Detroit River, Detroit, Mich., September 2, 1946
Guy Lombardo's Account of the 1946 Gold Cup
The Gold Cup was the Kentucky Derby of boat racing. Unlike the thoroughbred scene, however, it was not the first event of speedboating's Triple Crown. The Red Bank Sweepstakes came first, the Gold Cup followed, and the President's Cup in Washington completed the cycle. As winner of the first leg, I suddenly found myself a big name in the sport.
Gold Cup officials kept calling me to make sure I would race, that the band had not taken on an engagement for Labor Day. I assured them I would be there. They also wanted to know if I had any suggestions about changing the conditions of the race. I had one that would change the course of Gold Cup racing. It had bothered me to see in the years just before the war that only extremely wealthy people could own Gold Cup class boats, with engines that had to measure a minimum of 650 cubic inches and a maximum of 750. Those boats were the property of multimillionaires like Zammie Simmons, Horace Dodge, Harold Wilson of the wealthy Canadian family, and Count Rossi of Italy. They had virtually eliminated competition because they had the means to purchase the most powerful boats.
I suggested that the Gold Cup be an unlimited class, open to all, big and small. Smaller boats might have a chance if those big complicated craft developed trouble. And engines could now be purchased from war surplus that had even more horsepower than the Gold Cup boats.
For instance, the powerful Allison engine with 1,500 horsepower could be purchased for as little as $700. Of course to fit one into a race boat, a gearbox costing about $2,000 was also necessary, but it was still a small price to pay for an engine that stood a good chance in Gold Cup competition. My Tempo, for instance, had only 450 horsepower. The officials consulted among themselves and with the judges and came up with an affirmative response to my suggestion. The Gold Cup was thrown open to large and small boats alike. It would be truly an unlimited class.
Labor Day, 1946, dawned cool and cloudy on the Detroit River. By race time, more than 200,000 spectators jammed the riverbank, among them my entire family from Papa and Mama to Lilliebell. I received an undue amount of attention from reporters, most of whom asked if I really wasn't in the race for the publicity.
There were seventeen entries, five of them, including my own, that were still considered Gold Cup boats. But now there were also ten of the 275-class boats; two were 135-cubic-inch hydros. I did not race in the first qualifying heat which turned out to be a terrific contest between a powerful Allison-engined boat, Miss Golden Gate III, driven by Danny Arena, and Miss Canada, owned and driven by Harold Wilson. Wilson was leading most of the way until he developed supercharger trouble and Arena coasted in the winner.
There was no drama for the spectators in the second qualifying heat, in which I was entered. By the second lap I was full-out, had passed the entire fleet, and at the finish I was a lap and a half ahead of the second boat. I had never slowed down, as it became apparent that all I had to do was keep going to win the heat. When I came into the pits, I was told I had broken Gar Wood's record for a thirty-mile heat, which he negotiated at 70 mph. I had watched him set that world's record twenty-six years before. Now I owned the new record, 70.8 mph.
There were only five boats that had finished the two qualifying heats as I went into the semifinal, well aware that Danny Arena in his Miss Golden Gate was a dangerous contender. Although he got off first and I trailed in fourth, I was able to pass him before the first lap was over. He pushed me hard and I later heard that the spectators were jumping up and down in excitement as it seemed Miss Golden Gate would finally overtake Tempo. But suddenly Danny Arena's boat lost speed and by the time the race was over I had lapped him. I now had virtually won the Gold Cup because I had the most points for the two beats I had won and a 4.9 minute lead over second-place Miss Golden Gate. He would have to beat me by more than five minutes in the final beat to take the cup.
And Danny Arena tried. There were only five boats left for the final heat and he came out roaring with Miss Golden Gate. In the second lap of the second heat, I had established another world's record of 73.29 mph. Only ninety minutes later in the first lap of the finals, Arena would beat that record and keep beating it each succeeding lap until he had reached 76-79 mph. Some spectators would later say they thought his boat was exceeding 100 mph. But Tempo VI was keeping up, not far behind in second place. All I had to worry about was that my boat finished; Arena had hardly cut into my time or point lead.
And then with two laps left, Miss Golden Gate lay dead in the water. Its oil line had ruptured earlier in the race, but the boat's magnificent power plant carried on even with faulty lubrication until it finally quit. I crossed the finish line by myself with yet another world's record. I had also beaten Zammie Simmons' 1939 mark for the ninety-mile race, averaging over 68 mph.
(Reprinted from Auld Acquaintance : An Autobiography by Guy Lombardo with Jack Alshul. [Garden City, NY : Doubleday, 1975]).
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Leslie Field, 2006