Mira Slovak

Ideal Marriage Features Mira Slovak — Tahoe Miss

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Mira Slovak, the Czech freedom flyer, whose life story is filled with more excitement than a James Bond thriller is returning to his favorite sport — unlimited hydroplane racing.

Inactive upon the Thunderboat scene since 1963 when he was injured in a spectacular accident, Slovak has since then logged many a long hour, yearning and dreaming of the day when he would again be part of the thunderous roar of the mighty engine to feel the fiery sting of the roostertails beating upon his weathered face.

Now it seems . . . and very soon, the many long hours he has spent in wistful yearning are coming true.

Last week, Slovak . . . the man of steel . . was married.

Wedding bells tolled, and he was hooked.

With unfaltering steps and never a glance backward, Slovak strode to the alter — and for better or worse — he was baptized in Holy Matrimony to the most glamourous star performing upon the unlimited racing circuit today — Tahoe Miss.

Boatingly speaking, the marriage is a natural. Slovak, often referred to as one of the most colorful drivers to ever heel a hydro around the unlimited circuit . . . married body and soul to one of the most fantastic boats breathing today . . . what a powerful charge of TNT these newlyweds should make!!!

But if Tahoe Miss had tricked him into marriage by wearing artificial padding — of the sort you only discover upon your wedding night — Slovak didn't have long in waiting to find out. He put his new bride to the acid test when he opened up the throttle against 16 of the world's fastest ladies on June 8th when he attempted to be the first person to capture the Suncoast Cup Race in Tampa, Florida.

Slovak however, need have no fear about having been deceived. Completely refitted in her new gleaming dress of bittersweet red and lakewood green trimmed with a ruffle of cream Slovak will find nothing false about the physical makeup of Tahoe Miss. She's the real thing from stem to stern and like a new bride upon her wedding night she's all steamed up and rar'in for action.

Tahoe Miss, on the other hand, may be entertaining some quizzical thoughts of her own. For one thing . . . she's all woman . . . a demanding one. And she's even more demanding when, she lets her hair down for battle. It's then when it takes every bit of strength and nerve a man made of steel can muster to keep ‘er under control.

Whether the two year retirement period taken by Slovak has in any way softened his nerve; whether it has taken away any of his former zest for dash and color . . . Tahoe Miss hopes is not the case . . . But still she wonders.

Both will soon know the answer.

Dropping back a few years, Slovak was — until the early 1950's a Czechoslovakian Air Force pilot. Chafing under the saddle of the Communist rule he "borrowed" a huge Russian transport plane, loaded with Czechs fleeing much the same way and winged out from behind the Iron Curtain.

Alighting in the free world he became a hero. But he also became a man marked for death by the Communists and so far as we know . . . still is.

It wasn't long before Seattle, Washington airplane builder Bill Boeing recognized Slovak's capabilities for piloting airplanes and he hired him as his own personal pilot.

For Slovak, it also marked his entry into boat racing.

One day while kicking about the huge aircraft hanger at Seattle he ran across a huge boat still under construction. Nothing would satisfy him until the boat was finished and he was given a chance to take the boat for a spin. When finally the boat was finished Slovak got his chance. It took only one short shake down run before Slovak realized he was knee deep in his first American love affair — with a lady 12 feet wide, 29 feet long and tipping the scales at 6,500 pounds.

The boat later became known as Boeing's Miss Wahoo.

During the 1957 racing season he toured the nation with Miss Wahoo winning several races. From then on he campaigned the Wahoo in western races until the close of the 1961 season after which it was retired. Slovak had a good reason for retiring. Between racing the Miss Wahoo and holding his job down as a Boeing test pilot he was slowly being worked to death.

By 1963 he had moved on to become a crack pilot for Continental Airline — flying their top jets. Yet each day as he grasped the controls of the jet his hand he kept breaking out with an itch . . . an itch to get back into fast hydroplane racing. In the interim he was also featured on the then famous "This is Your Life" TV program.

It was long about then that the Seattle Stoen Brothers — Milo and Glen — were putting the finishing touches upon a brand new hydro for the Exide Battery Company. When Slovak received a bid to pilot the new craft, he wasn't long in saying yes. It was a "yes" to an invitation which was to prove ill-fated from the very start.

Slovak drove the new boat in its first race which was the running of the 1963 Gold Cup Race. Balky and inclined to be wild at high speed the hull was changed almost daily. Using sheer brute force Slovak managed to bulldoze it into the field and demand a third place finish.

Later while racing at Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, Slovak's fortune grew even worse. Heading down the straightaway at near 190 mph, the Miss Exide suddenly vaulted into the air and came down nose first. There was a blinding spray. From the burst of spray debris shot him into the air as the Exide blew apart. Slovak was hurled into the water suffering severe facial lacerations, broken limbs and internal injuries which required a four week lay-up at the Coeur d'Alene hospital.

After his recovery, Continental Airlines read the riot act. No more hydro racing. It was as simple as that. Slovak chose to keep his job and retired from unlimited racing.

But to keep a speed minded guy like Slovak out of racing entirely . . . nuts! It can't be done. At Reno, Nevada, during 1964 Slovak winged his way to overall top honors at the National Champion Unlimited Air Race. And the following year he came within an ace of repeating by finishing high in points among the leaders.

It was then that Continental Airlines decided it might be in order to take a new look at their daredevil pilot. And so they did. And when they had finished they reasoned that so long as Slovak had his head set on racing he'd might as well be racing on the water as well as in the sky. So with that Slovak received the green light to get back into unlimited hydro racing.

But with unlimited hydro racing — things don't come easy. Having had his fair share of boating bad luck he felt that it was now time for something good to happen. Finding the premium equipment which he felt was capable of making a serious threat for national honors just wasn't available at that time. So he played it cool, not being in a mood to settle for a second best. He waited it out.

Finally it was the result of another driver's misfortune which cast its first ray of silver lining for him.

Many weeks before the annual Orange Bowl Regatta held at Miami during January, George "Buddy" Byers, a highly successful hydro pilot had been signed to drive the Tahoe Miss during the '66 season. Misfortune overtook Byers before he had a chance to start the new season. While racing in a limited boat at the Orange Bowl Regatta he was involved in an accident which resulted in permanent injuries.

With Byers unable to complete his contract the owners of Tahoe started a long search for replacement. At the same time Slovak was quietly searching for a ride he could feel confident of. It was a foregone conclusion the two would eventually get together.

Tahoe Miss, acknowledged a one of the fastest boats in the nation has had a career criss-crossed with good fortune as well as bad — much the same a Slovak's.

In the span of two years she has:

  1. Set two world records both since broken.

  2. Won four races, with back to back wins in 1965.

  3. Lost the Gold Cup Race by 1/10th of a second due to gear trouble.

  4. Suffered as much or more mechanical trouble than any other boat upon a unlimited circuit.

  5. Sunk while attempting to qualify in 1965.

  6. Blew up and burned at San Diego, Calif. in 1965

Perhaps it can be said, what the famed Novi cars have been to the Indianapolis Speedway the Tahoe Miss is to unlimited racing.

One thing is for sure — They’ve married one of racing's most colorful personalities to one of the world's most fascinating boats!

(Reprinted from the Kelowna Daily Courier, June 18, 1966)

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© Leslie Field, 2005