1948 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, August 28, 1948
The 1948 Gold Cup Regatta
Al Fallon's Miss Great Lakes, driven by Dan Foster, won the forty-first running of the American Power Boat Association's Gold Cup Race. Under the auspices of the Detroit International Regatta Association, Inc., the three mile course was laid out on the Detroit River, with the starting line off the dock of the beautiful Detroit Yacht Club.
This year was to be the year in which all existing Gold Cup records would go by the boards, and a trip through the pits on the day preceding the race substantiated any of the numerous prognostications. On hand were more and better boats than had ever been assembled for a running of the historic race. Close inspection showed many contenders capable of speeds well in excess of the hundred mile an hour mark, and the caliber of the majority of drivers was extremely high.
On Friday, August 27, practically every challenger went out on the somewhat lumpy course, and all gave evidence of great speed. However on Saturday, August 28, the Detroit River resembled the North Atlantic. A combination of current and stiff breeze whipped the surface of the river into definitely unraceable condition, especially for those craft which had been designed and built for smooth waters. At the drivers' meeting on the morning of the race, and also at the Gold Cup Contest Board meeting held on the previous day, the drivers were all apprised of the current Gold Cup rules, and it seemed that there was no alternative but to hold the race, as there were no specific conditions in the rules permitting a postponement. A postponement was definitely called for, and special dispensation of the officials would have prevented the destruction of several of the finest racing craft in the country today.
With twenty-one entries, the first heat of the ninety mile grind was divided into two sections, ten running in one section and eleven in the other. Drawing by lot determined in which section a boat would run for the first thirty mile heat, with supposedly the twelve fastest being eligible to compete in the two remaining heats. The lineup for the first section of the first heat read like a Who's Who of big boat racing, with Morlan Visel's Hurricane IV from Los Angeles, Cal., Guy Lombardo's Tempo VI from Freeport, Long Island, Harry Lynn's Lahala from Lake Hopatcong, N. I., Achille Castoldi's Sant' Ambrogio from Ttaly, and the Dossin brothers' G-99 [Miss Pepsi] being rated top in the group. Doc Robinson's Will-o-the-Wisp, a seven liter job from Alexandria Bay, N. Y., completed those boats which actually got out on the course and crossed the starting line in a start which will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
As the last few seconds ticked off on the starting clock the thundering fleet roared down to the line, with the Robinson entry crossing the line with the firing of the cannon. Seconds later the Hurricane IV, a huge Wickens hull powered by an Allison, and the Tempo VI, a Ventnor hull with an Allison under the hatch, came across the line in an even start, with the Hurricane on the inside of the course and the Tempo on the outside.
Both Visel and Lombardo had the throttle wide open, and the California entry, by far the fastest boat we have ever seen, became air borne in the style of a 135. The Tempo as usual was riding fast and level. In the space of 100 yards the Visel boat tore loose its strut, bent a rudder, threw one blade of its propeller, and swerved to the right directly in the path of the Tempo. Lombardo, with lightning reaction and superb driving, threw his boat into a tight right turn, backed off the throttle and spun out of the way of the Hurricane, which by this time was directly on the course on which the Tempo had been running. In all this there was little hope that the Tempo could possibly come out of the welter of spray in one piece. Still traveling at a terrific speed, the port sponson of the Tempo hooked and the boat did a snap roll which tossed Guy some twenty feet out of the cockpit, then turned over, completely demolishing the super-structure, the after end of the hull and part of the port side. Lombardo suffered a broken left arm but by great good fortune he was not injured beyond that. It was an incredible scene to witness, as in a matter of split seconds two of the finest boats in the race were completely eliminated, the Tempo having sunk and the Hurricane being disabled for the day. The Lahala, the Sant' Amhrogio and the G-99 along with the Will-o-the-Wisp continued around the course in far from fast time, and at the end of the first lap the Lahala had a substantial lead over the G-99 and the Italian entry. Robinson's boat, considerably smaller than the others still in the race, was having a hard time in the buffeting waters.
Shortly after making the first turn on the second lap the G-99 pulled off the course into the middle ground when the new hull began to come apart. The Lahala's starboard rub rail broke loose and was waving in the air, held on by a few remaining screws. The Italian outfit, a Picchiotti hull with an Alfa-Romeo engine, was no match for the water conditions, and halfway through the fourth lap Castoldi made a dash for the shore when a plank let go and the hull started to fill with water. At far from Gold Cup speed the Lahala toured around the ever roughening course, at times literally wallowing along. Whenever there was a slight bit of decent water the huge mahogany hull showed bursts of speed which did little more than clean the engine sufficiently to keep it from fouling out. There was no competition, as Robinson was unable to air out at all, and the Will-o-the-Wisp was the only other boat still running.
