The Stan Dollar Story
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
For many years, the two prestige awards of the Unlimited Class were the APBA Gold Cup and the Harmsworth International Trophy. Very few drivers ever managed to win both awards. One of those who did was the late sportsman R. Stanley Dollar, Jr., of San Francisco whose family owned the world famous Dollar Steam Ship Line.
Stan is best remembered for his successful exploits during the late 1940s and early 1950s with his self-owned one-of-a-kind Skip-A-Long and the trend-setting Slo-Mo-Shun IV, owned by Stanley Sayres from Seattle.
Stan Dollar had a distinguished racing career in the smaller boat classes around the Lake Tahoe area, prior to World War II. He likewise achieved fame for his participation on the pre-war European circuit in races such as the 1935 Spreckels International Trophy on the River Seine in Paris.
A connoisseur of old-time speedboats, Dollar acquired and groomed such vintage contenders over the years as Mercury (the 1926 President's Cup winner as L. Gordon Hamersley's Cigarette IV) and Baby Skipalong (the 1926 and 1927 APBA Gold Cup champion as George Townsend's Greenwich Folly). With the latter, he won the Inboard Handicap Race on Lake Tahoe in conjunction with the 1934 Chambers' Lodge Outboard Regatta.
The boat of Stan's dreams was Skip-A-Long, an Allison-powered all-metal four-point cabover, built in 1948. The engine sat in the stern, much like Henry Kaiser's 1954 vintage Scooter. Skip-A-Long was among the first Western challengers of the East Coast and Mid-West Unlimited establishment.
Registered G-25 with the APBA, the craft experienced mechanical difficulty during its first season and failed to score at each of the APBA Gold Cup, Silver Cup, and President's Cup events.
Dollar returned to the East in 1949 and turned in a much-improved performance.
Skip-A-Long placed runner-up to Bill Cantrell and My Sweetie at the APBA Gold Cup on the Detroit River. Stan established a never-to-be-surpassed record for a 90-mile race on a 2.5-mile course with a three-heat average of 75.599, based upon a trio of second-place heat finishes.
Two days later — on the Fourth of July — Dollar defeated Dan Arena and Such Crust I in the Detroit Memorial Regatta.
Skip-A-Long and Such Crust fought it out again on July 17-18 in the Percy Jones General Hospital Race at Gull Lake, Michigan. In winning all three heats at an average of 83.260, the G-25 was the only starter out of four to complete the 45 miles. Chuck Thompson finished second on points at the wheel of the original single-engine Miss Pepsi.
Then came the highly publicized revival of the British International ("Harmsworth") Trophy-the bronze plaque traditionally emblematic of the speedboat championship of the world. Stan Dollar and Skip-A-Long joined seven other hopefuls on the banks of the Detroit River to vie for the three openings on the Harmsworth Defense Team.
Technically a race between nations rather than individual boats, the British International Trophy comprised a best two-out-of-three-heat format. This, the first Harmsworth contest since 1933, was run on a seven nautical mile course, which intersected the Belle Isle Bridge, with six laps per heat.
The lone challenger, Miss Canada IV, arrived in the Motor City an unknown quantity having never before entered competition. In the race, the two-step Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered hull rode well enough for driver Harold Wilson. But she was clearly not in the same league as the U.S. team and finished last in both heats.
Such Crust I took the first 42-mile grind in Detroit on July 29 at 87.869. Skip-A-Long followed and My Sweetie failed to finish. The positions were reversed the following day with Stan Dollar and riding mechanic Ollie Meek outrunning Dan Arena with a clocking of 94.285.
With the score United States two and Canada nothing, all that remained was a two-lap run-off between the two co-winners. Dollar took the lead after Arena dropped out with a broken oil line. Stan thus became the fifth driver to capture motor boat racing's oldest award while representing the U.S. (Previous champions included Bartley Pearce, Fred Burnham, Gar Wood, and George Wood.)
