Jack Regas : The Kaiser Years [Part 2]

Part 1
Part 2

Thunderboat: Heading into the final race of the 1956 season at Las Vegas, Shanty I led in the High Point race over the second place Hawaii Kai III 1250 to 1052 points. After the Shanty I went dead midway through the final heat of this race, the Kai could have won the race by finishing as low as third and by allowing Miss Seattle and Tempo VII to finish ahead of her, pushed Shanty I down to an overall fourth thereby securing a 231 point advantage over the Shanty for the race — winning the High Point Championship in the process. Did you have any High Point strategy at the time?

Regas: I'll be real honest with you, I didn't know anything about a High Point Championship. I could care less about that. All I wanted to do was win the races. That's all I wanted to do.

Thunderboat: Could you describe for us the sensation or thrill of driving an unlimited Hydroplane and what in your opinion made you a winner?

Regas: I just loved it. I knew that very few people ever got a chance to even. get close to an Unlimited. And here I am — a guy who never drove a boat in his life — getting to step into one of the richest men's boats. I don't know the reason for it, but it happened to me. I was very pleased about it.

At the time all I knew was to drive and win. I wanted to win. I didn't want to be second. I didn't want to be second to nobody. And a lot of times I wasn't second. I guess you could call it bulldog determination or something like that, but that's why I won. I didn't want to be second.

Thunderboat: After the 1956 season, Edgar Kaiser retired from Unlimited racing, but gave the boat to the Slo-mo crew to run during 1957 out of Seattle. How did this change affect you?

Regas: Mr. Kaiser asked me if I would move to Seattle because he wanted me to work on the boat. He wanted me to work with the crew to get to know then and know the equipment. I said, "Fine."

He said, "I'll find you a place to live and I'll take care of all your living expenses and everything." I said, "That's great."

So they found me a place in Ballard. I used his Kaiser car which I later bought. We lived there for eight months.

Thunderboat: Could you comment on the testing program that the Slo-mo crew put the Hawaii Kai through over the winter of 1956-57 and what it accomplished?

Regas: Mike Welsch worked out a plan to test our wheels. He put a photo recorder in the boat.

We had a box sitting behind my seat with a camera in it. I had a switch on my dash that turned the light on in the box and that turned on the camera to get the instrument readings.

I'd do a steady 80 m.p.h. and then I'd punch it until I hit 140 and then I turned the camera off. That's the way we tested all our wheels — the acceleration on each wheel. We were trying to get the best wheel. That's how we settled on a 19 inch wheel.

We worked out the balance to where it had to be 12 inches behind the sponson edge. We balanced the boat on the cradle and we kept moving weights until she was balanced 12 inches behind the sponson. And that was where we left it and the boat rode perfect. There was quite a bit of difference in the boat between 1956 and 1957.

Thunderboat: At the Lake Chelan Apple Cup — the first race of 1957 — you turned a lap of 116 m.p.h. which was about six m.p.h. faster than anybody else that day. Although the Miss Wahoo was able to match your fastest laps in the next two races at Tahoe and Seattle, most people felt the Kai was the class of the field in 1957. Yet the best you could manage in these three races was a third place on Lake Tahoe — never going the distance. This was in contrast to your last four races of 1956 in which you ran 210 consecutive miles. Could you explain this?

Regas: The Kai was a fantastic boat. Blowing the engines was my fault because I was overrevving the engine. When she cane out of the water, I wouldn't back off in time to stop the overrevving.

I got it down pretty good later on. I got able to back down real quick. But then I got to the point that I wouldn't rev her as high as I used to. I used to go to 4500, 4800. Hey, that's ungodly. If Mike would have known it then, he would have killed me. Oh, man.

Also we did those acceleration tests on Lake Washington before the 1957 season in which we would go from 80 to 140. And unconsciously I wouldn't just ease it to the floor, I would tromp it to the floor. It was the way I drove.

Thunderboat: Beginning at Detroit and continuing on to Washington DC you won three consecutive races — a total of 120 straight miles without missing a beat.

At the same time you posted the fastest lap by 2 m.p.h., then 3 m.p.h., and finally 4 m.p.h. What caused your change of fortune?

Regas: Mike wanted to go to a 5:8:0 gear ratio in the supercharger. He didn't like to use the 6:3:9 so we went to the 5:8:0. Otherwise I would have blown a lot more engines.

And I knew I couldn't overrev the engine. I got to the point of instead of going to 4500, 4800, I stayed at 4000, 4200. I wouldn't go over 4200.

That's when Mike put the tape on my dashboard. He said, "I want you to see that needle at all times." Since he put the tape on there, I never lost any more engines from overreving.

Thunderboat: You drew Fred Alter and the new Miss U.S.I in heat 2-B of the Detroit Silver Cup. He led you for 2h laps and then he spun out in the Detroit Yacht Club turn and was pitched out. Could you describe this incident from your standpoint?

Regas: He came right out in front of me. I thought I had run over him. I made a hard left turn with the boat — I really gunned it — and I came back. I jumped overboard right near him and got a hold of him. He was face dawn. He was kind of groggy and I turned him over. And then they picked us up out of the water.

The reaction I got in Detroit was real great. It made me feel great.

Thunderboat: The Miss Wahoo as noted earlier posted similar speeds to the Hawaii Kai at Tahoe and Seattle, but at Madison Miss Thriftway not only posted a lap of 115 in comparison to the Kai's 116 at Chelan, but also a heat of 112 in comparison to the best the Hawaii Kai could do for 15 miles — 111 m.p.h. It appeared that the Thriftway was in a position to seriously challenge you. What were your thoughts?

