1966 President's Cup
Potomac River, Washington D.C., June 19, 1966
For sheer exclusiveness, danger and sang-froid, no sport quite matches hydroplane racing. The boats are worth upwards of a quarter of a million dollars, and there are perhaps only 20 unlimited-class hydroplane racers in the world. Last week 15% of them were wiped out in a single race. The official—and somewhat chill—reaction, from Lee Schoenith of the American Powerboat Association: "I don't think it's going to have any great effect. But it sure isn't going to be the same kind of season for the participants."
The Potomac River at Washington, D.C., is not exactly a hydroplaner's delight. Flowing through industrial flats and woodsy hills, on a bottom composed of two centuries of solidified human rubbish, it is often studded with beer cans, packing crates and half-submerged logs. Auxiliary coast guardsmen spent seven days policing the river before last week's President's Cup Regatta—knowing full well that a bit of flotsam could shatter the fragile hull of a hydroplane hurtling across the water at 150 m.p.h. or more.
They might have missed something. Three times a national champion, Seattle's Ron Musson, 38, was doing an estimated 170 m.p.h. in his rear-engined, $250,000 Miss Bardahl when he flashed past the judges' stand on the second lap of the regatta's second heat. In full view of 20,000 horrified spectators, Miss Bardahl clipped something in the water, sheared off a propeller blade, shot straight up into the air, fell back, and disintegrated. Less than three hours later, in the final heat, Don Wilson, 34, in Miss Budweiser and Rex Manchester, 39, in Notre Dame were jockeying for position on the back straightaway when Notre Dame skidded sideways and collided with Miss Budweiser, crumpling both boats instantly. All three drivers died—Musson and Manchester of broken necks, Wilson of a ruptured heart.
The winner? By a grisly quirk of fate, it was the late Rex Manchester, on the basis of points scored in the first two heats.
(Reprinted from Time, July 1, 1966)
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