Detroit River, Detroit, Mich., September 2, 1946
Power-Hungry Boat Racers
by Harvey W. Patton
All day long the thunder drums against the water. Pacing it and leaving wide, white, lacy scarves in the choppy surface the boats streak. They are running the three-mile oval course between Belle Isle and the main shore. Thirty lapsninety milesthey'll roar, streamlined doodlebugs with plenty of horsepower locked between their sleek sides; trim, water-wedging, shining splinters of boat design.
This is the Gold Cup Race, the grail of every power-boat owner with a yen for high speed. This is the race that saw Count Theo Rossi's Alagi in 1938 blister out a lap record of 72.7 miles per hour, like a skipping stone tossed by a giant. This is the race that in 1939last time it was held in Detroitsaw Zalmon Simmons, Jr.'s My Sin blast to a new race record of 66.2 miles per hour.
Detroit Yacht Club, 1946
In Detroit the Gold Cup is the wind-up of a three-day power-boat regatta which makes Labor Day a water-front holiday for nearly 250,000 spectators, power-happy fans. The average Gold Cup enthusiast is blood brother to the Brooklyn bleacherite. He will carry a raincoat, a pair of binoculars and even a set of pole climbers in case the telephone company's equipment offers a possible view. He comes the night before the event to stake out a seat which he protects with all the fervor of a mamma bear in cubbing season. He stays until running lights go on in the harbor.
He and others like him pack parks, docks, piers and even casual coal piles on the Detroit side of the river to watch the run. If he has a near-by apartment, he invites friends up to hang out his window with him. If he is a nautical man himself, you will find him in rowboats, sailboats and miscellaneous power craft anchored along the fringes of the course.
The city itself aids and abets him. For the Gold Cup has become an institution, recognized by the motor metropolis as a worth-while civic venture and a means of international advertising.
The event costs roughly $15,000 to promote, but the regatta has never been canceled for lack of support. A special fund-soliciting committee is always ready to work without pay to stage the non-profit event. There have even been occasions when the city council voted an appropriation. As far as spectators are concerned, the race is on the house. No admissions are charged.
This feature startled one visitor in 1939. She was a secretary in the offices of New York's fight promoter, Mike Jacobs. An apt student of the didos of Madison Square Garden promotions, she was dumbstruck. " Wait until I tell Uncle Mike about this mob," she told her companion. "He'll find some way to sell tickets here."
What an usher bill there'd be though. The race site is literally a natural stadium with a potential seating area of a mile and a quarter on either side of the Detroit River, the Belle Isle shore or the mainland. And thousands jam Belle Isle to fill the bleachers erected by the city's department of parks and recreation.
Between races those spectators on Belle Isle have plenty to do. Many families cross the bridge for a day-long holiday, spreading their luncheons on the grass. Others cook their meals over charcoal burners. The National Association of Letter Carriers is holding its annual convention in Detroit over Labor Day. The mailmen and their families plan to rope off an area in one of the parks and cook their meals while watching the various heats.
Numerous yachts will converge on Detroit, since the waters of the course can be reached from any portion of the Great Lakes. The trip to the Gold Cup Race has been a cruising project in the past for power-boat squadrons. Some people are going to have trouble finding quarters, but the Detroit Convention Bureau will try to help them by advertising for rooms as it did during the 1945 World Series. Yachtsmen owning large boats will sleep aboard and avoid the housing problem.
No matter where you put up, endurance is sometimes called for in order to see the race out. An instance is provided by 1939. That year there were two postponements and then only six boats started, with but one, My Sin, finishing the thirty-lap total of ninety miles. There was no competition, a sudden electrical storm drenched the crowd, and the final heat didn't start until just before seven o'clock. But the fans were with it all the way until running lights showed on the boats at anchor while the My Sin circled the darkling course alone. One of the main problems for years has been giving the crowd quick information on the results of the various heats. This year a public-address system has been donated by Chevrolet. Loudspeakers will be spotted at various points on the course. But even so, the spectators who will see the boats flash and boil around the course may not know just who won the Gold Cup until they read their morning paper. Even experienced fans become confused over positions during the three thirty-mile heats.
Long after the stands are dark and empty, the judges work on under the glare of electric lights, studying long columns of precise figures to determine the winners. Involved computations are required to determine the fastest lap time, the average time for the ninety miles, and point standings of the contestants.
Hotsy Totsy III &
In 1938 even one of the leading contestants was in the dark, literally and figuratively, until hours after the races had ended. He was Count Theo Rossi, of Italy. After long deliberation, the judges gave the victory and Gold Cup to Herb Mendelson's Notre Dame, but awarded the
Aaron DeRoy Trophy to Rossi for the fastest lap in his Alagi. Rossi went wild with excitement, hugging and kissing everybody in sight-with one exception.
That exception was an equally excitable Italian newspaperman. It seemed he had accompanied Rossi from Italy specifically to cover the race. He had filed his story earlier, with the exception of the fact that Rossi had won the lap trophy. The wires closed down before the decisions were announced and there was no way for him to include that one fact in his story which would have sent the power-boat fans of Italy to the wine cellars. During the same race the driver of the winning Notre Dame, Clell Perry, was also confused, and because of his bewilderment almost lost out. Late in the race the Alagi passed the Notre Dame, but Perry did not realize he was being passed by a dangerous contender.
"I thought the Alagi was Rossi's other entry, the Aradam," Perry said, after the race. "I saw the Aradam go to the slip earlier in the race and when the Alagi passed me I thought it was the Aradam returning to the race. I didn't get excited and didn't wake up until the signal gun sounded the last lap with the Alagi ahead of me. Then I nearly fell out of the boat, but I stepped on the gas in the third heat and won."
To provide the free water spectacle, cup racers spend thousands of dollars to build and prepare their boats. It has been estimated that individual drivers have spent as much as $10,000 to turn up and race a boat, not counting the actual cost of construction. But there was an exception to that rule in 1938 when Dan Arena, Jr., and Dan Foster arrived from California with only $100 between them. They had brought their boat, Miss Golden Gate, by truck. There may be more of that this year because eligibility rules have been relaxed.
Originally the Gold Cup class was composed of boats between 600 and 732 cubic-inch piston displacement. But owners of the 225 cubic-inch class had been clamoring for years for a chance at the $750 gold-plated silver trophy. So the American Power Boat Association has thrown the race open for the next five years. Boats over ten feet and under forty, powered by everything but outboards, and with unrestricted horsepower, are eligible. Among this year's entries will be the 1939 winner, My Sin, which has been purchased by Guy Lombardo, the orchestra leader, and renamed the Tempo IV [Tempo VI LF]. Lombardo is expected to drive the boat himself. The race will be televised for the first time and sent to three broadcasting stations along the Atlantic Coast.
Whether any speed records will be set in this first postwar race is a question. But of one thing the committee is certain. Entries this year will total about thirty-five, the largest fleet in the Gold Cup's forty-two-year history, a record of another kind.
(Reprinted from Holiday, September 1946, pp.59-61)
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