1974 APBA Gold Cup
Lake Washington, Seattle WA, August 4, 1974
Henley, Benns Saved the Day
The inauguration ceremonies at Sand Point appeared doomed yesterday until George Henley and Howie Benns performed a resurrection.
Had it not been for the side-by-side racing duels of Henley’s Pay ‘n Pak and Benns’ Budweiser in the Gold Cup race — premier event of the unlimited-hydroplane season, even the most diehard fans might have been scurrying for the exits early.
The troubles had little to do with the new race site. Failures cropped up in everything from the starting clock to a fireman’s extinguisher.
"I can see it now," muttered one disgruntled fan, observing the high rate of attrition among boats and the confusion over delays. "When they get to the final heat, they’re going to have two sailboats out there, heading off into the sunset. We never will find out which one won."
The official clock failed shortly before the start of Heat 3-B. That was one of four occasions when red flags flew, signifying a race was being stopped and drivers would have to head back to the pits and wait.
While drivers waited, so did sunburned fans, not all of whom found the new accommodations at Sand Point as attractive as those at Seward Park, site of Seattle’s previous hydro extravaganzas.
Some — drivers and fans —departed early, although not all chose conventional methods.
Tom D’Eath decided to take a swim. Even that did not cool off the driver of the Miss U. S.
Boats failed to start or finish a heat on 13 different occasions.
Arguments cropped up over officials’ decisions frequently.
Even the battles between the Pay ‘n Pak and Budweiser were spoiled somewhat by the absence of any other boats in two different heats.
D’Eath and his hydro still were smoking when they arrived back in the pits following an aborted rerun of Heat 1C.
"If these guys continue racing under these ghetto conditions, they’re crazy," fumed the Detroit driver. "All I had was a minor oil fire in the bilge, but I couldn’t get anybody to put it out.
"When I jump in the water and there is a fire in the boat, I want firefighting equipment there. I don’t want a bunch of dummies yelling, ‘Stay away; It’s gonna blow!’
"I swam to a patrol boat, climbed in, took off my helmet and jacket, grabbed a fire extinguisher and had to threaten the guy to take me over to my boat!"
As volunteer patrol boats circled the burning craft, a Coast Guard fire boat chugged up from the center of the course. Flames engulfed the engine hole and cockpit before a fire hose was turned on.
Smoke still rose from the heavily damaged craft after it was towed into the pits, where the fireman’s extinguisher failed before a firehouse did the job.
One race was halted when the U-95 blew an engine, "sending shrapnel all over the place," according to its driver, Leif Borgersen.
The explosion blew a hole in the boat’s under side, and it sank 192 feet to the lake bottom after rescuers abandoned attempts to keep tow lines connected. Recovery operations were scheduled to begin this afternoon.
Delay after delay put back the start of the final heat from 5 p. m. until 8:10 p. m., prompting the driver of the Atlas Van Lines, Bill Muncey, to observe: "We may have to put running lights on these sleds."
"This isn’t the latest we’re raced," said Lee Schoenith, the Atlas owner. "One year in Coeur d’Alene (1968), it got so dark all you could see was the fire coming out of the exhaust stacks."
Drivers’ complaints about rough water were not as predominant as they were during qualifying runs earlier in the week. Muncey was displeased with the way his craft handled in the chop, and Benns broke the Budweiser’s seat while bouncing around in the final heat.
But Henley, who took advantage of Benns’ ill fortune to capture t h e Gold Cup, found the water "just beautiful." Of course he had a sly grin when he said it.
Notes and quotes:
Bernie Little, owner of the Budweiser, was upset by the rough water, whipped up by a late-afternoon north wind. "This makes the Detroit River look smooth," Little said.
Lee Schoenith, Atlas owner, found the pit facilities a bit lacking. "It’s impossible to work here," Schoenith fumed. "It’s a garbage dump. The commission could deny Seattle a race unless they move back to the Stan Sayres pits!"
George Henley, Gold Cup winner and man of few words: "That doggone crew of ours, it’s got to be the greatest."
Dave Heerensperger, Pay ‘n Pak owner, sipped suds and accepted congratulations from Bernie Little with: "Here, Bernie, have a second-place beer!"
Schoenith, on the condition of the water: "This is worse than Detroit. There, you know where the swells are and you’re ready for ‘em. Here the funk moves all over the place."
Tom D’Eath, driver the fire-gutted Miss U.S.: "A $50,000 boat was ruined because they had a bunch of chickens on the course handling the fire equipment."
Bill Wurster, driver of the Kirby Classic who turned off the course one lap short of completing Heat 3B when he saw a checkered flag (intended for the Budweiser): "No harm done. But it was very embarrassing."
Pam Clapp, owner of the ill-fated U-95, was asked if this means the end of the turbine boat. "I really can’t say," she said. "I sort of would like to have won one before I quit. Maybe that’s why some people are in it so long."
Stan Jones, co-owner and co-driver of the Australian boat, Solo, which failed to finish a heat: "I guess Lady Luck just wasn’t with us."
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times August 5, 1974)
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Leslie Field, 2005