1960 Seafair Trophy Race
Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington, August 7-8, 1960
Miss ThriftwayDeclared Seafair Winner
A course judge on the south turn during the fifth and final lap of the third heat of Seattle's Seafair Trophy race on Aug. 7 fired a red smoke bomb when George Simon's speedy U.S. I caught fire driver Don Wilson, his clothing aflame, trapped in his boat for a few agonizing seconds, finally dove overboard while the Detroit craft was still moving. Simultaneously, the Coast Guard boat nearby shot off red flares and communicated the situation to the official barge. These flares stopped the race.
This spark a chain of events that threw a shadow over the most brilliant and exciting race in hydroplane history. Seventeen boats qualify for the Seattle YC regatta; and in the first day three boats were burned or wrecked, three drivers were injured. The race itself was a day late in ending. But not tell 16 days later wasn't officially decided that the Seafair Trophy and the $3000 first prize should be awarded to Willard Rhodes' Miss Thriftway of Seattle, driven by Bill Muncey.
At the moment of the accident, Chuck Hickling in Miss Burien in pursuit of the third place Miss U.S. I, stopped his boat and swam to aid to seriously burned Don Wilson. Russ Schleeh brought the big Thriftway Too to a stop nearby; and the KOLroy I was also brought to an immediate stop by the red flares at the south turn.
Continuing on the backstretch were Miss Spokane, driven in the lead by Rex Manchester, followed closely it vainly by Bill Muncey in Miss Thriftway. It was in the second heat of the day that the Spokane boat, running like a dream and brilliantly driven, had out run the awesome Thriftway. As the two boats approached the finish line, flagmen on the official barge fired red flares to warn them off the course and keep them away from the rescue operations in the south turn.
Actually, with a very first flares are sold and "blew the whistle" on the heat, Miss Spokane was but a tantalizing seventeen seconds away from her first big-time race victory. Referee Stanley Donogh had applied Rule 32 A of the unlimited class racing rules, which provides: "In case of an accident, or if they boat Sizes, or if the driver is thrown from his boat into the water, the race shall be immediately stopped."
Furthermore, Rule 32E provides that if there should be a race stop age in the final heat oven unlimited run for any of the above mentioned reasons, then there shall be a rerun of such final heat regardless of when such heat is stopped. Many rooters for Miss Spokane were unaware of this rule of the race and were at first bitterly disappointed to find that a rerun was ordered. But the rules were clear.
One rerun had already been held, in heat 1B after Bill Boeing's Wahoo flipped well-being furiously driven into the North corner on the first lap in mad pursuit of Miss Seattle Too with Dallas Sartz at the wheel. Wahoo's driver, Mira Slovak, is thrown into the water, unconscious, to be picked up by the Coast Guard helicopter, while red flares were shot off all over the course.
The heat was rerun, with Miss Seattle Too winning in the pastime of 108.173 mph, Breathless II second and Miss Spokane third. The American powerboat association rulebook states that preliminary heats most been rerun its three or more laps have not been completed in a 5 lap race. (A different rule applies to the final heat.)
It was approximately 7:20 PM when the second rerun of the day he was scheduled, the first rerun of the final heat. In the first lap of the refund, Referee Donogh looked across the course and saw Thriftway Too in the backstretch with no driver. He immediately order red flares fired and the course quickly became crimson within now familiar signals.
This follows Rule 32G which cites:
"In case of race a stop it for accident, boat capsizing or man who up thrown overboard, the red smoke bomb's must be immediately displayed by all patrol and rescue boats on the course and by the referee on the judges stand. This shall be automatic."
In this third mishap of the day, Col. Russ Schleeh, driver of Thriftway Too, had been forced to jump from his boat after an engine fire, when a broken rod practically cut his engine in two. He was picked out by a helicopter and taken to the hospital in good spirits, but suffered a minor burn from an engine fire and from a back injury.
By now, the northern Summer twilight disclosing in, the Coast Guard ordered the course closed at sunset and officials on the barge were faced with the unique situation. The referee and the race committee, headed by Don H. Amick of the sponsoring Seattle YC, when into a conference while the many thousands of spectators on the Western shore of Lake Washington and in hundreds of boats on the log booms around the course waited in stunned surprise for a conclusive statement about the race. The officials of soon announced that they were scheduling a second rerun of the final heat at 4:30 PM on the following day, subject Coast Guard and APBA approval.
Into the high drama of the event full day on Lake Washington was now introduced the familiar element of suspense. The hydroplane fans had already seen 7 1/2 hours of racing, 5 completed preliminary heats and two uncompleted runnings of the final heat. But they didn't have a winner. Natural sympathy for Spokane, the lavender-hued lady, ran high over her near win. But cooler heads knew the human lives rate high. Drivers must be protected. The first flare was as automatic as a day had been fired in the first turn in the first lap of the heat.
So far in the race on the first day, the most brilliant performance had been turned in by Miss U.S. I, the one-boat navy from the East, which had one heats 1A and 2B, and had 800 points to lead Miss Spokane and Miss Thriftway, each with only 625 points. The Detroit boat needed only a second place in the final heat to clinch a victory over the 16 Western boats when the stack fire put the invader out of the race.
Amick started calling at 5:15 AM, Monday, and an hour and half had the section approved for the extension of the race. The quorum of commissioners assembled at the race pits had melted away when proxies given by Commissioners Bill Muncey and Bill Boeing were disallowed because they were participants in the race. The sanction for the next day's race was obtained and insurance coverage extended; that word leaked out to the press that George Trimper, chairman of the unlimited racing commission of the APBA, stated that the sanction was extended on the condition and that the trophies and prizes not be awarded at the conclusion of the final heat.
