1968 Diamond Cup
Bardahl Wins Interminable Diamond Cup
COEUR D'ALENE — As a Smirnoff mechanic said, mimicking Gene Miller as he counted down the long, tiresome hours over the public address system:
"It is now three days to the five-minute gun."
It was only a slight exaggeration. It took seven minutes short of eight hours to determine a Diamond Cup hydroplane champion yesterday. It took Billy Schumacher only three seconds longer than 18 minutes to perform the task.
It took hours to piece together a timetable and a race course wrecked by a frustrating southwest wind that turned Lake Coeur d'Alene into a sea of whitecaps and a million "holes."
In the end, persistence by men and machines outhuffed and outpuffed the wind.
It was dark when Schumacher guided the Miss Bardahl through the grey water to win the final heat and his first Diamond Cup regatta. It was 8:23 p.m.
Minutes later, blinking running lights beckoned the return of patrol boats from the battered course. Now it was peaceful, cool and pleasant. Earlier, it had been hot, windy and unpleasant.
Only the first heat, at 12:30 p. m., came off on time
Miller virtually was hoarse before the day's activities ended with the awarding of trophies under artificial light.
Miller, the official race announcer, intoned:
"There will be a 15-minute delay. There will be a half-an-hour delay. It is now 15 minutes to the five-minute gun."
It was monotonous. But it was necessary if there was to be a race this day. And several times, that was questionable.
The wind, in gusts of 30 miles an hour, ripped loose the log boom on the back stretch. It tore the officials' barge from its mooring and set it adrift. It was rescued, 25 yards away, by two tugs.
Several barge guests were seasick. Bill Newton, referee, stood like a captain on the bridge, feet astride, braced against the wind, a hand holding tight to his hairpiece.
At this point, man and the elements almost had battled to a standstill. Two heats, interrupted by three 15-minute delays, had been raced, with the Miss Budweiser and the Miss Bardahl victorious.
Then, at 2:30, as the hydros wallowed in deepening swells at the south end of the course, heat IC was called off because the lake, as Leif Borgersen, the Notre Dame rookie, put it, "was like an ocean."
(Later, Borgersen, who qualified Saturday as a driver. won heat 2A.)
Two and one half hours later, the racers tried again. It was half successful. Newton called a halt after three laps, with Warner Gardner the winner aboard the pride of the Inland Empire, Miss Eagle Electric.
The Eagle was to fly high again later to give hope to partisan viewers, by then their numbers considerably fewer than an earlier estimated 30,000.
Only the die-hards were around when Gardner ran Jim McCormick out of an engine on the third lap and went on to beat the Harrah's Club and Savair's Mist. Thousands of followers had abandoned Tubbs Hill, their ice chests empty. The picnic was over. Only the buffs remained.
There was one final delay while three hydros — Miss U. S., Harrah's Club and Smirnoff — were swept from the course. Bill Muncey and his world-champion U. S. were a leftover casualty from 2A when Big Red died in the infield even before reaching the starting line.
The Smirnoff expired on the second lap and Harrah's Club a lap later, in heat 2B.
The outcome of heat 2C was put best by Tommy Fults’ 2-year-old daughter, Kelli. She proudly proclaimed to one and all,
"My daddy beat the Bardahl."
That he did. Fults led from start to finish and had the day's best average speed, 102.661.
The sentimental favorite, Eagle Electric, was within reach of a much-desired victory in the final heat. Like the wind, she wound up breathless. Gardner had the most points, 800, going into the final 15 miles.
The Eagle flew about a quarter of a mile. Leading the way into the first turn, two belching bursts of flame erupted in the darkness.
Then the Eagle feathered a nest off the exit buoy. Gardner watched Schumacher speed off into the dark, to victory.
Fults gave chase, but to no avail. Daddy tried, but he didn't beat Bardahl this time out. Fults spun out on the north turn of the third. The Checkered Lady, shunned to the sidelines by balky engines in the past two races, was not to be denied victory No. 3 for the campaign, now heads east for the President's Cup and the Gold Cup.
Schumacher and the Bardahl might bypass the Potomac River action with a cushion now over second-place Gardner in the chase for the national high-point championship. Schumacher, the 1967 champ, now has 5,600 points to 4,900 for Gardner.
Dave Heerensperger, owner of the Eagle Electric, took defeat graciously.
"We went out leading the pack. That's the only way to do it."
"It was dark and bumpy out there."
But he was smiling. It had been a long day.
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 12, 1968)
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