1964 Seafair Trophy Race
Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington, August 9, 1964
How to Split a Second with 2200 Horsepower
By Bob Walters
If you think atom splitting is the only super finessing in the art of how to cut it fine, take a look at the finish of Seattle's 1964 unlimited hydroplane Seafair race.
Miss Bardahl at the trained hands of the Ron Musson used her 2200 horses under the cowl in her Rolls-Merlin works to juggernaut 30 feet of 6150 pounds across wind-turbulent waters for 45 stirring miles during three intense heats in a dead-tie for points with the roaring Miss Exide.
To the decision for a fall afternoon to racing depending on the consultation knew the timers' table. What a consultation. Who had the shortest elapsed time for the three heats?
The suspense immediately was focused back on the start of the final heat. Musson had begun this final heat full-knowing that there were plenty of chances that he'd be tied in points by either one of two other hot boats -- were either beaten out on points in the melee upcoming between the three of them. The hundreds of thousands of onlookers, including a half-million TV audience, knew these possibilities also.
But, and here is were Bardahl looked solid, in case of the tie for total points from first and second places accumulated during the three heats, Bardahl sat with the comforting cushion of 28.4 seconds in her favor in elapsed time.
But this turned out to be anything but cushy. Bardahl eked out a second-place to Exide when Tahoe Miss, running beautifully, conked out of second-place. Exide when the final heat. Exide and Bardahl were tied for points. The more than 28 seconds had dwindled: on first reports to three, then too, down two one... now less.
After more than 25 minutes of racing time and nearly another 25 minutes of computing and checking the electronic timing clocks, Miss Bardahl had not only brought the decision down to one second, she had split that final second into the unbelievable fine line of two tenths of one second elapsed time victory in one of the hotly contested boat races of all time.
It would seem more likely that her fine team of mechanics in the pits could have split a couple of atoms between heats with torsion wrenches then that Musson and Miss Bardahl could have split a victory with that fine with a blunt-prowed, whining, three tons of powerboat frequently riding off the wind-and prop-roiled waters on the tip of her prop.
Miss Bardahl was fresh off a victory in the coveted Gold Cup so it makes quite a year for her again. Ron Musson didn't purposely fritter around in second-place playing loosely with his nearly half minute of advantage. First he couldn't gain first place and then, trying to unseat Tahoe Miss, a beautiful running craft, out of second-place, a position he needed, he dropped into a wake, revved up his engine too hard, took a bit of fire hosing from the Tahoe and wasn't able to gain his full speed with the damp spark plugs. He was able to get only 140 mph in the straightaways after that incident.
In 1963 the situation was exactly reversed between Chuck Thompson in Tahoe Miss and Bardahl, and the former eased out a victory by 6.2 seconds. That seemed very close a year ago. But not now.
There was glory for all three boats, Bardahl, Miss Exide and Tahoe Miss, even though glory was no real solace for the latter two. Both of these camps sought victory and meant it all of the way.
You have your three boats and three drivers who have obviously risen to the top of the 14-boat heat and there is little to choose from among them in the races to come. There had long competition was tough in the Gold Cup, tough in the Diamond Cup and there was no shrinking off in the Seafair.
Miss Exide one heat 1-C over Miss Eagle Electric and Miss Smirnoff; took second in Heat 2-B losing to Tahoe Miss. Then won the finale.
Tahoe Miss one the rerun of Heat 1-B, then took Tahoe Miss in Heat 2-B only to get washed out in the finale.
Miss Bardahl won Heat 1-A over Notre Dame (Bill Muncey) and others, one Heat 2-B over Miss Madison and Eagle Electric, then her second-place in the final heat.
It is obvious that Miss Exide is a hot boat to and well driven by Bill Brow, who, by now, shows his mounting hydro experiences of the past several years.
Miss Exide had set the hydro rumor pits on the buzz in the Diamond Cup when she took off from the final start in a tremendous burst of acceleration to grab that important lead in the first turn. The questioned story was out that she used nitrous oxide which is "laughing gas."
