1961 APBA Gold Cup
Pyramid Lake, Reno, Nevada, August 26-28, 1961
Muncie Pilots Miss Century 21 to Gold Cup Win
Three days of colorful racing activity came to a close at Pyramid Lake, Nevada late Monday afternoon, Aug. 28, when Miss Century 21 of Seattle was crowned winner of the 1961 Gold Cup championship the "World Series" of unlimited hydroplane racing.
This champion Willard Rhodes' entry is familiar to thousands under the Miss Thriftway name of other racing campaigns. She flies the burgee of the Seattle Yacht Club. With her latest Gold Cup title in camp she gives Rhodes and the club the privilege of returning the Gold Cup Race to Lake Washington for 1962.
The weather-plagued highlight event for the biggest boats on the American Power Boat Association circuit was scheduled for two days of competition on this desert lake that lies entirely within the bounds of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation.
But a one-day delay brought on by storms turned it into a three-run circus that played to an estimated 50,000 persons before the tents were folded. Two drivers escaped with minor injuries when their boats flipped during Sunday's competition, leading to the added day of racing on Monday.
Air Force Colonel Russ Schleeh walked away with only bruises and cut knees after home town favorite Miss Reno flipped during Sunday's heat 2-A. And minutes later, Rex Manchester came out with surprisingly few hurts when the "Lilac Lady," Miss Spokane, overturned and pinned him inside the cockpit.
Skin divers in a nearby crash boat aided Manchester after he escaped his temporary trap, and the popular young pilot was hospitalized for observation.
This incident turned the home of the prehistoric cui-ui fish into it grand treasure hunt late Monday, as a team of divers went into an estimated 100 feet of water in Pyramid Lake in search of Miss Spokane. And while the Ole Bardahl family remained in Reno for family reasons Manchester is married to Bardahl's daughter, Evelyn director Wes Keesling and the entire crew of Miss Seattle Too stayed over as volunteer workers on the Miss Spokane salvage mission.
Miss Seattle Too was one of two boats that were not qualified at the Gold Cup's minimum speed of 90 mph for three consecutive laps.
Controversial and colorful Bill Muncey of Seattle joined the near-immortals of unlimited racing with his victory, his third time in the Gold Cup event.
Muncey drove Seattle's Miss Thriftway to victory in the 1956 Gold Cup Race at Detroit and repeated the following year in Seattle. His win here was in another Miss Thriftway, renamed Miss Century 21 for the "Queen City's" world's fair next year, the Century 21 Exposition.
Only the late Lou Fageol among modern-day drivers had won the Gold Cup three times prior to Muncey's feat. Fageol piloted the late Stan Sayres' Slo-Mo-Shun V to victory in the 1951 and 1954 events and shared laurels in 1953 with co-driver Joe Taggart in Sayres' Slo-Mo IV.
Muncey and Miss Century 21 carried away $9,500 in prize money, including $7,500 for first place in over-all race standings.
Behind the champion came: Miss U.S. I of Detroit, driven by Donnie Wilson of Palm Beach, Fla., $8,500; Miss Bardahl of Seattle, driven by Ron Musson of Akron, Ohio, $5,000; Gale V of Detroit, driven by "Wild Bill" Cantrell of the Motor City, $2,250; Such Crust IV of Detroit, driver Fred Alter of that city, $1,750; Tempest of Burien, Wash., driven by Chuck Hickling of Seattle and owner Bob Miller, $1,250; and $ Bill of Lompoc, Calif., driven in turn by Red Loomis of Monrovia, Calif., AI Larson of Seattle and Hickling, $750. Miss Reno collected $1,000 for the fastest heat in Saturday's competition, 103.604 mph.
But for many of the spectators at the week end activity, the attraction was the changeable desert lake and its many facets. Pyramid Lake measures 31 miles in length by 13 in width, with the only real settlement located at Nixon on the southeast corner.
Nixon is home for the several hundred Paiute Indians who live on the reservation, site of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Council sessions and location of the mouth of the Truckee River the lake's only source.