For ten endless laps the Lynn entry surged and pounded, both hull and crew taking great punishment. The tens of thousands of spectators lining the north shore of the river, plus countless numbers in the spectator fleet and at the numerous clubs on Belle Isle, had little to watch. The blazing sun heat down on the crowd, still stunned from the opening accident which put two of the top favorites out of the race. When it was finally announced that Guy Lombardo's injuries were limited to a broken arm and a severe shaking up, a great sigh of relief was heard. All due credit must be given to Harry Lynn and Norm Lauterbach, the crew of the Lahala. They tried to make time for the full thirty miles, even without competition, but it was simply impossible. From the elevated press box the Lahala could be seen running through the seas which piled up off the north shore seawall, and the only indication that a boat was running was the great amounts of spray tossed into the air every time the power was turned on even fractionally. It was with great relief that the checkered flag was given to the Lake Hopatcong craft, which by this time was definitely showing the strain of the race. The official time for the thirty miles as announced by the officials, 48.935 m.p.h., was a true indication of the water conditions at Detroit. The water at Rockaway in 1947 was bad, but conditions at Detroit on the Detroit River were far worse. Nine minutes after the Lahala crossed the finish line the officials gave the red flag to Doc Robinson, who had just completed his sixth grueling lap. According to Gold Cup rules, competing craft must finish within nine minutes after the first boat crosses the finish line, and even though Doc had second place just by running, he was flagged off the course and received no points for all his trouble.
Because of the unexpected slow speed turned in by the first section of the first heat, the officials were forced to postpone the start of the second section fifteen minutes, so that the course would he clear of boats for the start of the second elimination heat. Two boats scheduled to start in the second section of the first heat were out on the course before the first section was officially over, not having received word of the postponement at the private pits from which they were operating. Notice had been sent to the official pits, but the others, not having had the word passed to them, were forced to absorb an additional fifteen minutes of heating due to the change in starting time. When the five minute gun was fired for the start of the second group, the My Sweetie, owned by Ed Schoenherr and Ed Gregory and driven by Bill Cantrell, and Al Fallon's Miss Great Lakes, with last year's Gold Cup winner Dan Foster at the wheel, really had their power plants well warmed up.
At the one minute gun these two boats were joined by the Miss Canada III, the Miss Frostie (ex-Notre Dame), Jack Shafer's Such Crust with the Arena brothers, Dan and Gene, in the cockpit. Stanley Dollar's Skip-A-long. Lou Fageol in his So-Long, Elmer Nowicki's Hi-Barbaree and the Bee-Jay, a Chevrolet powered 225 which looked like a child among men.
Coming down for the start, Fageol in So-Long was out in front, closely followed by Cantrell in My Sweetie, the only outfit which seemed to be more or less at home in the turbulent waters. Dan Arena wheeled Such Crust across the line in third spot followed by Foster in Great Lakes. Well behind the leaders were the Miss Canada, Skip Along, Hi-Barbaree and Bee-Jay, with Miss Frostie bringing up the rear with the old Duesenherg screaming in protest. The front runners were hunched as they went into the first turn, but coming out of the turn My Sweetie had a lead of fifty yards over the Such Crust. Down the backstretch at unprecedented speed My Sweetie and Such Crust pounded, with Foster pushing Miss Great Lakes in hot pursuit.
For the first three miles it was evident that, barring break-downs, Cantrell, Arena and Foster would put on a great show regardless of the water. Coming down at the end of the first lap, Arena made a definite bid for first place by coming up on the inside of the leading My Sweetie, but Cantrell wheeled into the turn in true race car fashion and Arena had to give ground. The second lap was a duplicate of the first, with the Schoenherr-Gregory entry whipping into the turns and coming out with a lead. Then Arena would make his distance on the straightaways, but never getting ahead of the Hacker designed My Sweetie. Foster in Great Lakes apparently decided that it was suicidal to try to keep pace with the two front boats, so he throttled down slightly to save his outfit, which was off the water more often than it was on it. For five full laps this battle for the lead went on, with Cantrell holding his position and riding a great deal easier than the rest of the pack. At the end of five laps My Sweetie had averaged 65.532 m.p.h. while the Such Crust had averaged 63.752. The Great Lakes average was 57.052 and Miss Canada III was clocked at 53.288. Dollar in Skip Along, an all aluminum craft powered with an Allison, was putting on a great private battle with the Canadian entry, maintaining an average speed of 53.259 m.p.h. for the first half of the thirty miles. Lou Fageol in his seven liter Fageol powered Ventnor hull hung tenaciously on to sixth place, with Miss Frostie running seventh. The Bee-Jay wisely withdrew at the end of the third lap, and Hi-Barbaree never finished the first.
