1953 APBA Gold Cup
Lake Washington, Seattle WA, August 9, 1953
Gold Cup Race Won in Pits: Driver Lauds Mechanics
I saw the Gold Cup race won on Leschi Dock, by sweating mechanics who worked against time to complete repairs to Seattle’s Slo-mo-shun IV before she roared to victory in Sunday’s third and final heat.
Spectators at the race course a mile or more away did not know that major repairs were made on Stanley Sayres’ hydroplane between the second and third heats.
The 1953 Gold Cup race was won in the pits.
"That’s right." agreed Joe Taggart and Lou Fageol, the IV’s two drivers, as they sweated out the repairs. "Fundamentally the race always is won in the pits."
New Propeller Shaft—
Working against time, and finishing only moments before the Slo-mo was swung down off the dock for the third heat, the pit crew installed a new propeller shaft, a new propeller and a rear thrust bearing.
First, their careful examination had disclosed tiny cracks, areas of stress weakening in the shaft and propeller, as soon as the Slo-mo returned from the second heat. No one could say for sure how narrow had been Fageol’s margin from a breakdown in the second heat.
"I’ve never seen a pit crew work as hard in my life," said Sayres, the owner of the Gold Cup champions. "They worked until they were out on their feet, the crews of both the IV and V. There never have been crews as good as these in the history of racing."
The impressive thing about the drama enacted at the Slo-mo pit on Leschi Dock was the cool, competent way the technicians and mechanics went about their work. There was no great noise or confusion, no shouting of orders, each man quietly going about his specialty.
Mike Welch was crew chief of the IV, aided by Martin Headman, and by Joe Schobert, crew chief for the V.
Taggart Looks Calm—
The Slo-mo IV arrived at Leschi Dock at 12:35 p.m. and as the pit crew busied themselves, they cast anxious eyes north and east across the lake for the hoped-for glimpse of the V coming out, too. Taggart, wearing a red life jacket and white helmet with goggles, looked calm, but confessed he always is tense and has butterflies in his stomach before a race.
A brisk wind, which died later, was whipping the lake into choppy seas, but Taggart was unconcerned.
"The water’s all right," said Taggart. "That water out there now, that’d be nice back east."
Taggart, short and stocky with graying hair, is 46. He used to be in the ice cream manufacturing business and now owns an apartment house.
"You might say I’m semi-retired," he said. "Pay for this race. I should say we aren’t paid. This race is costing me money. But I can say they really treat you royally—after you get to Seattle."
A boat racing pilot since 1926, participant in hundreds of races. Taggart said "this is the big one."
"The Gold Cup race is just as big to me as the Kentucky Derby." said Taggart with a grin. "The Gold Cup is the last word in boat racing. I’ve dreamed about winning one of these for years. Everybody wants to win the Gold Cup."
Though the IV had been gone over thoroughly at Hunts Point before she left for the Leschi Dock, pit crews at the latter spot went over again, inch by inch, before the first heat. Between the first and second heats, they found a metal strip on the bottom of the right sponson (projecting part of the hull) had worked loose. They carefully removed screws, plugged the holes, drilled new holes and put in new screws.
Taggart drank a glass of cold milk after the first heat, carefully nursing those butterflies in his stomach. But Fageol, who must have a cast iron stomach, calmly downed potato salad, fried chicken and a salami sandwich on rye before he climbed aboard to pilot the IV in the second heat.
Possibly the tensest moments at Leschi Dock came after the Slo-mo IV was lowered into the water for each heat. The pilot would press the starter and work the choke, the big Allison engine would sputter, then die, sputter again, then die, until it seemed it would never take hold with a steady, throaty roar. But take hold it did, each time.
Taggart showed great sportsmanship as he offered Fageol, who was to have piloted the ill-fated Slo-mo V, the wheel for the second heat.
"You really don’t mind if I drive the next heat and you the last?" Fageol asked anxiously.
"Sure, go ahead!" said Taggart, and it was settled that simply.
There was brief confusion as it was realized that Fageol was not officially entered to drive the IV. An official raced from the barge at the course with an entry blank, and it was filled out by Fageol and Sayres.
Strategy Is Mapped—
There was a final moment of tense drama before the third heat, as Sayres got together with Taggart and Fageol to map strategy for the final contest.
They considered three points:
I. The danger that the IV might he "boxed in" by the other competing hydroplanes and get off to a slow start. Fageol almost was boxed in at the start of the second heat, but said he saw "a little daylight ahead and went for it."
2. Which one or two of the other hydroplanes was closest in points to the IV after the second heat, and hence must he watched by Taggart, in the third heat.
3. How to drive, because too fast, a pace might result in a breakdown and too slow might cost enough points to throw victory in doubt.
"One of the hardest things to do in this race is to hold yourself down," said Taggart. "The Gold Cup could have been won many times over, in other races, by fellows who just couldn’t be patient."
"If you run the third heat at 75 miles an hour I think we’re in," said Sayres, "but, I’m not sure. I don’t want you to drive that slow, Joe."
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