1976 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, June 27, 1976
Jet Pilot in River Thriller
by Joe Dowdall
Tom Sheehy has logged more than 8,000 hours at the controls of a Delta Air Lines DC-8 jet on the Miami-San Francisco run, but the jovial 33-year-old pilot said he never had a "flight" like he did yesterday.
Sheehy qualified the Rolls-Royce-powered Sunny Jim for tomorrow's Gold Cup race on the Detroit River at 79.465 miles an hour.
That's right, 79.465 miles an hour, nearly 45 miles an hour slower than Billy Schumacher in Miss Olympia, the fastest qualifier during the week at 123.995.
"What a ride!" gasped the soaked Sheehy as he climbed from the cockpit of the Sunny Jim. "I thought I had had it. We, the boat with me in it, went totally under a couple of times.
"There's waves out there four feet high with big white rollers on top. I wouldn't take my big 38-foot cruiser out in water like that."
But Sheehy and three of the other unqualified drivers had to run in the wind-whipped white caps yesterday to qualify for the $76,760.76 race.
Yesterday was the final day of the qualifying trials.
The American Power Boat Unlimited Racing Commission had voted in the morning to wave the required minimum 105 mph average for two laps on the three-mile course.
As it was not a boat, not even the five qualified boats which had easily bettered the 105 average during the week, were able to top the 100 mark yesterday.
The starting field of 10 boats for the 69th running of the world's richest and most prestigious powerboat race was filled.
E. Milner Irvin squeezed Myr's Sheet Metal in at 97.273. Roger D'Eath put Miss North Tool in at 95.969 and Jerry Bangs qualified the new, untried Miss Vernors at 58.577 on her maiden voyage.
They join the six boats which made the field during the week under much more ideal water conditions.
"The face visor on my helmet was broken by a wave of water that crashed right over my cockpit on one of my dives," Sheehy said.
Sheehy's daredevil ride climaxed a hectic week for his Sunny Jim crew from Seattle.
"We left Seattle for Detroit last Sunday," said boat owner Pete LaRock. "The engine in our truck blew up near Moses Lake, Wash., Sunday afternoon and it cost $2,000 and took us until 4 a.m. Tuesday to replace the motor.
"We have been driving straight through since then, picking up speed as the new motor was broken in."
Bangs cut things even tighter with the new Miss Vernors. The motor was set in the new Les Staudacher hull and fired for the first time at 3:30 p.m. just 90 minutes before the qualifying deadline.
"We had to adjust some of the fittings and get things straightened out," said crewman John Ban. "But we had it ready for the water by 4:30 p.m."
It floated. A cheer went up. The engine started. A bigger cheer went up. And Bangs took his two mandatory laps after circling to test the steering.
"The engine cut out on me twice," Bangs said. "Because the water was so rough the fuel mixture control would jump out of place. And I was too busy trying to keep the boat going straight and staying on top of the waves to take a hand off the wheel."
Miss Vernors was christened -- so was Bangs -- by tons of water from the Detroit River.
The pits are shut down today and the boats will get in their final resting tomorrow between 10 and 11 a.m.
The first of six 15-mile elimination heats will start at noon with Atlas Van Lines, Miss U.S., Probe, Miss North Tool and Miss Vernors.
(reprinted from Detroit News, June 26, 1976)
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