Regas: I just never thought about it. I was also confident that I would win. I was always confident of beating any of them because I had the equipment. I knew it was up to me then. I really started driving that boat right at the President's Cup.

Thunderboat: At the final race of the year at Las Vegas you had a thrilling duel with Thriftway Too in the third heat for first place even though you could have ensured a victory by placing second. Why did you go out and do battle with the Thriftway Too?

Regas: Hey, that's a silly question. I just didn't want to be second.

I didn't think that big dog could go that fast. I figured they'd found out something that they didn't know before and it was working — maybe a smaller wheel.

I looked at him once and he was on his side. I could see his bottom. It was rough.

I didn't want them to say they beat the Hawaii Kai. I didn't want them to say that. And they would have said that.

Thunderboat: On November 29, 1957 Hawaii Kai III set a kilcmeter record of 194 m.p.h. besting Miss Supertest II by 10 m.p.h. The next day you raised your mile mark of 183 m.p.h. to 187 m.p.h. exceeding the Slo-mo mile of 178 m.p.h. by 9 m.p.h. Heading into the trials where did you think the Hawaii Kai would set the record?

Regas: I was shooting for 200 m.p.h. We missed it on account of the dew point. I could only get so many r.p.m. out of it.

Thunderboat: After the mile trial, the Kai's owner Edgar Kaiser decided to quit racing for good. What were your feelings at that time?

Regas: I was upset. I mean all that hard work and on top and then he decides to quit.

Thunderboat: Could you give us your assessment of the Hawaii Kai III's performance in 1957?

Regas: The boat was so good that you never had to worry about it. I used to go 180 on the straightaways all the time. I think that's another thing that gave me my winning ways — was the way I felt about the boat. I was so sure of it. So sure of the way it would ride.

They had it balanced so good. No matter how many times she came out of the water, she always came down flat — not nose or this way — but flat. I knew she'd come down right.

Thunderboat: What was your reaction when Edgar Kaiser reversed his position and decided to bring the Hawaii Kai back for the 1958 Gold Cup?

Regas: I was tickled to death. It's hard to explain it — that I was going to get a chance to win the Gold Cup.

I knew I had the equipment to win from the year before. I knew how the boat ran. I knew it could beat any of them. I was just thrilled about it.

Thunderboat: Did you have any reservations about the Kai's chances not having been run for over 7 months against a fleet that was in mid season?

Regas: I knew it would be all right. The boat didn't need much. The boat was in good shape. It was kept in a warm shop all the time. It never got damp.

Thunderboat: In qualifying for the 1957 Gold Cup both the Hawaii Kai and Maverick turned a lap of 117.390 m.p.h. Prior to the 1958 Gold Cup the Maverick posted a lap of 120.267 in compiling an average of 119.956-m.p.h. The Kai posted a lap of 119 m.p.h. before going dead in the water. Were you worried about Maverick? How did you plan to deal with the Maverick and Bill Stead during the race?

Regas: It made me think. I figured that they had figured out something that would save the engine at that speed. I was worried.

I figured if I could get in front of him then he would have to pass me. That was my strategy — get in front of him. That's why I made such good starts. I wanted to get into the turn first. After I got into the turn first I knew he'd never catch me.

Thunderboat: In the 1957 Gold Cup you dial 109.823 m.p.h. for 30 miles with your best 15 miles at approximately 111 m.p.h. During heat 1-A of the 1958 Gold Cup you averaged 108.784 m.p.h., but your best 15 miles was approximately 112 m.p.h. You broke in the second heat of the 1957 Gold Cup. Did you have any reservations about being pushed so hard by Maverick in the first heat of the 1958 Gold Cup?

Regas: I knew that at the end of that heat I would have a brand new quill shaft for the next heat. I knew I didn't really have to worry about the engine. I tried to take it easy though.

Thunderboat: In the second heat again you drew Maverick. But this time Bill Stead beat you to the first turn (south turn). Then in the most dramatic moment of the race you went by him on the backstretch and established a clear advantage by the second turn (north turn). Could you describe this moment from your point of view?

Regas: Oh boy, did I (go by him). I said to myself it's now or never. I adjusted my fuel mixture and I held it there. And I punched it. That boat — honest to God — and I was on the outside of him too. I cut him off at the buoy and that was it.

When I went by him, then I knew. I knew I couldn't be beat because he was the only one I was worried about. [ Miss Thriftway had hit a Coast Guard cutter in a previous heat. ]

Thunderboat: In section C of heat one, Miss Thriftway had matched your best lap of 113.680 and turned a heat of 108 m.p.h. just like the Kai. Unfortunately the Thriftway hit the Coast Guard cutter and was unable to compete against you in the final heat. How did you assess the Miss Thriftway after her first heat performance?

Regas: I always worried about Bill (Muncey). I always worried about him because you never knew what he was going to do.

If Bill would have been in the final that would have been some race, but I would have won. I had horsepower that Bill didn't even know about.

Thunderboat: Then with all the hot dogs out except the Kai, you coasted to win the final heat and the Gold Cup. What were your emotions?

Regas: It was great. It felt just great. It really was.

Thunderboat: Did you feel like retiring at that time?

Regas: Oh no, it was part of me.

(Reprinted from Thunderboat, March-April 1991, pp.7-10)

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