1968 APBA Gold Cup
When You Think of ĎThe Colonelí...
DETROIT ó When you think of Warner Gardner you remember a blonde Grosse Point school teacher, away from the congestion in the official Gold Cup headquarters late Sunday afternoon. She didnít know Warner Gardner but she was a Gardner fan.
Choking away tears following the accident which ó almost 24 hours later ó took the life of the popular hydroplane driver, the girl said thoughtfully:
"I had this terrible feeling something was going to happen to him in this race. Why him?"
When you think of Warner Gardner you remember Tommy Fults, sitting in the warm Idaho sunshine a couple of days before the Diamond Cup in Coeur díAlene, reflecting on his rookie season on the unlimited hydro tour.
"Iíve had a lot of help this year but especially from that guy right there," Fults said. He jammed a finger at a picture of Warner Gardner in the Diamond Cup program.
And you remember Gardner and Bill Sterett, the Budweiser driver, laughing and trading barbs about their keen duel in the opening heat of the Gold Cup ó only hours before the accident which was to claim Gardnerís life.
You remember Gardnerís total elation at the Atomic Cup in July on the Columbia River in Pasco ó grinning broadly and jumping around from one spot to another accepting the squeezes from a myriad of outstretched hands. That victory was perhaps hysbolic of a successful revolution in the unlimited ranks of 1968 ó because it proved that (1) Gardnerís earlier victory was not just a fluke and (2) Miss Bardahl and Bill Schumacher could be beaten.
When you think of Warner Gardner you remember another mood ó at Coeur díAlene, when a supercharger blew and his boat stopped during the final heat, a disappointing climax to a day which was delayed by high winds and completed just before moon-light. This was the "home course" for Eagle Electric and the race Gardner most wanted to win.
"Thatís boat racing," Gardner said and forced a grin.
You recall Gardnerís frustrations, first as the driver of Notre Dame and later the pilot, crew chief and everything else on Mariner Too and Miss LaPeer. When he became a 1968 sensation at the wheel of the Eagle Electric everybody involved in boat racing said it couldnít happen to a more deserving guy. Of course, they were right.
With almost chilling results, you remember what Gardner told a reporter here before the Gold Cup race, that "the greatest water hazard isóand itís very prevalent right on this water here in the Detroit River ó what we call `holes.í You run into them and youíre going at such a great speed you donít see it and the boat goes out of control. If your boat has any weak points in it it will simply disintegrate from the force of the water."
And how can you forget watching the former Air Force colonel drive the Eagle Electric into that very "hole" on the backstretch, wrench violently and splinter like a toy in an explosion of wood and water?
When you think of Warner Gardner you remember an intense competitor, a skilled driver and a fearless charger.
Few were more popular in this weird sport which has suffered so much agony and frustration in recent years.
And when you think of Warner Gardner you recall the words earlier this summer of Bill Muncey, who now has seen a half dozen of his close friends and racing rivals, killed in action.
"Itís a tough sport but itís a speed sport," Muncey said, "and I guess a cruel sport."
(Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 10, 1968)
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