1948 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, August 28, 1948
To Race or Not To Race?
A Cross Section of Opinion by Gold Cup Drivers and Owners . . .
On the steaming hot morning of August 28, last, the largest and costliest fleet of Gold Cup boats ever assembled lined the shores of the Detroit River course. Twenty-two of them were there, eligible and reportedly ready to race. By race time the huge throng of spectators was not minding the heat too much because of a brisk west breeze that whipped up the course against the current. This same breeze proved to be the undoing of most of the 15 actual starters.
Wind and water conditions deteriorated as the afternoon wore on with the result that, of the 15 starters, only four were able to collect points for finishing any of the heats. One lone craft was credited with completing the entire 90 miles and she gurgled dejectedly to the bottom a few minutes after receiving the final checkered flag.
Oldsters among the cool spectators and burned-up contestants were reminded of the Gold Cup race of 21 years ago when 11 boats started off the Indian Harbor Yacht Club at Greenwich, Conn. Out of that fleet, two capsized, three disintegrated, one was eliminated by driftwood and three failed from mechanical woes. Immediately after that 1927 Donnybrook, the owners decided that they "had had it" and voted a minimum weight limit of 2,000 pounds on the hull, exclusive of engine, crew and fuel.
The 1948 contest not only produced a larger percentage of casualties than the one at Greenwich; it brought forth from the press, the radio, and the man in the street immense portions of uncomplimentary rhubarb. At least one insurance company heard the results and proceeded forthwith to divest itself of policies on Gold Cup boats.
Under the circumstances, it appeared that the owners and drivers might react like their predecessors of a generation ago and whip up a few new rules to try and prevent a recurrence of the Detroit debacle. With that in mind, Yachting asked the owners and drivers of the Gold Cup boats that raced on the 28th of August to give our readers their views on the situation. Answers from these owners and drivers to three specific propositions are here tabulated.
Responses to the first proposition indicate that less than 25 per cent of those polled believe that their boats should be expected to run under conditions such as those encountered in this year's race. Clell Perry qualified his vote on the minority side by adding: "I was under contract to design, build and drive at the time of the race and I do not feel that I as a driver should say whether or not, to drive or not to drive."
Ed Schoenherr and Ed Gregory believed that conditions were quite suited for their boat, which view was not shared by Bill Cantrell who drove My Sweetie for them. Schoenherr sums up the position of the negative voters thusly: "I think these boats should be stronger than pecan shells and should be able to run on something other than glass-like water."
It is significant to note that owner Al Fallon and driver Dan Foster of the winning Miss Great Lakes, despite their victory, would have preferred to have had the show held up for better water conditions. In reading the detailed letter accompanying the vote of "Doc" Robinson, it is clear that he believes strongly in putting off the race when the water is as rough as that at Detroit. His negative vote on the second proposal is apparently based on the far-from-unique belief that the existing rules are sufficient to allow such action.,
The third idea brought out a host of interesting reactions, many of which are here quoted.
Bill Cantrell suggests that
(1) "A committee of three drivers should be appointed to pass on conditions of the course and weather" and
(2) "All boats should be required to make one qualifying lap at 60 mph or better to be eligible for the race, to check and see if boats are handling okay."
Stanley Dollar: "As the Gold Cup race is intended to be the proving ground for boat construction and design . . . any change in the rules regarding postponement because of weather would defeat the purpose of this classic."
Lou Fageol: "It is, of course, possible to build a boat that would survive the type of water that we had at Detroit this year. However, I do not believe this type of boat would be interesting to the competitive type of driver or owner, nor do I believe it is the type of boat the sporting minded public at large would be interested in watching.
"I believe any changes which are made in the Gold Cup rules should be the result of a majority opinion -- by the present-day owners and drivers of Gold Cup Class boats as, while it is easy enough for former competitors in this class, officials or the public to suggest that the drivers . . . merely hold back their mounts under adverse racing conditions. I . . . have found this is far more easily said than done."
Al Fallon: "Leave to discretion of boat drivers and owners."
Dan Foster: "Usually local representatives know what winds and from what direction cause rough conditions. With this fact in mind, I don't think postponements would be too far out of line."
Ed Gregory: "The Gold Cup
(1) should be limited to single engine boats and
(2) should have qualifying trials instead of two first heats."
Guy Lombardo: "The Gold Cup race should be held each year no earlier than the
first of September. This would give the boats a chance to take part in earlier races and
prove themselves. I think that any boat and driver eligible for the Gold Cup race should
first have to
(1) finish third or better in a major race and
(2) average at least 65 mph for 10 miles or more in the process."
Morlan Visel: "In case of unfavorable water conditions and/or bad weather, the owners and drivers of the competing boats . . . shall . . . take a vote among themselves as to whether or not they elect to compete. A majority vote shall rule . . . Membership to the contest board (should) be restricted to owners, drivers and executives of the APBA of that current year. This will eliminate a lot of deadwood and old-fashioned ideas. The present-day boats are no longer running 50 or 60 miles per hour. Let's get up with modern times."
Harold Wilson: "I suggest the appointment, either by APBA or the local race committee or both, of a technical advisor who would have the power at the time of each race to say whether or not the contest should be postponed because of water or other conditions which would affect the safety of the racing boats and their crews."
All of this comes as a breath of fresh air to those who have heard little since August 28 other than criticism of or self-exculpation by, the Detroit committee. For it seems that the flesh and blood of the Gold Cup Class - - the owners, drivers, and designers -- are viewing this year's race as a signpost on the path of progress. Amendment of the postponement rule is imminent in view of the overwhelming majority of opinion in that direction. A change in qualification requirements is likely to result, but the diversity of suggestions here indicates that debate and compromise are in order. Assumption of more authority at all stages by owners and drivers seems to be favored.
(reprinted from Yachting, October 1948)
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