1966 British Columbia Cup
Lake Okanagan, Kelowna, BC, Canada, July 17, 1966
Trying For B.C. Cup
With their rooster tails reaching to the skies, a dozen of the world's fastest boats will next week pay tribute to the Goddess of Speed on Kelowna's Okanagan Lake.
The thunderboats — unlimited hydroplanes to give them their correct title — will be competing for the British Columbia Cup, $15,000 in prizes — and what else?
After two tragic weeks of hydroplane racing in which four of the top boat drivers have been killed, the question is not asked lightly. Just what does make these men continue to pursue a sport in which they knowingly risk life and limb; a sport in which the rewards seem so negligible?
For a successful boat, the monetary reward is quite good. The winner of this first B. C. Centennial event will pocket over $5,000. But at the other end of the scale it is a different story. Twelfth prize in the competition is $125 with an additional $500 going to any boat which makes a legal start. The fantastic expense of operating and transporting one of these boats soon swallows up that kind of money.
So why do they do it? Why will over 100,000 spectators next week be able to watch these roaring monsters play their deadly game on the doorstep of the Ogopogo, dreaded dragon of the Okanagan deep?
Some weeks ago I asked that question when I met members of the hydroplane racing fraternity at a Vancouver press reception. I never did get a clear answer. I remember being told that the hydroplanes are to boating technology what Indianapolis is to auto development. The race is a test bed for the many facets of marine engineering.
An example of this is the new design technique being explored by the Miss Chrysler Crew. Driver Bill Sterrett has come up with a new, lighter hull and a twin power plant. A first ever.
But I must confess, I am very skeptical. I am afraid I cannot see how any development in the unlimited range can be applied to the domestic — just as I have yet to be convinced that any development pursued at Indianapolis eventually benefits the car in my garage. The worlds are too far apart.
One of the men I chatted with at the luncheon was Seattle's Ron Musson, driver of the revolutionary Miss Bardahl, who was so tragically killed when the boat exploded two weeks on the Potomac River. To Musson, driving the hydroplane was a job of work, or perhaps more than that, a vocation. But I doubt he could have explained in straight terms why he chose the profession. If anything — as with the racing car driver — speed is the key. The glamour that goes hand in glove with the sport is a poor second. It is best summed up in the personality of Mira Slovak, the Czechoslovakian hydroplane racer, who is likely to be the star of the Kelowna event.
Now 37, Slovak is an airplane pilot who returned to hydroplane racing this season after a three-year absence. Last weekend he carried off the Gold Cup on the Detroit River in Tahoe Miss. He first hit the headlines in 1954 when he fled the Iron Curtain with a transport plane loaded with his countrymen. Settling in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, he became the personal pilot of William Boeing. He raced limited hydros on the weekends and when Boeing decided to build an unlimited, Slovak naturally became the driver. This was in 1957, and he raced the craft, Miss Wahoo, through 1961.
Slovak then retired because of his heavy work load as a test pilot but he was back in 1963 as the driver of Miss Exide. That partnership ended when the craft exploded at 190 miles an hour and Slovak spent four weeks in hospital. That should have been enough for any normal man. Slovak is hack again — and winning.
I could mention too Bill Muncey, a co-favorite for the Kelowna honors in his Miss U.S. V. Last weekend Muncey was all but blown out of the craft as it sped along the Detroit River. He will be there racing again on Tuesday.
The hydroplaners are a breed of men apart. I don't think we should even try to understand them. We should just enjoy them and their spectacular sport. The B.C. Centennial Trophy race — destined to become an annual event — is one of the most exciting things to happen in this corner of the sporting world for years and we should pay these men homage as they parade for that Goddess of Speed.
(Reprinted from the Vancouver Province, July 7, 1966)
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