1973 APBA Gold Cup
Columbia River, Tri-Cities WA, July 22, 1973
1973 marks the seventieth anniversary of the origin of unlimited hydroplane racing. The event that started it all was the first annual running of the British International ("Harmsworth") Trophy at Queenstown, Ireland, in 1903. Gasoline engine-powered boats of one sort or another had been around since 1887 when Gottleib Daimler hitched a crude petrol motor to the rear of a rowboat on the River Seine in Paris but this was the first formal regatta of any importance.
Beginning with the 1917 Gold Cup in Minneapolis, Unlimited hydroplane racing entered the "Gar Wood Era." For sixteen years, Garfield Arthur Wood (named after two Presidents) would seemingly become the personification of power boat competition in the eyes of the world. The "Gray Fox Of Grayhaven" won the Gold Cup four times as an owner and five times as a driver and captured the Harmsworth Trophy eight times as a driver and nine times as an owner. In the Final Heat of the 1920 Gold Cup in Detroit, Wood, at the wheel of his first Miss America, turned a phenomenal 70.412, a record that was to stand until 1 946. Indeed, it is in the area of Harmsworth competition wherein lies most of Gar Wood’s fame. His most famous craft was the 1932 and ‘33 Harmsworth winning Miss America X - 38 feet of mahogany powered by four giant Packard engines with 48 cylinders rated at 7600 horsepower set in tandem. At full throttle, five gallons of fuel were required to drive her the distance of one mile. In 1932, she set a mile straightaway record of 124.915 and, in ‘33, established a Harmsworth race record of 86.939.
Before the end of the decade, the Gold Cuppers were approaching the illusive 100 mile an hour straightaway barrier with Dan Arena finally eclipsing it in 1940 with a 100.987 mark in Notre Dame using a 24 cylinder Deusenberg engine. By this time, over in England, Sir Malcolm Campbell had raised the Unlimited record to 141.740 aboard the Rolls-Royce-powered Bluebird II.
With the advent of World War II and gasoline rationing, competition in virtually all classes of power boating was suspended. When racing resumed in 1946, a rejuvenated format was in evidence. The APBA had voted to allow, for the first time since 1921, entry by boats of unrestricted cubic inch piston displacement in the Gold Cup Class. This was necessary because there were no suitable engines being manufactured in the sizes prescribed by the then current rules. The first boat to take advantage of the huge supply of converted aircraft and other types of engines produced by the war was Miss Golden Gate III, a big wild-riding three-pointer driven by Dan Arena. At the 1946 Gold Cup Race in Detroit, the craft failed to finish but nevertheless bettered the existing 3-mile lap record of 72.707 with an Allison V-1710 engine and set a new mark of 77.911. This impressive performance signalled the death knell of the old style Gold Cup Class vintage of 1922 to 1941 although boats of the old variety continued to be a factor for years to come. (Guy Lombardo’s Tempo VI broke Gar Wood’s 26 year old Gold Cup heat record of 70.412 with a clocking of 70.890 in 1946.
The post-war years of 1948 to 1950 produced the biggest boat building boom in the history of the sport. More than thirty unlimiteds were constructed during that period. Slo-Mo-Shun IV, designed by Ted Jones and built by Anchor Jensen for Stan Sayres of Seattle, was one of them. The Slo-Mo became the first Gold Cup winner in the 46 year history of the event to represent a yacht club from the western side of the Mississippi River. Slo-Mo-Shun IV thoroughly debunked the well publicized impression that three-point suspension hulls become hopelessly uncontrollable under competitive conditions, especially in the corners. With Lou Fageol at the wheel, the craft became the first in history to average over 100 miles an hour in a heat of competition: 100.680 in the second stanza of the 1950 Harmsworth Regatta on the Detroit River. With owner Sayres in the cockpit, Slo-Mo IV also became the world mile straightaway record holder with clockings of 160.323 in 1950 and 178.497 in 1952.
With the 1950 Gold Cup victory of Slo-Mo-Shun IV, started the legendary Seattle-Detroit rivalry. Seattle- based winners during that excitement - packed decade included Slo-Mo-Shun V, the first Miss Thriftway, Hawaii Kai III, and Miss Century 21.
The past twenty seasons of unlimited competition have been characterized by a number of racing "dynasties." Ole Bardahl’s various Miss Bardahl boats have six National Championships to their credit, Joe Schoenith’s Gale team has four, Willard Rhodes’s Miss Thriftway and Bernie Little’s Miss Budweiser organizations have three apiece, and Bill Waggoner’s Shanty I and Maverick stable has two. The most successful boat of the past two decades would have to be the third Miss Thriftway (renamed Miss Century 21 to promote the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair) which started 85 heats between 1959 and 1963, finished 77 of them, won 46, claimed fourteen race victories, and set a mile straightaway record of 192.001 in 1 960 that stood for two years with Bill Muncey driving.
The other top boats of the past twenty years with ten or more first place trophies are the third Miss Bardahl, the sixth Miss Budweiser, the fifth Miss Bardahl, the second Miss Pepsi, and Hawaii Kai III.
(Reprinted from the 1973 Tri-Cities Gold Cup programme)
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