1956 Seafair Trophy Race
Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington August 5, 1956

A Screaming Race for the Seafair Trophy
By Bob Walters

Seafair Gigantic
A Screaming Race for the Seafair Trophy

The roaring, highly successful August Seafair Trophy Race established Seattle as the world's Mecca and Capital of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing. And the whole West Warned up with Seattle to make it so.

Shanty I crescendoed to a stunning victory in the fifth and championship heat at a record of 109.9348 mph average for these 30 miles. Riding into that brilliant victory put Shanty's name on the Seafair Trophy, gave her the national championship for unlimited hydroplanes and won her the newly-created $11,000 first prize money.

Shanty I of Seattle duelled famed Slo-Mo-Shun IV of Seattle to the finish. If those two red-hot hulls, running one-two in 90 miles of heats and finals, weren't convincing enough, the frosting on the cake to Northwest boat racing devotees by the millions was Miss Seattle, formerly champion Slo-Mo V, owned by an everyman's syndicate. She ran a strong third in the finals. Not air eastern boat was left in the finals after the first lap. The something-new-has-been-added $25,000 pot was split three ways: Shanty I $11,000; Slo-Mo-Shun IV $8,000; Miss Seattle $6,000.

Where did this brand-new Shanty I boom out of to become National Champ and set new records? Her owner, Bill Waggoner, is a Texan, calls Seattle his summer home, had the Northwest's famed Ted Jones design her, and she flew the burgee of the Seattle Yacht Club. Waggoner plans to go after the 1956 Gold Cup in Detroit and might bring it back to the shores of Lake Washington.

Seventeen thundering unlimited hydros flocked into Seattle for the maddest week in the history of qualifying runs and racing. Only 12 boats could qualify for the big Sunday Seafair Race. Five of the 17 were from Detroit. Nine were from Seattle and Tacoma. Three were from Oakland, California. Of these 12 boats from the Pacific Coast (which shows how they are winning the West all over again with boating), eight qualified for the big day of racing. Four Detroiters qualified.

Would it be safe to say that this 1956 Seafair Race and National Championship constituted the biggest sports spectacle of all time? Lots of supporting facts make that probable. More than a half million people of all ages lined the shores of Lake Washington for the race. Thousands thronged the area on each qualifying day, building up to air estimated 120,000 each of the final two days. Press, radio and TV coverage was complete and overpowering. Before a race driver could even bring his boat to the pit docks at any time during the week, mikes and cameras were ready for each breathless utterance.

Pleasure boats, populated to the gunnels, a fleet of 1,080 craft, tied to the lengthy log boom that lines the open side of the course. Those 1,080 boats in themselves were a record and a spectacle.

Holding back for a moment more on the race details, the course and its management were superb. No Rose Bowl, Speedway or World's Series was ever better handled and none has the complexities. Complete course regulation. No wakes. Debris patrol. Complex communications. Pits. Everything went like clockwork aimed at speed with safety. And in the center of it all was this ideal, beautiful blue-water race course on Lake Washington. Pleasantly warm, bathed in sunshine and lined with trees.

Here's a look at the point scoring

Shanty I

1100 points

Miss U. S.

700 points

Slo-Mo-Shun IV

1100 points

Miss Wahoo

600 points

Miss Seattle

619 points

Gale VI

394 points

With Shanty I and Slo-Mo-Shun IV tied for total number of points at the finish, the trophy and championship went to Shanty I for having the best total time. She finished ahead of the former great champion by 62.8 seconds. This came about in the north turn of the first lap of the final race. Shanty I weathered the start to take a slim lead. Slo-Mo stayed hot on her rooster tail. In the north turn melee Shanty's wake firehosed the Slo-Mo enough that she bogged clown for precious seconds while the leading Shanty gained nearly a half lap on her. That settled the race.

Gale VI never got out for the championship fifth heat. Miss U. S., which set a great pace in her two heats and was leading in the fastest total time, died in the south turn of the first lap with a broken prop. Bill Boeing's Miss Wahoo from Seattle was running fourth for three laps when she died in the north turn.

Miss Seattle was running in second place, driven by Norm Evans, after Slo-Mo was wetted clown to a near stop. On lap four, in the backstretch, Joe Taggart in Slo-Mo thrilled the crowd when he used her superb acceleration to pass Miss Seattle in one quick, roaring thrust.

