1955 APBA Gold Cup
Lake Washington, Seattle WA, August 7, 1955
Shift Favors Detroit in Stormy Gold Cup
By Harry LeDuc
SEATTLE, Aug. 6 -- With his defending champion out of the race and his "flying start" strategy banned, Seattle's Stan Sayres hardly was favored tonight to keep the Gold Cup he has won for five straight years. His Slo-mo-shun IV, winner in 1950, '52 and '53, Sunday will face nine challengers, including four from Detroit.
Flying starts, which started a bitter controversy and caused one referee to resign, finally were banned tonight by unanimous vote of the drivers' committee. In four successful Cup defenses on Lake Washington, Sayres' Slo-mos had charged straight toward the course from under the Lake Washington Floating Bridge.
Detroit drivers, forced to circle near the start because there wasn't enough room for all of them under the bridge, contended the tactic was dangerous.
Slo-mo V was eliminated from the race Friday when she flipped, sending driver Lou Fageol to a hospital. That leaves Sayres only his Slo-mo IV, still the fastest boat in the race, but she has to last the 90 miles and the strategy of her pilot, Joe Taggart, will be to conserve her as much as possible.
Taggart, of Canton, Ohio, probably will pace her through the first two heats and go all out in the last 30 miles -- if she is still running and he has to do it to get the necessary points.
The changed scene strengthened mostly the chances of Lee Schoenith on Gale V and Bill Cantrell on Gale IV, for they remained the only "one-two" combination in the race. Danny Foster, on Guy Lombardo's Tempo VII, was another strong choice, and Franke Saile's Miss Cadillac was a good bet to go the route.
While holding the line on flying starts, the drivers' committee backed down and approved Col. Russell Schleeh to drive Rebel Suh, thus assuring that all 10 qualifiers would start.
These ten are the Gales IV and V, Miss U.S. and Miss Cadillac, of Detroit; Slo-mo-shun IV and Miss Thriftway, of Seattle; Breathless, of Oakland, Calif.; Scooter Too, of Lake Tahoe; Tempo VII, of Freeport, N.J.; and Rebel Suh, of Norfolk, Va.
After three hours of acrimonious debate among drivers, owners and officials, the committee first repeated its Friday announcement that Col. Schleeh, an Air Force jet pilot, had been banned "because of inexperience." He already had qualified Rebel Suh at 106 miles an hour.
Co-owner and designer Ted Jones angrily called the disqualification unprecedented and added, "I think I know a driver when I see one and we will have no other driver." Miss Thriftway's owner, Willard Rhodes, said he would stand by Jones and also withdraw if the decision stood.
Finally the drivers met again and reversed their ruling.
One other decision stood up and one new one was announced.
The announcement that held up: Appointment of a new referee, Stanley Donogh, of Seattle, following Friday's resignation of W. Melvin Crook, was legally done and concurred in by all. (Crook resigned because of "undue pressure" after he banned flying starts, and Donogh reversed the ruling.)
The new policy: Additional judges will be placed around the course and atop the judges' stand with specific instructions to watch for driver violations during the three 30-mile heats.
The heat of the meeting broke into the corridor when Joe Schoenith, of Detroit, came out mad and announced: "I have resigned as chairman of the drivers' committee -- I'm just not going to take what that new referee just said to me. But I will race my boats."
Schoenith was prevailed on not to resign and to return to the meeting. He refused to say what the new referee said.
The outburst was indicative of the tempers of all as the hour for the 48th running of the race approached.
The condition of Fageol was encouraging, but doctors said he would be hospitalized for three weeks at least. He had a restful night, but only his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Sayres were allowed to see him.
He was reported to have a punctured lung, broken ribs and muscle injuries.
Fageol probably owes his life to two youngsters in an outboard who were the first to reach him after Friday's accident. They held his head above the water until a Coast Guard patrol boat arrived.
The accident occurred on the third and final lap of the Slo V's qualifying trial, on the backstretch approaching the lower turn of the 3 3/4-mile course. Fageol had kicked the V around the first two laps at better than 117 miles an hour.
Obviously, he was determined to beat the 117.91 mph trial record set Wednesday by Joe Taggart in the Slo-mo V's sister ship and co-defender, Slo-mo IV. Taggart had taken the lap record of 111.362 mph set by Fageol last year.
But Fageol boiled the Slo-mo V toward the turn. In an amazing twinkling, the boat shot into the air. Her 28 feet of length veered vertically 10 feet or more above the water. She twisted in a ghastly way, did an outside loop and came down on Lake Washington right side up and continued slowly on course for 50 yards before she stopped and started to sink.
Somewhere in the gyration, about 20 feet up, Fageol slipped from her cockpit.
Ignoring Slo-mo V, the Coast Guard raced to where Fageol's white helmet showed on the surface. They found him floating, stunned, his life-jacket in shreds but still on him, a shoe gone from one foot.
He was in a hospital in a matter of minutes. Late last night it was announced that because of shock, hours must pass before X-rays could be taken to determine whether he was internally injured or any bones were broken. That he was alive at all seemed a miracle.
The temporarily disqualified driver, Schleeh, is from Castle Air Base, near San Francisco. He qualified the Rebel Suh at 106.187 mph Thursday.
"If Col. Schleeh isn't allowed to drive, Rebel Suh will sit on the shore," angrily answered Ted Jones, its designer and co-owner with Kirn Armistead, of Norfolk. "It is our boat and we think he is as good as any driver in the race -- if Uncle Sam can trust him with a 50-million-dollar jet plane, we can trust him with our boat."
For three weeks the colonel has been jet-flying 800 miles twice daily to practice on the new boat, completed at Kawkawlin, Mich., in June. "Why didn't they disqualify me before I qualified the boat?" he asked.
As for the ban on "flying starts," it stems from this: Fageol and Taggart have a check point below the bridge and know to the second the RPMs to use to hit the line as the gun booms.
Except for three narrow spans near the shore, the bridge is solid concrete, and coming boats can't be seen by other drivers maneuvering above the bridge. The visitors contended it was unsafe to have the Slos charging on the course fully accelerated while they were getting up speed, and that there wasn't sufficient room for them to go below the bridge and come up with the charging defenders.
Crook agreed it was dangerous and made his ruling.
Sayres and Fageol, if not Taggart, protested bitterly.
Crook's statement read, in part: "I have resigned because of the extreme pressure exerted by certain members of the defending team to have me rescind my ruling banning flying starts under the Lake Washington Floating Bridge."
Stanley W. Donogh, of Seattle, immediately was appointed race referee. He immediately rescinded Crook's ruling. But today's drivers' committee meeting overturned Donogh's decision.
Against Sayres and the new referee were Guy Lombardo, Joe Schoenith, Jack Shafer, Frank Saile, George Simon, Jones and Jay Murphy. No challenger appeared on Sayres' side, not even the West Coast owners.
(reprinted from Detroit Free Press, August 6, 1955)
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, 1999