Brow says he did he inject this booster for acceleration and acceleration for victory in the fiercely stacked final heat. How close he came has been recited. He lost the race in heat 1 C when he had to back off at the start when he thought others jumped begun, then he had to fight his way back to the head of the high-whining hydros, the two Misses, Eagle Electric and Smirnoff.
Chuck Thompson at the wheel of Bill Harrah's Tahoe Miss drew the eye of every spectator and pro. Thompson is well in long remembered in NW Hydro racing for his stirring duels in the first Seattle-staged Gold Cup's against the late into Fageol in the then-new Slo-mo-shun V. Thompson's Miss Pepsi never could quite hold her tandem engines together for the full 90 miles, the when in there, Thompson always gave the Sayres' camp fits.
He hasn't changed. He had a great running boat under him. He had won heats 1-B and 2-B. He was tied with Bardahl in points entering the final heat.
Thompson weighed the odds once the final heat started. A first-place would give him to victory beyond doubt. A second-place would pit him against the time totals of Exide and Bardahl. Thompson is a true competitor anyway. It isn't his lot to stay in second. Some thought he could have comfortably missed second-place and walked off with the big prize. At the moment of his demise, on time totals, this was a moot question. He didn't hesitate, but boldly made a big move for first-place, took a dousing, was out of the race, and Bardahl moved up. It is this kind of first-place-or-nothing driving coming from the Brows, Mussons, Evans, Thompsons and Munceys which make hydro unlimited racing the thrilling spectator sport it is today.
Here is the way all of this developed for that final heat:
The start was a thriller chiller. Everyone knew something had to give, and quick. Around the north turn they came, gathering that angry-hornet roar Seattlites have come to recognize as Lake Washington mania. Roostertails were flattening out. The yellow wedge of the huge starting clock was getting as narrow as a piece of pie in an elite cafe. The drivers turned on their equivalents of "after burners." It was a mere perfect water ballet of a start at 185 mph. There's nothing quite like it. Then Exide made her big leap, but no one else was laughing from the injected spurt. Muncey, in Notre Dame, a crafted not as loaded as his former Miss Thriftway, was leading in the enviable inside track. The Exide did the near-impossible in the old Lou Fageol manner, roared down the inside furrow, drove wide, then cut back deep inside and came out of the south turn with the lead. It was a real go-around. Now Bardahl was back in third, Tahoe in fourth. One lap and Exide was four seconds in front.
Tahoe Miss was gliding very well for the rough water. Early in the second lap she passed Notre Dame in the south turn, then moved up on Bardahl, which began to show signs of ailing, and not able to let Musson make a fair test of the remaining laps. At this point, Bardahl was the boat Thompson had to beat, and did.
Then he helped create one of the great heats of all Hydro racing. It could only have been greater had Bardahl not wetted-out a couple of bangers. Thompson and Tahoe Miss chose Brow and Miss Exide's leadership as he moved up on the bumpy and dangerous back straightaway and into the north turn. He worked wide, a rough and longer lane. He pressed hard through the same middle mark that saw the famed Mira Slovak cartwheel Miss Wahoo a few years ago in a similar maneuver. On he pressed in that slithering, bouncing final wrench to get free of the exit buoys and down the main straightaway. The strain was awesome on driver and equipment at this point.
Perhaps Tahoe Miss could have made this pass; perhaps not. The two were abreast, but Tahoe was still on the outside. But not far enough outside to escape the spray from Exide's prop. Her flame when out of her as suddenly and quietly as a cigarette lighter doused with a foam extinguisher. She was coasted forlornly into the infield.
The rest is history. Exide pounded hard and steady. Bardahl moved up the second on default for a final frustrating ride for likable Ronnie Musson as he pushed his foot throttle against cockpit sole to no particular avail. Exide averaged a dandy 109.533 for the final 15 miles of oval scud.
So, when they again use 2200-pound engines, revving out a horsepower for each pound, to average 106.523 mph for 45 miles on an unsettled course, and then bring the finale right down to the timers bench at 25 minutes, 20.8 seconds vs. 25 minutes, 21 seconds, we want to be there.
|The Heats, Points and Winnings|
|Miss U.S. 5||withdrew|
|(DNF, did not finish; DNS, did not start)|
(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, Oct. 1964 Pp. 38-39, 54)
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