From then on these three Seattle boats had the course alone and stayed in that order ... Shanty I, Slo-Mo and Miss Seattle.

The 12 top qualifiers, and it was a rough week for qualifying, drew for places in the first two heats--six to each heat. Then the third and fourth heats were established also by draw.

The overall picture quickly shaped up into a running speed battle between Slo-Mo-Shun IV, Shanty I and Miss U. S. These three went into the final heat with points of 800, 700, 700 in that same order. If anyone of the three broke down or faltered, the jig was up. And that's what happened. U. S. broke down, Slo-Mo faltered for valuable seconds and Shanty I stayed solid and furious.

Proof of great western boats on a great western race course lies in the final speed records which can't become official until the year is over. Previous race record, set in last year's Gold Cup, was 99.552 mph; Shanty I averaged 105.651 mph (unofficial) for the same 90 miles. The fastest heat record was previously 103.159; and Shanty did her fifth heat in 109.9398. This means she was consistently burning the course, pressed by the speedy Slo-Mo-Shun IV, which actually beat Shanty in heat four and averaging 6 mph over the national record.

First heat in brief: Won by Shanty at 104.6004; Wahoo second, Gale V third, Tempest fourth, Thriftway fifth, Such Crust III out. Thriftway took an early lead. Shanty I took over in first back stretch and stayed there. Thrifty kept running richer and richer until she coughed out. Was down and started again in seventh lap. Wahoo ran a strong race with good speed.

Second heat briefs: Slo-Mo IV, Taggart at the wheel, uncorked a terrific start and it became his pattern for the three starts he made that clay. Pacing the tough competitors he came wide to the starting line, let the others get across first, then in a terrific burst of speed slid into the pole position prior to the first turn. Miss U. S. was second and played it tough, Gale VI third : Miss Seattle fourth.

Kaiser's Hawaii Kai died in the infield; her sister craft, Scooter Too, sank in the third lap. Slo-Mo was leading all the way and turned in 103.5176 mph.

Third heat briefs: Won by Miss U. S. II at a crack 106.1425, fastest until fifth heat. Miss Wahoo second, proving her as good contender, not tops in speed. Miss Thriftway third struggled all the way. Her motor continued to quit and start with carburetion trouble. Tempest, the underdog darling, flew at this heat and went out in the third with a broken oil line.

Fourth heat briefs: The draw pits Slo-Mo against Shanty I. The start was a wow. Taggart again paced key boats into the starting line, swung wide, gave her Rolls-Royce engine a terrific wallop and shot into the lead and pole position in the first straightaway. Slo-Mo held a 16-second lead most of the way. Results: Slo-Mo first at 104.2571, Shanty second, Miss Seattle third, Gale VI and Gale V.

Fifth heat for the money: Those Slo-Mo starts had become sensational. Taggart repeated the pattern. As they cleared the starting pole he burst out into lead water again, but couldn't get enough to get over to the inside. He cleared Miss U. S. but not Shanty. With Col. Russ Schleeh already proved as a terrific driver, Shanty was ready for that challenging maneuver. Schleeh bent into the south turn of the first lap in the lead. Schleeh was flying and ended the first lap at 116.36 mph. Taggart was hot after him down the back stretch. U. S. suffered a nasty gash in the first south turn when her prop disintegrated. That stopped her. Now it was a two-boat race for the lead. IF Schleeh and Taggart could keep their mechanical mounts revving at the terrifying pace. Into the north turn they flew. Slo-Mo came out of the bend well-wetted down and we've already recorded how it turned into a three boat race of Seattle entries, turning out a record shattering pace ... Miss Seattle, a popular craft, in third; Slo-Mo-Shun IV, still a grand and terrific competitor, still the boat that started this all, in second place; Col. Russ Schleeh, leading in Shanty, to set what will become new records in the national books.

We might add that the lap record is listed for a three mile course. Schleeh's 116.36 is almost eight miles faster, but the lap length is three and three-fourths, and we don't know how they will handle that one. But we do know that he also set brand new records in all three categories for the Lake Washington course, too. This, in addition to the national records we have cited earlier in this article.

By the time you read this, more than one of these Pacific Coast boats will be in Detroit to try and re-win the Gold Cup. The modern thrillers of the West are now riding 165-mile-an-hour mounts and toting roaring exhausts on each hip.

(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, September 1956, pp.24-5, 38-9)

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