One Hundred Years Ago
To most of the western world the year 1900 signified hope in all that was positive for the next century. There was peace in the world, the industrial revolution was bearing fruit for the common citizen in the shape of countless laborsaving devices and with less time required for common labor there was more time for leisure. It is undeniable that the application of gasoline power to labor and transportation had the most significant impact to life in the world at this time. Perhaps this significance was not immediately perceptible, but it was there nevertheless. The Paris Exposition of 1900 proudly displayed the technology that would lead the world into the new century. The gasoline engine, or "explosive power, " as it was known at the time, was displayed prominently in the static and motive displays of launches manufactured in Europe.
In the United States, as in most of the world, the prime motive power on water was either sail or steam. There were a few small gasoline-powered boats scattered throughout the nation but all of the top designers and builders, Clinton H. Crane, Charles L. Seabury, C. D. Mower, the Herreshoffs, to name a few, were concentrating their efforts on the established modes of maritime transportation. Of the fledgling gas engine manufacturers, the Lozier Company concentrated their efforts on marine transportation. They designed and built the power plants as well as a variety of launches ranging from 21 to 40 feet in length.
Sanctioned competition among owners of explosive powered launches was minimal at best. The Paris Exposition awarded prizes for 71/2 to 100 kilometer speed launch races conducted on the Seine River. In New York City there were two races for explosive-powered launches. On June 4th the New York Yacht Club allowed gas engine power launches, officially Class G launches, to race off Riverside Park. Three launches competed, Acadia, Janette and Racine, and although Acadia and Janette crossed the finish line at the same time, Janette had the more advantageous handicap, thereby winning for R. Pehlemann Jr.
July also featured the Larchmont Yacht Club "Race Week." Thursday, July 25th, was a scheduled break for the big sailing yachts and raceabouts. Rowing contests and three events for powered craft were scheduled in their place. No gas engine launches raced but the naphtha launches were divided into two classes, those over 21 feet and those 21 feet and under; Intrepid took the over 21 title and Trochilus took the 21 and under title. The third race was for Alco-Vapor launches, launches powered by alcohol vapor. This race was won by Idalia. It is interesting to note that these races were considered to be of such little import that the NEW YORK TIMES did not see fit to list the owners of these small craft.
In April, during a meeting of the Hartford Yacht Club, Thomas Fleming Day, publisher of THE RUDDER, addressed the members of the club who had been discussing the merits of sail versus powered craft. Several of the members were builders and had mentioned they were receiving more and more orders for motor yachts. Day stated that the time would soon come when most orders would be for motor cruisers and motor auxiliaries. The audience did not appreciate Days comments but his remarks were almost prescient. In three years the Harmsworth Trophy would be established as an international competition, followed one year later by the A.P.B.A. Gold Challenge Cup. Indeed, by 1905 legislation would begin to combat the disturbance created by crowds of motor boats of all shapes and sizes.
Seventy-Five Years Ago
Power boat racing in 1925 offered just about every type of contest anyone would want. Along with the usual A.P.B.A. Gold Cup and Mississippi Valley P.B.A. competition there were point-to-point long distance river dashes, 100+-mile sweepstakes heats and many types of one-design races. Altogether there were trophies for 22 different racing classes, ranging from the 1½ liter Class up to the 1100 c. i. Class.
The season started in Florida with the three-day Palm Beach Regatta in February. Here, the 151 Class ran a series of six 5-mile heats for the Royal Poincianna Cup. C. E. Padgetts Miss Quincy VII swept all six heats to lead a ten boat field. Rodman Wannamaker took the Bradley Gold Cup from defender Col. E. H. R. Green (Hettys son) in the displacement runabout Little Old Man. Gar Wood won the 35-mile open ocean race for the Palm Beach Trophy in Gar Jr. II.
Moving on to Miami, Gar continued his streak by taking all three 50-mile heats for the Fisher-Allison Trophy in Baby Gar IV, the Dodge Memorial Trophy in Baby Gar V and the Express Cruiser race, again, in Gar Jr. II.
Miami debuted an interesting approach to promote both real estate and power boat racing in Florida. Carl Fisher, who not only was a big time real estate operator in Florida but also the director of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, contracted Ned Purdy to create a one-design class called the Biscayne Babies. Each of the boats would be driven by an established Indy-Car driver, an early-day International Race of Champions approach to the sport, if you will. Eleven boats competed in six 12-mile heats. Ray Harroun, who won the very first Indy 500 in 1911, drove Fulford-by-the-Sea; Tommy Milton (1921 and 1923) handled Miami Beach; L. L. Corum (defending 500 champion) took control of Coral Gables; Pete DePaolo who would win the Indy 500 in 1925, drove Key Largo; but it was Louis Chevrolet who won the race in Hialeah.
