1966 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, July 3-4, 1966
Miss Smirnoff Disintegrates — Once Again, Death Takes the Wheel
Veteran speedboat driver Chuck Thompson was killed when his hydroplane Miss Smirnoff disintegrated at better than 100-miles-an-hour in Sunday's Gold Cup race at Detroit.
The 52-year-old Detroiter became the fourth driver to die in hydroplane races in two weeks and the tragedy resulted in the Gold Cup's postponement.
Many of the estimated 300,000 spectators who thronged to the Detroit River saw the mishap and screamed as pieces of Thompson's boat flew 100 feet into the air.
Referee Bill Newton promptly ruled the race no contest. Thompson, who had won two preliminary heats, was just roaring off to his third when the accident occurred. He was only 100 yards past the starting line when his boat flew apart.
Two hours after the accident, the Gold Cup Committee, and boat owners and drivers held a meeting and voted to resume the race today with the third heat.
"The original decision to cancel the race was made in haste," said American Power Boat President, James Host. Host said "on examination of the rules we find there was no provision for such a cancellation and the race will go on."
Three drivers were killed June 19 in the President's Cup Race on the Potomac River in Washington. They were Rex Manchester, Ron Musson and Don Wilson.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that had been hovering over the three-mile course dipped low and its crew pulled Thompson from the river within two minutes of the crash.
He died a short time later at a Detroit hospital. First reports at the hospital said he was unconscious, in deep shock and apparently had suffered a crushed chest, a severe thigh fracture and deep leg lacerations.
Thompson and Mira Slovak, who had taken two heats in Tahoe Miss were expected to wage a head-and-head battle in the third heat. Luck of the draw had separated them in the other two heats of five laps each, around the three-mile course. Thompson's accident was the third of the day in Detroit. Pre-race favorite Bill Muncey, of Seattle, had a narrow escape in the opening heat when his boat Miss U.S. ran into some suddenly choppy water, throwing him against the steering wheel which was said to have bent like a pretzel.
The impact tossed Muncey on to the deck of the boat, and he was thrown back into the pilot's seat by a big wave. A steel corset saved Muncey from serious injury.
Muncey finished the heat but he and his boat did not race again the same day.
Bill Sterett, driver of Miss Chrysler Crew, was tossed from his boat on the first lap of the third heat but escaped with minor injuries. Coast Guard patrol boats extinguished a fire that broke out on Sterett's boat.
Race Goes On
In Kelowna, officials of the Kelowna Boat Racing Association said the British Columbia unlimited hydroplane race will proceed as scheduled July 13-17 in spite of the death of Thompson.
The British Columbia Cup is the next major hydroplane race in North America and will be followed by the Atomic Cup races in Pasco, Wash. Drivers and boats leave Detroit Tuesday for the long journey to Kelowna.
(Reprinted from the Kelowna Daily Courier, July 4, 1966)
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