For the first time the massed spectators were seeing a good race. The three Detroit entries were well out in front and it looked as if Cantrell had the heat sewed up, for My Sweetie was riding beautifully while the Such Crust and the Great Lakes were really having a tough time of it. It was after the sixth lap that trouble started. Coming out of the first turn at the start of the seventh lap, a steel safety plate over the wheel of My Sweetie pulled loose and Cantrell, by a bit of masterful driving, was able to beach the boat before she sank. The lead then went to Such Crust, which since the fourth lap had been increasingly coming unstuck. At the start of the fourth time around the course the forward deck of the Shafer entry was seen to be working, and each lap the cracks became more and more visible until finally it seemed impossible for Arena to pilot the boat another mile in the prevailing seas. Evidently Arena thought the outfit would held together for the rest of the distance because he kept on pounding around the pear shaped course for the full ten laps, getting the checkered flag well out in front of Miss Great Lakes, seemingly the only possible contender still in one piece for the Gold Cup's remaining heats. After Dan Arena and Dan Foster had both finished the heat, So-Long and Miss Frostie were the only starters left on the course, Miss Canada III having dropped out in the eighth lap with a broken rudder, while the Skip Along pulled into the pits at the end of the seventh lap. Both So-Long and Miss Frostie received the same signal from the officials that Doc Robinson had received in the first heat, when the nine minute time limit expired after Such Crust had crossed the finish line. Needless to say, this decision of the officials was not graciously accepted by those drivers who had pounded themselves and their boats for over twenty punishing miles, only to be waved off as nonfinishers. The sympathy of the crowd went to them, for they surely tried to make it a race,
The results of the first two elimination heats for the Gold Cup, as released by the officials, were Such Crust in first place, being scored with 400 points, Miss Great Lakes in second place with 300 points, and Lahala in third place with 225 points. All other craft were technically ineligible to compete in the second and third heats, and no other entries were eligible to win the Gold Cup inasmuch as they could not possibly complete the full ninety miles as required, due to having been flagged off the course. The speed for Such Crust in the first heat was 57.452 m.p.h., and the Great Lakes was timed at 56.982. Lynn's Lahala, the only other possible winner, was timed at 48.935 m.p.h.
Out of fifteen actual starters in the first two qualifying heats three boats were declared eligible, and one of them, the Such Crust, was so badly broken up that she was withdrawn from the race. This left two boats to answer the starting gun for the second heat, the Great Lakes and the Lahala, and there was some conjecture as to whether the Lahala would go out for the second heat, as the full extent of the damage suffered in the first heat had not been determined.
Again from the officials high in the stand on the end of the dock of the Detroit Yacht Club came an announcement which caused much to-do in the pits. The officials decreed that, in view of the limited field of eligible starters, any boats which had not been able to get going in the first two elimination heats could start in the second actual Gold Cup heat, as well as those boats which had been flagged off the course. The announcement, after a hurried consultation with the officials in the pits who were being beleaguered by those really eligible as well as by those who had been flagged off the course, was quickly amended to include only those who had been flagged off, and no one else. This helped to make the second heat less of a fiasco.
With the Such Crust definitely withdrawn, four boats answered the starting gun, Miss Great Lakes, Lahala, the indomitable Doc Robinson in Will-o-the-Wisp, and Warren Avis and Del Lee in Miss Frostie. At the start it was Robinson again across first, with Lahala second and Great Lakes third. Miss Frostie had trouble getting on a plane and crossed well behind the others. At the end of the first lap Lahala was out in front with Danny Foster close behind. The Will-o-the-Wisp was far back, giving the good doctor from Alexandria Bay a spine jarring ride. The water at this point was getting even rougher if such was possible, and as Foster gunned his craft at the start of the second lap the amidship decking on the port side let go with a report louder than the bang of the starting cannon, but heedless of this condition Foster climbed up behind the Lahala, and at the end of the second lap passed the New Jersey challenger. The positions for the next five laps remained the same, with Foster out in front, Lahala about one-half mile astern, and Miss Frostie and Doc playing cat and mouse in third and fourth spot respectively. Foster was driving at a pace which was beginning to tell on the boat. As he piloted the Miss Great Lakes down the home stretch at the end of the third lap, the after cowling of the tail section had broken loose and was tearing apart. Before he had finished the next three miles the entire tail section had sheared off, leaving Foster sitting out in the open. Even with his boat falling apart, Foster kept on, averaging 53.053 m.p.m. in water which was unsuited for anything other than an offshore cruiser. The Lahala held a 50.772 m.p.h. average and apparently was not suffering too much. However at the end of the sixth lap Lahala drove to the pits, having pulled her bottom open just inside the air traps. From that point on there was no competition for Foster. He finished the remaining laps at reduced speed and secured a strangle hold on the Gold Cup for the second year in a row. Rough water and Foster seem to go together, for his victory in 1947 was also on far from smooth water at Rockaway. It was again the duty of the officials to flag Robinson and Miss Frostie off the course as time once more ran out on them. Both craft with their drivers received the cheers of the crowds, as the boats definitely could not have won the cup but both tried very hard to make it a contest worthy of the name Gold Cup Race.
