Chapter 9 - What's An Unlimited?
So, what is Unlimited racing and what are those boats that compete in the sport? We already know the important features of a hydroplane, the power plants, the construction and the men who make them run, but what about the rules the boats follow? What is the difference between an Unlimited and a Limited? What are these, the fastest of hydros?
As the 1950s came into existence there were two classes of the "big boats", the Gold Cup Class and the Unlimited Class. Gold Cup type boats, designated by a "G" prefix, were not allowed to exceed 40 feet and less than ten feet in waterline length. They were to carry an inboard motor or motors with a means of propulsion in and/or against the water by screw or mechanical working surfaces - not jet propulsion. No adjustable surface that made use of external aerodynamic forces were allowed, all devices were to be part of the hull structure with no movable air foils.
On the other hand, were the Unlimited Class boats which had no limitations in size. The powerplant was restricted to internal combustion engines, installed inboard with a submerged propeller. Airfoils and adjustable surfaces were permitted provided they did not extend beyond the physical dimension of the hull in width and were no more than four feet above the deck.
Unlimiteds raced side-by-side with Gold Cup boats but eventually, for one reason or another, the Gold Cup boats lost popularity among owners and by 1957 they had disappeared from the scene to a large extent. New rules were handed down in 1957 which took from each classification to mold what we know of as the Unlimited Hydroplane.
The hulls must be at least 28 feet in over-all length and may not be over 40 feet. They are to be equipped with any type of inboard mounted motor or motors, supercharged or unsupercharged. Propulsion shall be by means of a propeller or screw in and/or against the water and steering must be accomplished by a submerged rudder or rudders. There will be no adjustable devices that make uses of aerodynamic forces and an Unlimited must weigh over 5500 pounds in racing trim without fuel.
Note: The Unlimited Commission gave Jim Clapp special permission to use external aerodynamic devices on a turbine powered hydroplane. The dispensation of the rule was granted to encourage the advent of turbine powerplants in the sport. These allowances were granted specifically for the use of the U-95 in the 1973 season, the boat that was designed to use twin turbines.
To compete, the boat must be a registered member of the American Power Boat Association's Unlimited Class. This costs $150.00. Before each contest, it must pass a safety inspection, which includes dye-checking and x-rays of vital parts, by three competent technical men who are appointed by the race committee. These inspectors must be in the pits during the race to perform routine safety checks before each heat and report their findings to the referee. If needed, the referee will put to a vote, by the various boat owners, whether to ban any craft he considers unsafe, unmanageable or seaworthy. The decision of the majority shall be binding.
The size of the engine used in a hydroplane governs which class it will race in APBA competition. The Unlimited Class can use any type or size of engine and hull but the Limited Classes are categorized to certain engine displacements. Currently inboard classes are broken down to the following: E Racing Runabout (ERR), maximum engine size of 330 cubic inches with gas fuel or 246 c.i., with methanol and must be flat bottomed; The Crackerbox (P) requires a riding mechanic with a maximum engine size of 275 c.i. and a price ceiling of $1,650; and a K Racing Runabout (K) may have any engine but it must be a flatbottomed hull.
The 225 Hydro (N) hull must be at least 16 feet in length and have an engine up to 225 c.i., which may be modified but cannot have more than a four-barrel carburetion system; a 280 Hydro (E) engine is limited to 280 c.i. and uses pump gas, a single four-barrel carburetor and strictly stock parts; the 5 Litre (F) can use any unblown engine, without double overhead cams, that does not exceed 308 c.i., which uses a gear box, burns Methanol and sits in an 18-foot hull. There are also the 135 Hydros, the 150 Hydro, the 7 Litre Hydro and the Superstock, all of which are confined to similar restrictions.
Let us pretend you are a promoter or influential government official that feels it would be advantageous to hold an Unlimited Hydroplane race in your community. What are the requirements to have one, how does one go about getting a race and how is the event conducted? What are the rules that govern an Unlimited race? How much does it cost?