On the evening of the last Harmsworth heat, Dollar and Meek participated in a rare post-war example of a marathon race for Unlimited Class boats. Billed as the "100-Mile Detroit Marathon" with pit stops permitted, the contest consisted of twelve laps around the Harmsworth course. The race was an obvious take-off on the famous 150-Mile Detroit Sweepstakes, an aquatic imitation of the Indianapolis 500, conducted by the Detroit Yacht Club between 1923 and 1927.
Skip-A-Long kept right on winning and led all the way with an 84 nautical mile average of 65.115 statute miles per hour. Dollar made a pit stop that lasted five and a half minutes to take on additional fuel after completing six laps.
Such Crust I, driven by Gene Arena, was the only other finisher and held second position throughout, stopping on the seventh time around for an eight minute refueling. Gibson Bradfield was flagged off after eight laps while holding third position with Henry Kaiser's Aluminum First, another Golden State entry.
After winning four out of five races entered in the first half of the 1949 season, Stan withdrew Skip-A-Long from further competition. He also purchased the former champion Miss Peps V before leaving Detroit and trailered both hulls back to his Lake Tahoe estate
Then came tragic news.
Word was received in the fall of that year that Skip-A-Long had irretrievably sunk in 469 feet of water during an exhibition race at the Lake Tahoe Yacht Club Regatta. The technology needed to raise the sunken craft did not exist in 1949. The newly crowned Harmsworth champion would remain in a watery grave for many decades.
Crushed by the loss of his favorite, Dollar retired as a full-time participant and confined most of his future Unlimited appearances to hometown races with the Miss Peps V, which he renamed Short Snorter.
With the onset of the 1950s, major league power boat competition on a national level achieved prominence for the first time in the western United States. Locations such as Seattle and Lake Tahoe became mainstays on the Unlimited calendar and paved the way for the Pacific Coast race sites of the future.
Stan Dollar figured prominently in the western expansion as a supporter of the Mile High Mapes Trophy Regatta and as an occasional driver.
In 1952, Stan Sayres offered Dollar the wheel of the world straightaway champion Slo-Mo-Shun IV in the Gold Cup race in Seattle. This was the second year of Unlimited competition in the Pacific Northwest. Dollar was not unfamiliar with the 3-mile Lake Washington oval, having filled in as a relief pilot for Morlan Visel's Hurricane IV in 1951.
The Sayres team was in its third year of operation when Dollar was invited to join. The Slo-Mo crew — and the Seattle race fans — quickly accepted the congenial Californian as one of their own.
Six Unlimited hydroplanes appeared for the 45th running of the APBA Gold Cup. In those days, the race location was determined by the yacht club of the winning boat.
Slo-Mo-Shun IV with Dollar and the defending champion Slo-Mo-Shun V with Lou Fageol represented Seattle. The out-of-town challengers included Visel in Hurricane IV from Lake Tahoe and a triumvirate from Detroit: Chuck Thompson in the twin-Allison powered Miss Pepsi, Bill Cantrell in Such Crust IV, and Joe Taggart in Miss Great Lakes II.
Miss Pepsi topped the qualifying list with a 9-mile average of 103.746. Slo-Mo IV checked in at a leisurely 93.024, far above the minimum of 75.
Race day, August 9, dawned sunny and cloudless. Dollar lost his propeller and was an early casualty along with Miss Great Lakes II in Heat One, which featured a duel of unprecedented speed between Miss Pepsi and Slo-Mo V. Never before had two boats averaged over 100 miles per hour for five competitive laps on a 3-mile course. As Fageol crossed the line to start his sixth lap of ten, the Allison engine block overheated and cracked and forced the 1951 winner out of the race. Thompson and the Pepsi went on to register the first-ever 100 plus heat time in Gold Cup competition: 101.024. Far behind Miss Pepsi came Hurricane IV at 86.318 and Such Crust IV at 85.371.
All hope for retaining the Gold Cup in Seattle for another year seemed lost. The Sayres team nevertheless concentrated all of their efforts into reviving Slo-Mo-Shun IV and sent Stan Dollar out for Heat Two equipped with Slo-Mo-Shun V's propeller.