Between the second and the third heats the Detroit International Regatta Association solons issued a statement to the effect that because Foster in Fallon's Miss Great Lakes was the only possible winner of the historic trophy, he would have to but cross the starting line for the third heat to secure the prized chalice, and he would be waved off the course and declared by the referee to be the winner and still the champion. This word was passed on to the pits and there was no apparent beef from any source on such an arrangement, but when the starting gun was fired the only starter on the horizon was the ever present Miss Frostie. It was not made clear to us by the crew of the Miss Frostie just why she went out into the seething seas heat after heat, but she did, and Avis and Lee had a series of boat rides to no avail. According to the Gold Cup rules a boat must cross the starting line within five minutes after the start to be a legal starter, and there was much conjecture as to when and if the Miss Great Lakes would be able to get to the starting line in time, but fifteen seconds before the expiration of the grace period, Foster crossed the line. Confident that he had only to make a start, Foster tooled around the buoys and came down the stretch with his head craned toward the officials' stand, looking for the red flag. However the flag was not forthcoming and Foster made lap after lap, staying just ahead of the Miss Frostie, each time expecting to get the finish signal.
For reasons unknown to those present the judges had decided that it would be necessary for Foster to complete the full ninety miles and eventually he did manage to cover the whole distance, but the strain on the boat finally told. After getting the checkered flag for the final heat Foster shut down the Allison and was towed to the officials' stand, receiving the salutes of the spectator fleet in the form of mass hooting of horns and wild blowing of whistles. Foster really won the cup the hard way this year. After he climbed aboard the official dock a crew boarded Foster's boat and worked feverishly to keep it afloat while it was being towed to the pits, but before the trip was completed Miss Great Lakes became another victim of the Detroit River.
The awarding of prizes took place at the D.Y.C. and Dan Foster again received the Gold Cup, this time for Al Fallon, the owner of the Allison powered, Arena built hull. Witnessing the ceremonies was Guy Lombardo, whose Tempo VI was still on the bottom and whose arm was in a cast as a result of the terrifying start of the first qualifying heat. Winner of the Martini and Rossi Trophy for the fastest heat was Dan Arena, who literally broke up lack Shafer's Such Crust to get it as well as the Aaron DeRoy plaque for the fastest lap recorded in the Gold Cup Race.
A review of this running of the Gold Cup brings out several notable facts. For the first time in the history of the race, the failure of the starting fleet cannot be blamed on engine breakdowns. This year it was hull failure that whittled the field down and down. The fact of the almost unanimous use of twelve cylinder Allison aircraft engines by the bulk of the entrants proved that the early bugs have been worked out in racing boat installations, and also that present speeds of Gold Cup boats require a complete revision of Gold Cup racing rules. In 1945 and 1946 technical rules were modernized, and it is high time the racing rules for the class were also brought up to date. A trip through the pits on Sunday, August 29, the day after the Gold Cup Race, gave more than ample proof of such a need. Beautifully designed, engineered and constructed racing craft were beaten, broken and ruined, and thousands of dollars worth of time, effort and materials were ready for the scrap pile, only because the present rules make no provision for postponement of the greatest power boat racing event in the world.
If only one-tenth of the suggestions made in the pits on Sunday morning by the owners, drivers and crews of the broken fleet were adopted, next year's event might be all that a Gold Cup Race is supposed to be. This year there was the finest collection of racing boats ever assembled in one spot on hand the morning of the race, while on the evening after there was the finest collection of unusable racing equipment ever seen. It was a shame. The committee cannot be blamed for the water conditions, they had no control over that, but it does seem plausible to take into consideration the tremendous investment of the entrants, and not to worry about the possible disappointment of the gathered multitudes who come only to see a race. A great lesson can be learned from the 1948 Gold Cup Race at Detroit, Michigan.
(Reprinted from The Rudder, September 1948, pp.12-12B)
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