1976 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, June 27, 1976
Gold Cup Thriller : Miss U.S.
By Joe Dowdall
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|Howie Benns gets dumped into the Detroit River during the first running of the final heat.|
It being election year, it was fitting that Detroit's favorite son won the 69th running of the Gold Cup on the Detroit River yesterday before a post-World War II record crowd of more than 500,000 fans.
It didn't matter to the sun-baked, diehard fans that it took more than eight hours to complete the seven-heat, 60-mile hydroplane race on the wind-whipped Detroit River.
They lingered on for hours afterward to share the joy that Tommy D'Eath brought to everyone with his winner-take-all victory in the final heat in George Simon's Miss U.S. over favorite Bill Muncey in the Atlas Van Lines.
The red and white Miss U.S. boats have carried Detroit's colors in Gold Cup competition futilely for 25 years.
When D'Eath forced Miss U.S.'s nose ahead of Muncey's Atlas with just two laps to go, it was as if the Detroit Tigers had won the 1968 World Series all over again.
The throngs, up to 10 and 15 deep along the shoreline and Belle Isle, stood and roared.
Then, as the 33-year-old D'Eath opened Miss U.S.'s lead over the five-time Gold Cup winner Muncey, the roars grew louder.
Not since the 1971 Gold Cup race at Madison, Ind., when the community-sponsored Miss Madison won the race, has a crowd been as enthusiastic about a winner.
Simon, the boat's owner, is an industrialist and one of 12 children of the owner of a small grocery store on Detroit's near East Side. Raised on the Detroit River, he enlisted as a Navy fighter pilot in World War II.
Upon his discharge after combat duty in the Pacific, Simon began a surplus used machine sales firm, U.S. Equipment Co.
He built his first Miss U.S. in 1952 and was nearly killed in a crash in the Maple Leaf Regatta in Windsor. Since then he has turned the driving duties to younger men and has won just about every major race but the Gold Cup.
"This is our happiest moment," Simon said. "We didn't just win the Gold Cup today, we have worked 23 years trying to win it."
In one of the wildest victory scenes ever in the pits, even the defeated Muncey joined in the celebration and said he had been beaten by a superb all-Detroit effort.
D'Eath is the son of former Detroit Gold Cup racer Al D'Eath, who operates a marina on Harsens Island.
The Miss U.S-Atlas Van Lines duel in the final and deciding heat climaxed one of the most competitive days of racing on the Detroit River.
The showdown came after Billy Schumacher's Olympia and Howie Benns' Miss Budweiser were wrecked in the torrid elimination heats.
Schumacher, who had set a Gold Cup qualifying lap record of 125 miles an hour on the same three-mile course, had his $100,000 racer torn from under him in the third elimination heat.
Schumacher, a two-time Gold Cup winner, had posted two second-place finishes and led the field into the first turn in his third heat when his boat hit a large roller.
"The water just tore the right side of my boat apart and she began to sink," said Schumacher. "I didn't hit anything. It was the pure force of the water."
Olympia, which had entered the race as the national high points leader, sank before it could be towed back to the pits.
Benns had swept three elimination heats in Miss Budweiser and was racing into the same rough first turn in the final when his boat caught a three-foot roller.
"Howie was right next to me," said Muncey. "His boat hit the wave and just did a 180-degree spin. He was thrown out and the boat was wrecked by the time it settled back in the water."
Benns, of Grand Island, N.Y., suffered a broken left leg when he was slammed from his cockpit. His Miss Budweiser suffered severe hull damage and will be out of action for a month.
That left the final winner-take-all heat up to Miss U.S. and Atlas and they didn't disappoint the patient crowd.
D'Eath kept Miss U.S. on the inside at the start and left the first lap by a mere three boat lengths.
Then Muncey, who has won 34 races and was driving the winner of the last three national championships, caught Miss U.S. in the Belle Isle Bridge turn and outsped it down the straightaway along the Belle Isle beach.
Muncey clung to a boat-length lead for two laps until D'Eath passed him in the lower turn at the bridge on the fourth lap and held it the rest of the way.
"Muncey had taken the outside lane where the water was smoothest," said D'Eath, "so my only chance of winning was keeping him out there.
"I had it right to the floor --maybe 165 miles an hour -- and he couldn't get enough lead to cut over in front of me. When Bill backed off going into the turns, I prayed and went a little deeper on the throttle, keeping him on the outside.
"Finally it was now or never coming off the Detroit Boat Club turn on the next to the last lap. I came out of the corner first and he never caught me."
D'Eath and Miss U.S. averaged 108.021 mph in the final heat to Muncey's 101.313. Myr's Sheet Metal and Milner Irvin were a distant third and Ron Snyder was fourth in the Miss Madison.
Muncey set a Gold Cup record on the first lap of the first heat as he averaged 118.291 mph in beating Miss U.S., Bob Miller's Probe and Jerry Bangs' Miss Vernors.
Benns caught Olympia to win the second heat at an average speed of 107.606. Myr's was third and Miss Madison fourth.
Budweiser repeated its mastery over Olympia in the third heat as Benns won at 103.112. Olympia was second, Atlas third and Vernors fourth.
D'Eath's engine sputtered and lost its oil pressure and its wing came loose as he came out for the fourth heat, but he had time to duck into the pits for repairs and come back out to win with ease over Probe, Myr, Sunny Jim and Miss Madison.
The fifth heat furnished the thrills as Olympia leaped out of control in a heavy wave in the first turn and sank. Miss U.S. won the restart over Myr's, Madison and Vernors.
Budweiser won its third straight heat and seemed destined for victory. Atlas was second and Sunny Jim and Probe trailed. But a whitecap ended Budweiser's hopes in the first turn of the final heat. The boat was too badly damaged for owner Bernie Little to use a substitute driver for the injured Benns, and Miss U.S. came back in the restart to take its first Gold Cup in 23 years of trying.
(reprinted from the Detroit News, June 28, 1976)
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