Dollar and Thompson dueled closely throughout the first lap with neither driver holding an advantage. Then Miss Pepsi lost her gearbox and was finished for the remainder of the race. This left Slo-Mo-Shun IV to finish the 30 miles alone at an unhurried 75.491.
The most frightening mishap of the day occurred when Such Crust IV exploded and burned to the water line in the lower turn during the Second Heat. An unconscious Bill Cantrell, who would spend many weeks convalescing in a Seattle hospital, was pulled off of the flaming hulk by a course patrolman.
Only two boats remained to start Heat Three: Slo-Mo-Shun IV with 400 points and Hurricane IV with 300. (The Hurricane had been seven minutes late in leaving the Mount Baker Pits for the second heat at a time when the grace period for commencing a heat was five minutes after the official start.)
The partisan Seattle crowd cheered with the news that Miss Pepsi would not appear in the last heat. But the announcement was tempered, however, with the admonition that should neither Dollar nor Visel score points, Thompson with 400 markers would win the Gold Cup for the Detroit Yacht Club on the basis of having turned the fastest heat of the contest (in Heat One).
For three laps, Dollar maintained a conservative edge over his Lake Tahoe neighbor, who then dropped out when Hurricane IV twisted her propeller shaft. For the seven remaining laps, Slo-Mo-Shun IV minced around the 3-mile course before a silent spectator throng. It was not unknown for a 25-cent nut to cause a 30,000-dollar boat to go dead in the water. But this was to be Stan Dollar Day on Lake Washington. Slo-Mo IV received the checkered flag for a 30-mile average of 84.356 as the crowd erupted with applause.
The victorious Seattle Yacht Club would host the Gold Cup again in 1953 and the winning driver became but the fourth competitor in history to capture both of power boat racing's crown jewels: the Harmsworth Trophy and the APBA Gold Cup. (The three previous double champions were Fred Burnham, Gar Wood, and Lou Fageol.)
For Dollar, the 1952 Gold Cup was his last major appearance as a driver. Stan retired undefeated from the Slo-Mo team and recalled the fourteen-year-old Short Snorter from mothballs. He campaigned Short Snorter in races on Lake Tahoe during the next few years.
In August of 1953, he was the winner of a one-heat free-for-all at the Lake Tahoe Yacht Club Regatta, where he defeated Henry Kaiser's Fleur Du Lac and Bill Stead's newly acquired Hurricane IV. And, a month later, Dollar and Short Snorter became the inaugural winners of the Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy by taking all three heats over such local contenders as Hurricane IV, Honey Moon, and the 266 Cubic Inch Class Ruthless II.
It is often difficult to truly evaluate the drivers of the past-especially those participants whose careers were firmly rooted in the sport's amateur tradition.
As to what kind of a competitor was Stan Dollar, this question was put to the late Mike Welsch, Dollar's crew chief on Slo-Mo-Shun IV, by Associate Unlimited Historian David Greene. In Welsch's words, "Stan was a stable driver who knew his equipment. Stan never worried about where anyone else was on a start. He said, 'Let them worry where I am.' He was very quiet about the strategy he had in mind."
Until the very end of his life, Dollar maintained an active interest in high speed power boats, ill health not withstanding. In August of 1975, he entered both the Mercury and the Baby Skipalong in a Concours d'Elegance vintage boat benefit as part of the Lake Tahoe Yacht Club's golden anniversary celebration.
Out of 63 antique water craft, the vee-bottom Baby Skipalong was voted by the show visitors as the rig that they would most like to own. The 41-year-old mahogany double-ender was also awarded the Jordy Carlton Vintage Boat Perpetual Trophy for the most original entry.
Dollar's success at the LTYC gathering, which preceded his death by three months, served as a pleasantly nostalgic final tribute to the man. He was a champion who settled for nothing less than success. A gentleman, Stan epitomized the graciousness of another era in boat racing's classic past.
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