All Unlimited regattas must be sanctioned by the American Power Boat Association's Unlimited Racing Commission and must be approved by the chairman of that body. Currently, the Unlimited Executive Committee is made up of the following people: Chairman George "Buddy" Byers, Jr., a former driver; Arden T. Aegerter, who is an official from the Seattle Seafair Race Committee; Fred Alter, a driver and Dave Heerensperger, an owner. There is Wilbur Heitz; Bernie Little, an owner; Jim McCormick, an owner and a driver, and William Newton, the referee. J. Lee Schoenith, a former chairman and driver, who is now an owner; Robert Fendler, a former driver and an owner, and Phil Cole, the Executive Secretary, round out the committee. The headquarters of Hydroplanes Unlimited is located in West Carrollton, Ohio, whereas, the APBA offices are in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
A sanction is a legal contract and official permission to stage an Unlimited Hydroplane race under the supervision and authority and with the cooperation and assistance of the APBA. The sponsor must comply with all the rules and regulations in the Unlimited Class Racing Rules under penalty of having the sanction revoked any time prior to the start of the first heat.
To get a sanction, the sponsor must: (1) have adequate water, shore and spectator facilities; (2) post sufficient prize money; (3) display an interest in the continuing advancement of water racing and (4) hold, or promise to hold, events on an annual basis.
The course must be a 2½-mile or 3-mile oval. It shall be laid on waters at least five feet deep, the two turns must be as similar to each other as possible and there must be escape routes at each turn with a recommended minimum clearance of 600 feet at the entrance to each. The starting line is located near the center of the course, which is marked with 20 buoys, 5 on each turn and 5 on each straightaway and which are constructed of a material that will not damage a boat in case of collision, usually Styrofoam, and of specified sizes and colors.
The pits shall be located on the race course, if possible, with nearby facilities for rest rooms and some type of shade or shelter. A minimum of one crane, of sufficient capacity, shall be provided for every three boats. The pits should also have ample dockage, minimum - 250 lineal feet of dockage for six boats.
A race committee is established in the race community which conducts and organizes each detail of the contest including housing requirements, patrolling of the course, first aid and rescue operations, fire protection, comfort and hospitality for the participants, crowd control and security, pit facilities, registration, official barge, communications, course layout and surveying, judges, timers, scorers, starter, flags, starting clock and scoreboard. They handle the parking, press, promotions, pit safety and inspection, pit cranes, pollution control and concessions. All responsibility for the actual conduct of the race itself shall be with the referee who is a representative of the APBA and the official enforcer of all rules and regulations concerning the regatta and the boats.
The committee gathers together people who feel they want to help sponsor the potential race, a budget is made and the amount of prize money is submitted to the Unlimited Racing Commission sometime early in the year. The URC opens all these proofers, takes into account the four points mentioned before, then awards a sanction to those communities who post the greatest prize money. Whoever has the highest monetary award among those that bid for the Gold Cup will get the event for that year. Formerly the site of the Gold Cup was determined by the preceeding year's winner.
An average committee will submit from $25,000-$30,000 and may reach as high as $50,000 in prizes. On top of this expense, the race committee must pay for the laying of the course, crane rentals, the miles of communication cable, APBA regatta liability insurance, etc. Without volunteer labor to do the guarding, selling and patrolling, or the donations of the armed services for rescue work and security of the course, and for private individuals for the many items remaining, there could be no race for the gigantic expense it would involve.
The budget easily runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Most of this cash is the result of civic minded citizens and hydroplane fans. In Seattle, for example, the races are largely sponsored by an organization known as Greater Seattle Inc., a community enterprise which promotes many events in that city throughout the year. Money is raised by a $12.50 membership fee for which the member receives many entertainment bargains.
(Reprinted from Roostertails Unlimited by Andy Muntz, 1973)
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