1958 APBA Gold Cup
Lake Washington, Seattle WA, August 10, 1958
Kai III Greatest...
... of Them All
by Bob Walters and Leo Livingston
The fastest propeller-driven craft in the world conquered the last remaining pinnacle between herself and undying racing fame. Hawaii Kai III, owned by Edgar Kaiser, won the World Series of boating, the Gold Cup, August 10th, 1958, in a decisive, clear-cut performance. She left no doubt she was the best boat on the course, the greatest unlimited of all time.
Mr. Kaiser promptly retired the boat, with no particular event remaining to add to her championship luster. Her crew had expressed a desire to retire, too. They are probably the greatest racing crew of all time, veterans of the great Slo-Mo-Shun IV and V campaigns as well.
Kai is up for sale, which could well change the picture for next season. Under the Kaiser banner, like Tunney in the world of boxing, Kai retires as the world champion. She is sound of hull, to to a juggernaut's frightening sweet precision. With your wiry and able driver, Jack Regas, at the prime of his great career, Kai will always the remembered as completing her Kaiser-owned domination of the field while in her finest form.
In winning the 1958 Gold Cup Kai captured the one great plum which had eluded her. She proved her straightaway record is no fluke by setting a new three mile Gold Cup course record for 90 nautical miles at a speed of 103.481 mph. This tops Miss Thriftway's 1957 record run by 1.502 mph. Kai was not pressed in the final heat and could have set the faster pace. It wasn't warranted.
Kai received 400 bonus points, too, for the fastest heat. This 1958 performance was not a record, but Kai does hold the Gold Cup heat record, 30 miles at 109.823 mph, established in the 1957 Gold Cup. She followed up her last year's Gold Cup breakdown with five straight national wins, a remarkable performance. She entered no races in 1958 until her surprise "coming out" for the Gold cup. She therefore retires with six straight important wins.
In a sense Kai has really scored eight straight victories. After winning five races in a row last fall, she is aimed down the Lake Washington straightaway shoot brand-new world kilometer record (shorter than a mile) at 314.352 k.p.h. on Nov. 29th 1957. The following day she shot at slow motion Slo-Mo-Shun IV's long-standing mile record of 162-plus and shattered it to become the world's fastest propeller-driven speed boat, and course-racing craft, at that, with a straightaway speed of 187.67 mph.
In addition to defeats, cups and records listed above, here is how Kai bows winner of 1957 Governors (IN) Trophy; winner of the President's Cup (Potomac course); winner of Rogers Memorial race; winner of Sahara Cup (Lake Mead); winner of Silver Cup (each right); and final eight winner of the coveted Gold Cup. Jack Regas' name is also on the Gold Cup; Kai's name is credited to the Lieutenant J. J. Meehan Junior Trophy; also the Martini-Rossi Trophy (2 straight years).
It is to Kai's credit that she furthered the West's domination in unlimited racing. Seattle-burgeed boats have now taken eight out of nine Gold Cups.
The 1958 race was the most dramatic of all time. Sixteen racers qualified for the three sections of Heat I, a record for entries. Maverick was riding high, wide and Hanson, with 1958 victories in the Diamond Cup and Lake Tahoe. Her Allison engine was something special, with a 2-stage supercharging system that sent her skimming over the water like an angry, buzzing dragon fly at the hands of Bill Stead, young Reno rancher-sportsmen -- all to the delight of millionaire Texan Bill Waggoner, her painstaking owner.
The new Miss Thriftway, at the hands of Bill Muncey, under the direction of owner Willard Rhodes and designer-builder Ted Jones, and with the racing heritage of two Gold Cup victories in a row, was tuned and willing. Many believe she'd make its three straight. She drew heat 1-C, postponing her duel with two of the craft that most certainly wouldn't have to be beaten.
It is significant that heat 1-A was the most loaded of all time. Maverick, Kai, Miss Bardahl (winner at Chelan), Miss U.S. I, a capable entry out of each right, and Miss Seattle and Breathless II made up the group.
Hawaii Kai made a brilliant start. Regas broke fast and first with no hesitation, yet split the starting line so close to the starting gun and excited roar went up from the crowds of hundreds of thousands. For five laps Kai was hovering above and below the 113-mph mark and Maverick was obviously the second-place boat. By five laps Kai eased off to. Looking back over turns of event of the race, this first heat set the pattern.
Jumping to heat 2-B Kai and Maverick, by luck of the draw, again faced off. Maverick challenged by being across the starting line in pole position. It was an almost perfect start for the field. Five boats started down the chute so close they could be called equals. Kai gained the lead coming out of the south turn; the backstretch was a brief, tight duel, a two-boat fight for supremacy. Regas stretched out to to 2-boat-length lead and never relinquished, nor was he truly pressed for the balance of the day. He hit top laps speed of 112.5 mph in the second 30 miles. In three laps he had a six and a half-second lead, which is substantial when your power plant is running. On the north turn Hawaii Kai seem to come around rather sharply, trying some quick, but receding ahs. Whether any illusion or not, a caught breaths short momentarily.
Now one must go back to Miss Thriftway. The boat to replace to a great defending champion of the same name was red hot. She toured heat 1-C as convincingly as Kai did 1-A. Perhaps her time was slightly slower, and only slightly, because there was no Maverick pressing her. Thrifty did it in 108.259 and was never headed after the first south turn.