The race had taken a weird turn, unprecedented in the history of unlimited racing, when the eastern bloc forced through a conditional sanction. There are no provisions in the rulebook regarding conditional sanctions.
In the meanwhile, late on the evening of the first day, George Simon, owner of Miss U.S. I, had contacted referee Stan Donogh by phone and stated that he felt he had won the Seafair Trophy Race. Donogh disagreed. No protest was filed that they either by Simon or by the Miss Spokane representative.
During the interval before the final heat was run the next day, Jim Spinner, Seattle, national secretary of APBA, received for telegram is for eastern APBA commissioners to the fact that the race on Monday should not the run, and under the circumstances the Seafair Trophy should be awarded to George Simon.
Donogh afterwards stated : "I believe this is one of the most this graceful thing is an certainly cast a shadow on the sincerity of purpose of the unlimited racing commissioners who wired an opinion when there had been no protest filed. There had been no discussion with the officials. They were basing their opinion on a telephone call from a disgruntled racing boat owner."
On Monday, August 8 the stage was set with the same cast of principals, officials and many thousands of devoted hydroplane fans who trudged, motor did, powered and sailed through the blazing sunlight to see the race fought to an ultimate conclusion.
There were four boats which had a possibility of winning the Seafair race and taking the $3000 cash prize for first place -- Miss Spokane, now the sentimental favorite, Miss Thriftway, Miss Seattle Too and Breathless II. Also running were Miss Burien, KOLroy I and Miss Tool Crib, each of which had a mathematical chance of winning if the leaders conked out
This was Miss Thriftway's race. Muncey, off his usual form the previous day, meeting excellent start, was second only to Miss Seattle Too after coming around the first turn, but soon passed her in the tremendous burst of speed. Miss Spokane, boxed in the start behind KOLroy I, was third, and didn't catch up to Miss Seattle Too until the backstretch of the second lap. But Rex Manchester was unable to coax out of Miss Spokane the flashing speed he showed the previous day; the anticipated challenge to Thriftway never occurred; and he held for a steady, sane second place.
They finished in the same order as established in lap two, Thriftway, Spokane, Seattle Too, Burien, followed at increasing distances by Breathless II, KOLroy I and Miss Tool Crib. Mindful of the conditional sanction, there was no announcement of the winners; only the wry message that there would be no trophy presentation.
The show had been spectacular, with all boats in the pits qualified, with more boats running faster, competing harder than ever before; that this time there was no deep-throated salute from 1000 boat whistles and horns, the cheers the traditional dunking of the winning pilot, the awarding of the cup, the kisses of the pretty girls. The governor of the state in the mayor of Seattle who were to award the Seafair Trophy, went home.
At 5 PM, only a few minutes after the race ended, George Simon, owner of Miss U.S. I, filed a protest with Spinner. Simon argued that the completion of one or two heats constitutes a race. He said that after two futile attempts to run the final heat, the race should have been terminated on the day it was sanctioned. His boat ended the first day with the most points; so he said the trophy belonged to him.
Simon also went to the APBA rulebook inside the following:
"Rule 2A -- The contest shall be scheduled as either a one or two day regatta and shall consist of three heats of 15 miles each, or portions thereof...
"Rule 2B -- All sections of the first heat must be declared completed before the race is declared a contest. Should heat No. 1 not be completed within the schedule., the contest may be extended."
Simon argued that since heat No. 1 was completed, by inference the race should be declared a contest at the end of the second heat. But Amick and the committee reasoned that once the first rerun of the final heat was underway, is definitely placed the race into the rerun cycle of rules and prevented going back to the totals of the first two heats on the claim that the last heat wasn't completed.
The protest by Simon had thrown the race decision out of the hands of the referee and into the laps of the 12 APBA commissioners. After a few days' delay, an opinion came from Chief Council William A. Smith, APBA, Staten Island, New York, to all the commissioners stating: "As these rules are now written, it is the opinion of the chief counsel that the referee had the power under the rules to extend the race to the day following, and that this decision was a matter of sound judgment for the referee and was within the power conferred upon him by the rules."
With this advice, the ballots went out about August 17, nine days after the race was ended. On August 20 ft. the decision of the Seattle referee and Seafair race committee was upheld unanimously. Miss Thriftway was the winner, Miss Spokane second, Miss U.S. I third, Miss Seattle Too fourth, Breathless II fifth, Miss Burien sixth and Thriftway Too seventh.
The aftermath of the race left a long trail of circumstances. The Athletic Round Table in Spokane declared that Miss Spokane deserved the first-place money for the race and thereupon sweetened her Seattle winnings by $1500. Mira Slovak and Russ Schleeh left the hospital after several days, but Don Wilson was hospitalized in Seattle for a month. In Detroit, on August 22 Miss U.S. I, turning up for the Silver Cup with Roy Duby driving, hit something at 170 mph, lost a rudder and a prop, when a stray at high-speed through the Detroit YC, under one dock and over and other, sheared a piling and damaging a cruiser. The present plans are to rebuild the boat and bring her West again for the Gold Cup, with Don Wilson driving.
William Boeing announced that Miss Wahoo would be rebuilt, but not raced. Slovak said he was retiring from racing.
In Seattle, referee Stan Donogh had a practical suggestion:
"The unlimited hydroplane racing sport is dying because the drivers are writing the rules. The rules should be written completely away from the domination of the drivers and owners.
"The APBA should appoint commissioners who can rule on: the race immediately afterwards. The business of going to a full commission three weeks later to see who won the race is fantastic. The commissioners and the race referee should be assigned complete power to make an immediate decision on a protest."
(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, Oct. 1960)
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