Motor City Memories
by Carol Ann Emerson -- UHRA Historical Committee
For sheer longevity, two Detroit River racing dynasties, which began in the early 1950s, merit special praise. These are the Gale boats of Joe and Lee Schoenith and the Miss U.S. team of George Simon.
The Schoeniths debuted in 1950 with the former Miss Frostie, a vintage craft that won no races but served as an introduction to the sport. The following year, they commissioned Dan Arena to build the Gale II, a Slo-Mo-type three-pointer that was highly successful. With Lee Schoenith and Danny Foster alternating in the cockpit, the "II" went on to win the 1952 and '53 Silver Cup contests and also the 1953 National High Point Championship.
One of the best two-boat teams in racing history was the double entry of Bill Cantrell in the Gale IV and Lee Schoenith in the Gale V during 1954-55. Between the two of them, Bill and Lee won eight races. Gale V was High Point Champion both years and captured the 1955 APBA Gold Cup at Seattle.
One of the Schoenith team's finest hours was actually their second-place performance behind Bill Stead and the Maverick in the unforgettable Detroit Silver Cup of 1958. Cantrell and Gale V pushed Stead and Maverick every inch of the way for ten dynamic laps in the winner-take-all Final Heat.
Stead, the Nevada cattle rancher, emerged victorious by a narrow margin but only after driving the race of his life.
The Schoeniths finally retired after 26 consecutive seasons of participation in 1975. Their best all-around year would have to be the memorable 1972 campaign. This was when the team won yet another National Championship and triumphed in six out of seven races--including the Gold Cup at Detroit--with Bill Muncey as driver.
The Miss U.S. organization initially appeared in 1953 and remained until 1976, except for a brief period of inactivity during 1971-72. The first craft to carry the colors of the Detroit-based U.S. Equipment Co. into competition was a three-point prop-rider, designed by Dan Arena. In the 1955 Rogers Memorial at Washington, D.C., this Miss U.S. became the very first hydroplane to ever post an overall average race speed in excess of 100 miles per hour with Jack Bartlow as driver.
The George Simon team achieved one of its proudest distinctions in 1962 on Guntersville Lake in Alabama. With Roy Duby at the wheel, the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered craft set a mile straightaway record for propeller-driven boats at 200.419 miles per hour. The record still stands.
The Miss U.S. boats won four major races on home waters at Detroit. These were the 1956 Silver Cup with Don Wilson driving, the 1969 UIM World Championship with Bill Muncey, the 1975 Gar Wood Trophy with Tom D'Eath, and--the most memorable of all--the fabulous 1976 APBA Gold Cup. This was when pilot D'Eath held off a gutsy challenge from the Muncey-chauffeured Atlas Van Lines in the Final Heat to realize owner Simon's fondest dream after 23 years of trying.
Another respected team of the 1950s and '60s was the popular Miss Supertest organization from Sarnia, Ontario. Owned by J. Gordon Thompson, the Supertest boats appeared on the Detroit River every year from 1952 to 1961. They were the first team to obtain winning results with a Rolls-Royce Griffon engine. With Bob Hayward at the wheel, Miss Supertest III triumphed in the 1959 Detroit Memorial. Then, later in the season, on the same race course, the "III" became the first non-United States winner of the Harmsworth International Trophy in 46 years, after a battle royal in a best-two-out-of-three-heat-series with Bill Stead and the Maverick.
Unfortunately, the Supertest story ended in tragedy on September 10, 1961, at the Silver Cup. Pilot Hayward was fatally injured when Miss Supertest II rolled over in the Belle Isle Bridge turn on the first lap of Heat 2-A.
( Reprinted from the URC Thunder Letter V.2 n.77 5/2/96)
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010.
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© Leslie Field, 1999