battled all day long in some of the finest competition ever witnessed in the long history of power boat racing. The outcome was in doubt, right down to the final checkered flag.
Pay 'n Pak ultimately prevailed and won the cup-but only after a titanic struggle.
(10) 1982 (Winner: Atlas Van Lines)
Following the death of eight-time Gold Cup winner Bill Muncey at Acapulco in 1981, Lee "Chip" Hanauer took over as driver for the Atlas Van Lines team, now owned by Fran Muncey (Bill's widow).
Hanauer and crew chief Jim Harvey pulled off a heart-stopper of a victory at Detroit in 1982. The new Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered Atlas almost blew over during a Final Heat battle with defending champion Dean Chenoweth and the Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered Miss Budweiser, which boasted much more horsepower than the Atlas Van Lines.
After trailing for the first few laps, Chip executed a daring maneuver and ducked inside of Dean. This forced the Budweiser to run a wider-and longer-track.
When the roostertails subsided, Hanauer and Atlas had added a new chapter to American sports legend. This was the first of ten Gold Cups won by Chip between 1982 and 1995.
Bill would have been proud.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Hydroplane History Home
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010.
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at email@example.com
© Leslie Field, 1999