In the Beginning . . .
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
The Unlimited Racing Commission--now the Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Association--was formed in the aftermath of the infamous 1956 APBA Gold Cup in Detroit, which took 85 days to settle.
In the years immediately following World War II, Unlimited Class hydroplane races were administered by the Inboard Racing Commission of the American Power Boat Association. More often than not, Unlimiteds were shackled by regulations that applied more to 48 Cubic Inch Class Limited hydroplanes than to the Thunderboats of the racing world.
As the cost of campaigning a modern Unlimited spiraled upward, the class had to professionalize itself to survive. Indeed, commercial sponsorships and cash prizes were an absolute necessity. The Inboard Racing Commission, however, was entrenched in the "amateur sportsman" tradition. The well-meaning IRC was ill-equipped to deal with a professional endeavour, such as Unlimited hydroplane racing.
The 1956 Gold Cup, run on September 1, was a mismanaged mess. Not until November 25 was a winner (Miss Thriftway) announced. The Inboard Racing Commission demonstrated its inability to deal in a timely fashion with the various problems and protests. The generally excellent competitive record of the race itself was overshadowed by the on-shore wrangling.
As a direct result of the Gold Cup debacle, the Unlimited participants voted in June of 1957 to break away from the IRC and establish their own APBA category. Former Gold Cup winner J. Lee Schoenith of Detroit led the move and pursuaded past-APBA President George Trimper of Buffalo, New York, to serve as the first Unlimited Commissioner (from 1958 to 1961).
Under Trimper's leadership, the URC severed all but nominal ties with the parent American Power Boat Association.
When the Unlimited Racing Commission opened its doors for business in 1958, Thunderboating was a very regional sport. Western boats competed almost exclusively in the West. Eastern boats raced mainly in the East. There were very few cross-overs. And about the only time that all of the top Unlimiteds were ever in the same pit area with each other was at the Gold Cup. But all of that changed in the early 1960s.
By 1962, prize money was the rule rather that the exception. And starting in 1963, the Gold Cup race location was determined not by the yacht club of the winning boat, but rather by the city with the highest financial bid--a blow to honor and all that, but a move entirely in line with the new professional school of thought.
For the first time, the National High Point Championship outweighed the Gold Cup in terms of prestige. Instead of racing only in their own backyards, more and more Unlimited owners joined the national tour
Another positive change, instituted by the URC, was the uniform codification of rules and procedures. In the old days, individual race committees interpreted the rule book as they deemed fit. There was a lot of inconsistency. (A boat that "jumped the gun" at a race in Buffalo was disqualified, whereas a "gun jumper" at Seattle was merely penalized an extra lap.)
In 1964, Commissioner Lee Schoenith appointed Bill Newton of Towson, Maryland, as Chief Unlimited Referee. All responsibility for the actual running of the races themselves was vested with the Referee and not with the local committees. The decisions of the Referee in all matters were final and not subject to protest or appeal by any owner, driver, or official, thus insuring the awarding of trophies and prizes without undue delay.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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