At Manhasset Bay, New York, Baby Bootlegger outlasted a field of 15 A.P.B.A. Gold Cup contestants to repeat as winner of the coveted trophy. Ten boats started the first 30-mile heat but by heat 3 there were only four left, of which three finished. Jesse Vincent, driving Nuisance, won heat 1 but that was as far as she could go. Caleb Bragg in the Bootlegger took heat 2, and Dick Locke driving Miss Tampa won heat 3. But, with two seconds and a first, it was Baby Bootlegger who kept the hardware in New York.
The final major event of the year, in September, was the 4-day Detroit Regatta where Nuisance took the 45-mile Detroit Y.C. Challenge Cup, Phil Wood, driving Miss America III won the Michigan Governors Trophy, and Jesse Vincent, driving Packard Chricraft II beat Caleb Bragg in Baby Horace III in the 150-mile International Sweepstakes.
The success story of 1925, however, was the astonishing popularity of the 151 c.i. (Margaret) Class. Not only were there no less than 17 major regattas featuring 151 competition coast-to-coast, the class was also popular in Australia, Germany, Spain, Holland and Belgium. While there were seven winners of nine regattas in the east and mid-west, Dick Loynes Smiling Dan II won five of the eight regattas in California.
Fifty Years Ago
1950 brought renewed expectations for the continued success of Horace Dodges wonderful My Sweetie. Also included in forecasts of future victories were the Dan Arena-designed Such Crusts and a newcomer from Detroit, Miss Pepsi. Detroit had an iron-clad grip on all the important prizes of the Gold Cup and Unlimited classes. There was no sign of another challenge from the west, for the defending Harmsworth champion, Skip-a-Long, was lying on the bottom of Lake Tahoe. Even as late as June none of the national boating periodicals, THE MOTOR BOAT, THE RUDDER, MOTORBOATING, or YACHTING MAGAZINE, were prepared for the mahogany and red bomb that would hit the boat racing world from Seattle, Washington.
Slo-mo-shun IV was instantly phenomenal. In a sport that takes a racing crew two or three years to perfect the systems to make a boat a winner, the Slo-mo crew smashed the world mile straightaway record by nearly 20 miles per hour, setting the new mark at 160.232 m.p.h., on June 26th. The second time out, she won the A.P.B.A. Gold Cup, setting lap, heat and race records along the way. The third time out, she defeated all comers in the Harmsworth Trophy contest; all of this in just the first four months of her competitive life.
She was not impervious to trouble, however, for after winning the first heat of the Silver Cup the second day after her Harmsworth triumph, she damaged her propeller shaft bearings in heat 2 and could no longer compete. The Silver Cup was taken by Chuck Thompson (his first unlimited win) in Miss Pepsi. In November at Lake Mead, Slo-mo would repeat her problems by taking the first heat and experiencing prop shaft trouble in the second. In this race Bill Cantrell won in My Sweetie, taking heats 2 and 3. Slo-mo-shun IVs mechanical failures notwithstanding, she spelled the doom of existing unlimited class boat design.
To be sure, there were plenty of trophies to go around. Such Crust II won the Steel Cup. Dan Murphys Dee Jay V took the Fite Trophy. Delphine X got the Imperial Gold Cup. Miss Pepsi added the Presidents Cup to her winnings. In addition to her Lake Meade championship My Sweetie also got the Detroit Memorial and Maple Leaf Trophy. Andy Marcys My Darling was victorious in Madison, Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky. But Guy Lombardos amazing Tempo VI won in Wilson Point, Maryland, Buffalo, New York, won the Red Bank Gold Cup and National Sweepstakes and even finished second to the Slo-mo in the Gold Cup classic.
Future Unlimited class competitors learning their craft in the limited ranks were: Bill Schuyler, B and C outboard hydros; Fred Alter, 48 c.i. hydros; Chuck Hickling, 48 and 135 classes; Joe Mascari, B and F Service Runabouts; Rich Hallett, 135 and 225 Division II; Bob Schroeder and Bill Muncey, 225 Div. I and II; Ray Fageol and Joe Taggart, 7 Liter.
Twenty-Five Years Ago
At the start of the 1975 unlimited season there were a number of questions waiting to be answered: With the retirement of George Henley could Jim McCormick guide the Pay `n Pak to a third straight national points championship; if not, could the Paks old driver, Mickey Remund take the Budweiser to the championship? Another question was the chance of Bill Muncey in a brand new Atlas Van Lines. Usually a new boat needs some working out the first year, but if anyone could do it, Bill could. Other possible point leaders were E. Milner Irvin III in the Lincoln Thrift and Billy Schumacher behind the wheel of U-74 Weisfields.
Throughout the 10-race season there was close competition among the boats named with the exception of Munceys Atlas. His season was a miserable experience. He never scored more than 750 points for a race and he ended up 6th overall in national standing.