The nearly treeless desert lake has no outlet, and so is saline. But its waters are home to rainbow trout that grow at a phenomenal rate after they are planted by technicians of the Nevada Fish and Game Commission, and to the cui-ui, a fish unchanged since prehistoric times.
The Truckee River does not provide enough water for the big trout to spawn, making planting necessary. But a long-range project of the state fishing and game commission is installation of a fishway "canal" to make spawning possible and recreate the cycle for the lake's fish.
Fremont's Pyramid, named for the "discoverer" of the lake, Captain John C. Fremont, dominates the southern portion of the desert waters. Standing more than 600 feet in height, it is along the eastern shoreline, a nearly unbelievable seven miles from the site of the Gold Cup and two Reno Regattas.
Visitors to the lake, entranced by the clear air and surprising distances to seemingly-near objects, also may view natural rock formations such as the Squaw and Basket, the Pinnacles at the northern end of the lake, and Hell's Kitchen along the tumbled eastern shore. For students and the curious the area teems with petroglyphs, ancient Indian picture stories.
Actual site of boat racing on Pyramid Lake is Sutcliffe, a community located on the western shore some eight miles above Nixon. It consists of two tourist lodges and boat-launching facilities, all jammed during the hectic week.
A consistently falling water level in the lake makes it impossible for Reno Regatta committeemen to install permanent facilities at Sutcliffe. Instead, a bin wall has been erected, with earth and gravel fill behind it, and floating work platforms attached to the face of the wall. Power is from field generators.
On this scene, the big boats began arriving early in the week. Qualifying was scheduled to begin on Tuesday, but none of the craft made the tour in search of a berth in the week-end race. Wednesday it was the same story until late' in the afternoon, when two boats finally were clocked at; the required 100-mph minimum speed around the course, three times.
Thursday started with the water rough, and in midafternoon the desert suddenly disappeared behind a wall of blowing sand which changed to mud as rain began to pelt down on the area. For more than a half hour people took cover from a torrential downpour.
A deputy United States Marshall, member of the Pyramid Lake tribe, noted, "In an hour it will be all over."' And an hour from the time he spoke, Fremont's Pyramid and the eastern shore were bathed in brilliant sunshine, with a perfect quarter rainbow ending directly above the pyramid formation.
But the beauty of the scene was lost on the boatmen who returned Friday for the final day of the qualifying and fitted only two more boats into the schedule. That night, the Gold Cup race committee lowered the qualifying' speed from 100 to 90 mph and made it an eight-boat race, automatically on the basis of attempts that had been made.
Another rule was stretched a bit and qualifying was extended to race day, from 9 a.m. until noon. Three more boats qualified, among them Miss Reno at 101-plus mph, and only Miss Seattle Too and Cutie Radio of Seattle were left on the beach at race time. After the final heat was finally completed a day late, the lake turned to glass.
While the Gold Cup is first and foremost highly sought by owners and drivers, ever since the day that Stan Sayres and Ted Jones wrested it with Slo-mo-shun IV from a long stay in Detroit, the winning of a Gold Cup, with the right to designate the following year's site, has become a civic hope-or-die for thousands of loyal racing fans since a current victory by one of its local favorites means a chance to view the event the following year.
So, it is the strange paradox that the Seattle press is now filled with controversial statements to the effect that, having gotten on so well with its own streamlined version, the new Seafair Race, the 1962 Gold Cup sponsorship might be turned down.
Willard Rhodes seems to reason that the Gold Cup is still the emblem of supremacy in unlimited racing, which it is. Those deep in Seattle sponsorship activities will undoubtedly strongly consider this point also. Even Miss Century 21 was renamed to point up the Century 21 fair in Seattle next year. Some are suggesting that both the Seafair Race and the Gold Cup be held, a month apart, for the delight of thousands of visitors who journey to this fair. There are a lot of decisions to be made before next year's Gold Cup site is picked, but it probably will be Seattle, regardless.
(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, October 1961, pp.31, 61-2)
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at email@example.com
© Leslie Field, 2000