Ole Bardahl
by David Greene

Ole Bardahl
Ole Bardahl Interview - Part 1
Ole Bardahl Interview - Part 2

Ole Bardahl become involved in Unlimited Racing in 1957 when he sponsored Norm Christensen's backyard built U-4 as the first Miss Bardahl. The U-4 was above average in speed, but had difficulty finishing. This led Bardahl to have his own boat designed and built by Ted Jones. As a result, the new Miss Bardahl won three races en route to a National High Point Championship. However, the new hull was not as fast as some of the other boats of 1958 which led the Bardahl camp to switch to a Rolls Merlin engine for 1959.

Jack Regas was hired as driver, but neither he nor a number of others including Bill Brow could make the new combination a winner. Over the winter of 1960-61 changes were made in the boat and a new pilot Ron Musson came aboard. As a consequence the hull which had struggled in 1959 and 1960 won two of five races in 1961. Although the hull was still a rough ride, it was arguably the quickest boat of that year.

Ted Jones designed and built a new Miss Bardahl for the 1962 season. The hull was not immediately competitive, but did win the final race of the year on Lake Tahoe. Further refinements were made before the initial race of 1963, which the Bardahl won, and all of a sudden Bill Muncey and the Miss Thriftway had somebody to run with after nearly sweeping the 1962 circuit. The Bardahl won two of four races for Ron Musson that year before flipping over at Madison injuring Musson and causing Don Wilson to be brought in as a replacement. Wilson won another race for Bardahl to preserve the team's first High Point Championship since 1958.

The first glory years for Ole Bardahl were 1964 and 1965 as his boat won two High Point Championships by winning eight of sixteen races during those seasons. The reason the Miss Bardahl was so successful during these years is that she was virtually without mechanical failure while other contenders fell by the wayside. Nevertheless in the third Miss Bardahl's final race at San Diego in 1965 she sent a shock wave through the Unlimited community by setting a 45 mile race record 6 m.p.h. faster than any other Unlimited had ever gone and a heat record 3 m.p.h. faster than the field.

After the tragic destruction of the new design cabover Miss Bardahl in 1966, Ole Bardahl approached 1967 without his championship driver Ron Musson and without his championship crew chief Leo Vandenberg, who had retired. A new design by Ed Karelson was selected with the highly touted Billy Schumacher replacing Musson as driver and veteran crew member Jerry Zuvich becoming crew chief. The new combination was extremely successful in winning six of eight races and giving Bardahl his fifth High Point Championship. A sixth High Point Championship was added in 1968 as Schumacher and Zuvich combined to win four of ten races. This record stood until last year when Bernie Little captured his seventh High Point Championship. When Bardahl retired in 1969 he had won more races than anyone in the history of powerboat racing.

(Reprinted with permission from the Unlimited NewsJournal, May 1985, "Unlimited Hall of Fame")


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Leslie Field, 1999