Billy Schumacher started the season the way he finished 1974 HOT! He was the national leader up to the sixth race of the season and he won at Miami and Owensboro. He also set speed records at Miami and
in the Presidents Cup. Pay `n Pak came out of the gate staggering. At the end of the second race of the season, in Washington D.C., Jim McCormick resigned his position. George Henley unretired for the third race at Owensboro, but went scoreless there and only collected 925 at Detroit two weeks later. By the end of that race, the Pak was thoroughly mired in fourth place.
By the fifth race at Madison, Indiana, the wheel of fortune began to turn for Henley and the Pak. They won at Madison and won the next three races while it was Weisfields turn to stumble. Schumacher had mechanical difficulties at Detroit, scoring only 169 points and later tripped at the Gold Cup in Pasco, collecting only 225. By the end of the Seattle Seafair race Pay n Pak was leading Weisfields by 351 points. Six weeks later at Phoenix Weisfields grabbed the lead back by 151 with only San Diego, the final race of the season, a week away. Again, Schumacher tripped badly and lost the race and the point championship to Henley, finishing the season 651 points behind and leading the steady Milner Irvin by only 110 points.
A single heat victory at either Detroit, Pasco or San Diego could have reversed the standings for Weisfields. If Lincoln Thrift could have scored more than 300 points at Dayton, she could have threatened for the national title. All in all, it was one of the best contests for the national title in a long time.
Although the Miss U.S. had a complete collapse in the last three races of the season, failing to score a single point, Tommy DEath did have reason for celebration; he scored his first unlimited career victory in front of his home town fans at Detroit.
In the Seattle limited inboard world championships Jim Kropfeld and Steve Reynolds battled sponson to sponson in the two 225-Class heats. They tied with 700 points and Kropfeld won on over all time. In the same regatta Jim's brother, Tom, won the 850 c.c championship, John Prevost took the 280 title, Terry Turner won in the 5-Liters and Dave Villwock was the Crackerbox champion.
Ten Years Ago
1990 offered what amounted to a heavyweight championship bout that went on from June to September between National Champion Miss Budweiser, driven by Tom DEath, and top contender Circus Circus, driven by Chip Hanauer. The seasons eleven races were won by only these two boats, first one and then the other scoring wins throughout the schedule. For the first ten races Miss Budweiser held on to her point lead and by San Diego each boat had five wins apiece, Circus Circus trailing Bernie Littles "Thumper" by less than 200 points. At the crucial Las Vegas Silver Cup, in the Circus back yard, Tom DEath was penalized on two separate occasions which allowed Hanauer to nose out the Bud for the race and the National Championship, taking the title by 500 points. Unexptectedly, four days later, Bill Bennett, Circus Circus Hotel/Casino chairman announced there would be no sponsorship for the 1991 unlimited season. A puzzled and disappointed Hanauer stated he would probably leave the big boats and pursue a career in auto racing.
All through the season the Bud and Circus broke race, heat, lap and qualifying records. Miss Budweiser set new marks at Evansville and at the Detroit Gold Cup, which was won by Miss Budweiser making Tom DEath a three-decade Gold Cup winner. Circus Circus set marks at Miami and San Diego. In fact, at San Diego Hanauer set a new qualifying lap record for a 2½-mile course, raising the mark to 168.128 miles an hour, ten miles an hour fatser than the previous qualifying record and eight miles an hour faster than the mile straightaway record set by Slo-mo-shun IV forty years before.
Five Years Ago
1995 is probably best known as the year Bernie Little collected his 100th unlimited race win. He got it in Seattle and the race that he won was as stormy as his unlimited career. Stormy IS the appropriate word. The weather was abysmally cold with gusty winds, rain squalls and low visibility due to fog. A big controversy occurred after the running of Heat 2B. With the worst of the weather, the boats charged across the starting line and into the first turn. There, Miss Cascade Homes and Miss E-Lam Plus bumped and the E-Lam went dead in the water. Turn officials fired a red flare to halt the racing but only a couple boats saw the flare. Chip Hanauer in Miss Budweiser was well ahead and already moving into the north turn. The officials radioed to halt the racing but the weather had soaked the equipment to the point that the radios did not transmit effectively, and so the race went on. Hanauer won the heat and returned to the pits to find out that the heat was to be run again. Forty minutes later, after numerous threats and accusations, the heat was rerun and the Bud won, again.. With win 100 in the bag, Bernie Littles total amounted to more than triple the total of the second highest owner, Bill Muncey.
The national points chase was a race between Miss Budweiser and Steve Woomers Smokin Joes. The two boats took nine of the ten races in the schedule, Bud with five and Smokin Joes with four. Jim Harveys T-Plus won in Kansas City. After the last race of the season Miss Budweiser took the national title, leading Smokin Joes by only 371 points.
[Thanks to Greg Calkins for help in preparing this page. LF]
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© Leslie Field, 2001