1976 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, June 27, 1976
Cantrell Bewails Small Gold Cup
By Joe Dowdall
Wild Bill Cantrell looked down the row of boats at the Dodge Memorial Pits and shook his head.
"This is a disgrace for a Gold Cup race," said Cantrell, a veteran of more than 50 years of powerboat racing.
"What have we here. Ten boats maybe?"
"Somebody had better do something, and do something quick, if they want to save this sport. They had a five-boat race in Miami and only a three-boat race for the President's Cup.
"And we don't know how many of these boats will be around Sunday for the finish of the Gold Cup race."
Cantrell's body has been burned, his bones broken, his ego battered with a finish in a Seattle flower bed. He also has taken the checkered flag 20 times in his illustrious racing career.
He retired as a driver in 1966 but stayed in racing as a crew chief and team manager for Joe Schoenith's Gale teams.
He turned down a lucrative offer to "retire and go fishing" last year when Schoenith withdrew from racing. Instead, Cantrell moved with his beloved race boats down to Piqua, Ohio. Now he is back with former Atlas boats now competing as Myr's Sheet Metal and Miss North Tool.
Unlimited powerboat racing has been Cantrell's love as well as his life since 1937. He gave up racing his own boats in 1949 when Ed Gregory and Ed Schoenherr picked him to drive their new, revolutionary My Sweetie.
Cantrell and My Sweetie won the Gold Cup race and six other events that year to gain the national championship.
But right now the Hall of Famer is seriously worried about his sport.
"It's one thing to say you have the fastest boats in the world here for the Gold Cup race," said Cantrell, "but four or five fastest boats can't make it a race alone no more than four or five top cards could make the Indianapolis 500 a race.
"The question is why aren't the five or six 'little' guys from Seattle and other places here for the Gold Cup? Something has to be done to bring these boats out no matter where the race is held.
"Sure, the $76,760 purse is big money by race boat standards. But the money should be divided more evenly so that the little guys who have to haul their boats and crews across the country know that at least their expenses will be covered.
"The United States Auto Club is doing it for the Indy-car teams and I understand that NASCAR helps most of its stock car drivers. But something has to be done to help the little boat owners."
A game and determined Mike Wolfbauer, who has entered his Probe in the race, was in accord with Cantrell.
"We know we can't compete with a big-buck team like Miss Budweiser with its fleet of trucks, a bus and a plane," Wolfbauer said, "but we are just as interested in the sport of unlimited powerboat racing as Budweiser is.
"We want to race, and it is boats like the Probe and drivers like Bob Miller who make the race possible. How many people would come out to see the big boats run alone?
"If one or two of them break down, you don't have much of a show for the spectators. And the fans have supported boat racing in Detroit for 60 years."
Wolfbauer, a Warren manufacturer, has sponsored unlimited powerboats since 1964, campaigning his Savair's Mist and the Probe.
But in recent years he has entered his boat only in Detroit races to help fill the starting fields.
"I want to continue to support boat racing in Detroit," Wolfbauer said, "but the big boat owners seem to make things harder and harder. Like the two-lap, 105 mile-an-hour qualifying speed.
"Sure, their boats may be able to run 120 because they can afford to risk losing an engine. But why couldn't they have left the qualifying speed at 100 miles an hour like it is for the other races?
"You have to make the field to qualifying for the $1,000 start money. Some teams may have passed up coming to Detroit because they didn't want to risk everything and then come up empty-handed because they didn't make or were bumped from the starting field."
Ironically, boat racing's problem today is just the reverse of what it was 15 years ago when the Spirit of Detroit Association was formed to save boat racing in Detroit.
At that time there were 22 boats coming to Detroit for a race, but Detroit wasn't sure it could come up with the $17,000 purse.
Joe Schoenith and the late Jack Adams rallied 20 businessmen and they formed the Spirit of Detroit Association and bailed Detroit out.
The volunteer band of race supporters has grown to more than 400 and have put on every boat race here since.
With the sale of $5 bleacher seats for the race tomorrow, they feel assured the association will be able to cover the $76,760.76 purse plus insurance and other expenses.
"But this could be Detroit's last Gold Cup for some time," said Jack Love, Spirit of Detroit chairman. "The Gold Cup is awarded to the city which makes the highest bid.
"The World Championship race or our own Gar Wood Trophy race or Spirit of Detroit race could be run for less than half of the $76,000, and money is getting tighter all the time."
Thousands of Detroiters have thrilled to the powerboats for 60 years. Many are willing to pay to keep the sport alive, from buying a $5 bleacher seat when they could watch the race for nothing to paying $150 for a box seat at the Gar Wood Judges Stand.
The annual Gold Cup rules committee meeting will be held Monday after the race to lay plans for next year's race.
Cantrell, Wolfbauer and a lot of other people will be hoping they keep the "little guys" in mind.
They make racing what it is.
(reprinted from the Detroit News, June 26, 1976)
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