1965 Bonneville Regatta
The Bonneville Regatta
The first annual Bonneville Regatta for unlimited hydroplanes was staged on Willard Bay Aug. 14-15 for the new Utah Cup trophy.
It was the fourth thunderboat race of the year on the '65 American Power Boat Association-sanctioned schedule.
Willard Bay, a new reservoir 7 miles from Ogden, Utah, hosted a freshly created course with spectator area on the front chute and curving around the upper turn.
A rip-rap dike provided an amphitheater effect and "rock-camping" plus picnicking was much in evidence. Since weather held clear and hot, a colorful array of sun umbrellas, regular tents and staked canvas shelters blossomed above the rocks to provide shade.
A blow to sponsor and participants alike was the discovery on Wednesday of pre-race week that the carefully prepared pit area was not suited to the size, weight and maintenance of the huge unlimiteds.
With admirable energy the Race Committee, working alongside Assistant Referee Harry Woods and his wife Lucille, marshalled forces to create in three days a new pit area on the site of a boat launching ramp.
Power, water, communications from judges' stand to pit control - all appeared like magic so that by Friday the thunderboats were testing and struggling with problems of sticky water and altitude-4,200 feet.
On Saturday, qualifications for the Golden Spike Award began. All boats not experiencing carburetor or other difficulty ran for the trophy which was designed around one of the original Golden Spikes driven into the first transcontinental railroad.
For several hours Notre Dame appeared the winner, but finally Miss Bardahl posted a 112-mph time that resisted efforts of all other challengers. Ron Musson and Bardahl added another trophy to their growing collection.
Race day dawned clear, hot and without the intermittent breeze that favored unlimiteds earlier in the week. Sticky (calm) water was feared by all contestants who regretted verbally that this condition, plus altitude, would reduce speeds and, consequently, subdue the sizzling, battling show the unlimiteds are capable of staging.
Heat lA brought a somewhat unrecognized triumph before spectators when Miss San Diego with Robert Fendler driving won the first heat in which she'd raced. Veteran fans were aware of how many times this camp had tried to qualify for a course, any course! So to win their initial racing heat was a heady thrill.
Roostertail and Jerry Schoenith led into the first turn followed by Savair's Mist, San Diego, Such Crust and Tahoe Miss.
By lap three Roostertail and Savair's Mist had died and San Diego was in the lead. She continued to lead to the finish with Such Crust and Tahoe Miss behind. Such Crust was bucking badly on the chutes and Tahoe Miss varied from fine bursts of speed to sputtering and clanking that indicated potential unrealized.
Heat 1B brought Miss Smirnoff into the first turn with Budweiser hard on her transom followed by Madison and $ Bill. In a back-and-front chute battle Buddy Byers in Madison finally bested Chuck Hickling in Budweiser. About 500 yards from the finish of lap three the ailing $ Bill slowed to a stop as driver Rex Bixby swung the wheel hard left to drift the powerless craft into the infield, then waved a "driver's ok" signal to the officials. The remaining three boats finished in their lap two order: Smirnoff and Cantrell, Madison, and Budweiser.
Heat 1C saw Bardahl first across the start, first into the turn and first across the finish. Notre Dame pressed hard to obtain an advantage somewhere on the course. But a lump of wake in the upper turn, then a sudden dipsy-doodle in lap three put Rex Manchester a scant roostertail behind Bardahl. From this distance he continued to pressure.
Mariner Too, meanwhile, was unable to start and Savair's Probe dropped back continually until at the finish she was exactly half a lap behind Notre Dame.
The first section established three situations. Starts lagged as the field was unable to judge their altitudereduced speeds and unable to break away quickly from the flat water. The fastest lap of Heat lA was San Diego's 103.448-mph; of Heat 1B, Smirnoff's 108.216 and Heat 1C, Bardahl's 111.801. And with at least one boat mortality per heat, the laps lacked the racing excitement the unlimiteds delivered at Diamond and Gold Cup.
Heat 2A was strictly exhibition. Smirnoff led all the way, $ Bill conked out before the first turn and Madison, Such Crust and Savair's Mist played follow the leader. Smirnoff managed a fastest lap of 106.509-mph.
Heat 2B saw Warner Gardner in Mariner Too repeating his favorite ride -- leading the pack into the first turn. Once there, however, Bardahl took the lead from second spot by posting a 110.204 mph lap while Budweiser stayed in third. Tahoe Miss was scheduled for the heat but was unable to start. By lap three Mariner loudly proclaimed a serious illness and ran lap four under power so reduced one fan cracked, "Warner seems to have lost the blower, fuel pump and propeller!" But finish lap five the gallant team did, with Gardner giving the officials a chuckle as he stood up and rocked back and forth to urge the boat on as he passed the front-chute. crowd with about as much propulsion as a starter engine puts out.
Heat 3C showed Utah spectators the best start of the day as Notre Dame and Savair's Probe hit the line on the money while Roostertail trailed off a plane and San Diego was unable to start. Roostertail died almost immediately leaving Notre Dame and Savair's Probe to run a lonely heat almost half a lap apart.
The Final brought Bardahl and Smirnoff to the course tied with 800 points. Notre Dame was second with 700, Madison third, 600; Budweiser and Savair's Probe tied for fourth with 525.
A good scrap between Bardahl, Notre Dame and Smirnoff was anticipated. But now it was Notre Dame that would not start. At the one-minute gun she was not only dead in the water but out of the heat.
Bardahl led easily into the first turn with Madison close behind. Budweiser, Savair's Probe and Smirnoff vied for third spot, with Budweiser coming off solid in that position. Smirnoff and Savair's Probe used laps two, three, four and five to scrap for fourth position with Smirnoff secure in that spot at the finish line.
After a long, hot day, a high boat mortality rate, and consequently, too little dueling, the first Utah Cup was presented to the Bardahl Racing Team. With 1200 points the Miss Bardahl was a substantial winner; Smirnoff in second with 969 points was barely secure against Madison in third with 900. Budweiser took fourth spot with 750; Notre Dame, fifth with 700; Savair's Probe, eighth, 400; Tahoe Miss, ninth, Savair's Mist, tenth, and Mariner Too, eleventh -all tied with 225 points. Roostertail and $ Bill were unable to garner a single point for their time and trouble.
Since the pits were in a lagoon adjoining Willard Bay and connected by a narrow, shallow canal, all unlimiteds were towed to and from the course by smaller craft. This necessity somewhat lengthened time between heats, but not as much as was expected. Crews of each boat were treated to an unaccustomed view of the racing from the outside edge of the first turn where tow boats nosed into the dike.
The general impression was that spectators were awed by the size and sound of the huge boats, patient with circumstantial delay and sympathetic toward those boats suffering mechanical problems.
As for Ogden's Race Committee, "Just give us another year" was the determined, oft-repeated remark as they helped restore the pit area to public use, and watched the camps button up for the long haul to Detroit and the Spirit of Detroit Regatta Aug. 29th.
(Excerpted from "Following the Unlimiteds . . . From Ogden to Madison" by Eileen Crimmin, Boating News, October 1965)
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© Leslie Field, 2001