Ole Bardahl Interview [1980]

Part 1

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

Ole Bardahl first became involved in unlimited hydroplane racing in 1957 when he agreed to sponsor Norm Christensen's tempest as the first Miss Bardahl. The following year Mr. Bardahl decided to become further involved with the sport by purchasing a new hull from Ted Jones. The initial year brought a National High Point Championship to the Bardahl Corporation as well as three victories on the circuit.

In the eleven years that followed Mr. Bardahl compiled a record that was unequaled in the annals of motorboat racing at the time he retired. After his initial year, Ole Bardahl captured an additional five national high point championships and won an additional 24 victories including five gold cups. In 1969, which was the last year that the Miss Bardahl ran, the Bardahl corporation's victory total of 27 marked them as the then most successful team in the entire history of speedboat racing. Mr Bardahl's record of six national high point championships has only been equalled by one other owner, Bernie Little. During his career Ole Bardahl owned four boats, which made their debuts in the years 1958, 1962, 1966, and 1967 respectively.

It was truly a privilege for NewsJournal reporters Bill 0sborne and David Greene to be granted an interview with Mr. Bardahl at the Bardahl corporation's Seattle headquarters on December 11, 1980. The following is the text of that interview.

Your first experience with unlimited racing was in the 1957 Apple Cup. What attracted the Bardahl corporation to unlimited hydroplane racing?

We used all of our racing activities as a high-test laboratory for the automotive products with which we were involved. In a motor car the parts just don't get the strain that they do in racing. So our racing activities provided a good laboratory for our products.

How did you pick the people on your team particularly Norm Evans as driver and Del Gould as crew chief?

At the time there was not too much of a choice since very few drivers on the West Coast had much Unlimited racing experience. Norm Evans had driven the Miss Seattle before we hired him, As you know he was driving when he won our first victory at Lake Chelan in 1958, so he did well for us. I always picked qualified mechanics to work for me.

Although hardly a week old the new Miss Bardahl ran a steady race to win it's first regatta. What were your thoughts after having this early success?

We started in fresh with a brand new engine. It was a rush because we didn't have a chance to try out. So we were rather surprised to win.

On the eastern circuit in 1958 Miss Bardahl appeared to drop off the pace. Was there any particular problem with the boat?

Yes. We lost our best propeller and we couldn't run as well.

After a grueling campaign you won your first National High Point Championship. What was your reaction to your first unlimited racing season?

We had pretty good equipment then. And if you don't have good equipment you might as well stay home. Even then you have a tough time to win. So we were pleased.

In preparation for the 1959 season quite a few changes were made: a) a Rolls Merlin engine replaced an Allison, h) George McKernan was hired as crew chief, and c) Jack Regas was hired as driver. Could you give us the background of these changes?

The Rolls Merlin is a much more powerful engine than the Allison. We felt that we needed this additional power to be competitive in 1959. George came highly recommended to me. Jack Regas was well known, as the driver of Edgar Kaisers' boat the Hawaii Kai before it was retired.

After these changes, were you pleased by the boat's performance in the first three races of the year under Jack Regas?

Yes. There was some improvement. Regas got hurt pretty bad at Couer d' Alene. He hit a wake and it put him in the hospital. I never did find out what happened over there. Regas, of course, passed out. I asked the turn judges what happened but they couldn't tell me anything.

After missing the Gold Cup, could you give us the background of your decision to return to racing in the 1959 Silver Cup?

After Couer d' Alene I had no driver and the boat was pretty well damaged. But then I was able to hire Bill Brow and we went racing again.

Although such proven winners as Russ Schleeh and Bill Stead were available, why did you settle on rookie Jim McGuire as your driver in 1960?

Well, Stead wasn't available. At the time he was doing something else so we decided to hire Jim McGuire, he had a good record in small boats.

How did Bill Brow come to drive the Miss Bardahl in the 1960 Seafair Trophy?

He was after me for a long time. McGuire decided to return to Canada. Bill Brow was a good driver and very competitive.

In 1960 the Gold Cup at Las Vegas was cancelled and caused quite a bit of controversy. Could you give us your comments?

That thing was really a joke. I asked the committee whether they had the money to run the race and they said yes. The reason the race was called off was because they didn't have the money to run the race on Monday after it had been postponed Saturday and Sunday.

There has always been a controversy as to whether a team should shoot for qualifying records. Could you comment on the Bardahl team strategy?

That was one thing I really didn't believe in. I remember a time at the 1964 Detroit Gold Cup when the Miss Exide qualified at 119 m.p.h. and Musson wanted to go out and beat him. He wanted 120. He said to Leo, "Drop the boat in the water". I said, "No way, you wait until race day". And we won the race on that day at about 105 or 106 m.p.h.

There were reports prior to the 1961 season that you were contemplating quiting racing. Were these reports true and if so what caused you to consider retirement?

No. You hear all these rumors. It wasn't true. Sometimes you can be misquoted in the papers. They write something down after you say it and when it comes out, it really isn't true.

After missing the 1961 Diamond Cup, you raced at Seattle with a new driver, Ron Musson. How did you come to hire him?

I saw Musson,while he was, racing the DuPont boat, Nitrogen. He did a good job. The first year he raced for me he was just my driver and then I made him our P.R. man for Bardahl Mfg. Corp. and the rest of the record speaks for itself.

What led to the dramatic improvement in Miss Bardahl's performance in the 1961 Seafair Trophy?

We made quite a number of changes including the angle of attack. Of course, the propeller makes quite a hit of difference also.

Could you comment on the Donough plan under which you won the 1961 Seafair World Championship? What were your impressions?

It was a pretty good idea, but it didn't last long. I liked the idea better than the conventional format. When you race with the slower boats the competition isn't so good. I liked racing with the fast boats.

Was there any team strategy among the Seattle boats in approaching the 1961 Gold Cup at Reno?

There was no team strategy. You want to be first because that is where the money is. Every man was for himself. You want to win even if it's your best friend that you're running against.

At the end of the year of 1961, the Miss Bardahl had won two of five races, completed ten of twelve heats and defeated the Miss Century 21 in four out of five major confrontations. What was your reaction to the 1961 season in comparison to the previous two? Why did you decide on a new boat for 1962?

We kept changing the boat as we went along and it got better. I only kept the boat four years because I don't think a boat is safe after that since the bouncing in rough water can really shake a boat up. And of course you can only change so much on a boat. Pretty soon it is time to try a new boat.

(Reprinted from the Unlimited NewsJournal, February 1982)

(Go to Part 2)

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Leslie Field, 2002