Heat 1-B just didn't produce those speeds. It didn't produce one of the closest finish-line duels of any Seattle Gold Cup. Miss Pay 'n Save, with popular Al Benson of Seattle at the wheel, started late and worked up. Some failures upfront helped. Finally she was in a dual with Gale VI and seem to have won entering the final out. The Gale VI challenged on the backstretch and seem to short of victory when Benson picked up began, shot inside and the North turn, a difficult maneuver, forced Gale VI and raced her to the wire, winning by margin less than 1 second.
All the boats had a chance to show what they had and it became evident on the form sheets that, barring breakdown in accident, the winner would be Hawaii Kai, Maverick or Miss Thriftway.
Heat 2-A started with a roar. Thriftway was on the pole. Approaching the first turn Muncey made ready for the swing from 500 feet away that would have sent implementing into the lead. His rudder didn't respond!
Everything happened faster than it in the retold here. Sensing that his wheel failed to react he raised an arm to signal disaster. Fortunately the veteran drivers caught on quickly. As Coral Reef began her normal turn Muncey cut in front of her, off course and out of control. Roy Duby, now driving Gale VI, feared off and gave way. Breathless and U.S. I were clear and and Pay 'n Save on the outside, had just blown a blower in flash of fire and dropped off dead in the water.
The stage was now set the most remarkable set of circumstances ever and acted on a chorus and recorded on film -- remarkable because the were no deaths.
Thriftway had lost a rudder in the straightaway just before the turn. Muncey estimated his speed at 145 mph. After his hand signal of warning he reached down to his gas mixture between his legs and killed the motor. He also gunned down the pedal, hoping for a last burst to throw torque in favor of the fast approaching horde of spectators in boats, tight tightly stern to log boom in the south turn.
On heat hurtled. Between him and the spectator boats -- perish even the thought of the havoc which Thriftway could have engendered -- lay the 40 ft. steel, diesel-powered Coast Guard patrol boat. As Muncey put it, "suddenly there was the Coast Guard coming right at me."
He stood up in the cockpit and either jumped free before the impact, or the impact helped knock him free. The only saving feature was the Bill Muncey was not still sitting in the seat behind the wheel. The question of what damage a hurtling juggernaut of 6600 pounds of boat, spearheaded by a prow of wood, aluminum and fiberglass can do to a stationary steel hull was quickly answered. Everything! Thriftway opened her up like a can of sardines, her bow lodging entirely into the broad side bow-end of the cutter.
Coast Guardsmen crawled free, all live. It was a miracle that none was killed an even more so that the steel boat stopped the onslaught that was a-building. In the meantime flares stopped the race. A helicopter hovered over the floating form of driver Muncey. Skin divers hit the rescue area. In minutes Muncey was in the air, speeding toward the hospital with relatively minor injuries.
The entwined boats sank quickly. Raised on another day, the drama continued. The $75,000 Coast Guard boat was a total loss. Slings slipped as the caught cutter was loaded aboard and Miss Thriftway went back to her watery rest in Lake Washington. Again raised on another day, she was carried to the pits and was about to be moved from barge to back when her spreader bar broke, dropping her again.
In the re-run of heat 2-A Coral Reef ran some fine races. As mentioned, Maverick and Kai embattled out again in 2-B, but Maverick was second best boat this day. Came the final heat. Maverick was all the those left to seriously challenge Kai. What Thriftway might have done was washed out. Probably the fans were cheated out of one of the great final heats in history. If so, a duel on the course faded even further as Maverick didn't answer the final five-minute gun, having broken a spline to her supercharger. There were praise-worthy challengers in Coral Reef and Miss Spokane, but none to hold to Kai in her final 30 miles.
Like two eyes in a five-ring circus, it was hard to keep up with it all. In heat 2-A Miss Spokane cut too sharply into the lane of the Gale V and Bill Cantrell's heavy speed gave him a tail-blocking and transoms slipping to Miss Spokane. See the pictures with this story for details of this accident that once again saw death brush the course and get no victims.
Once again, the great crew chief behind Hawaii Kai, headed by crew chief L.N. (Mike) Welsch of Seattle, not only demonstrated its ability it came up with another "secret weapon." This was their sixth Gold Cup victory since 1950. They knew that, despite strengthened quill shafts to the supercharger, this is the most frequent source of failure in the Rolls-Merlin engines in unlimited racing. This year each entrant had to go the whole race with the engine he started with. Changing quill shafts isn't easy and, at best, could generally be considered a job of hours. It was the plan to change quill shafts between heats. Special tools, lots of planning and seven dry-run practices enabled crew to change to a new quill shaft in 31 minutes between the first and second heats. Apparently it was the plan to do this between the second and third heats, too, and Regas advised that the Rolls was running so smoothly it shouldn't be touched. His judgment proved correct. Yet none will know if the "secret weapon," the changing of a good quill shall, regardless, in record time, was the difference in winning the Gold Cup.
The general breakdown list is frightening; and of 16 boats, 12 were not able to answer the final bell or all of the final heat, as the case may be.
(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, Oct. 1958)
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