A Las Vegas Memory
This weekend [September 25-27, 1998], Ralph's Unlimited Hydroplane Thunder Tour '98, presented by Las Vegas, resumes at Lake Mead for the annual Las Vegas Cup, near Boulder City.
The Unlimited first tested the waters of Lake Mead in 1950. The race was run in November and coincided with the APBA National Convention, which was conducted in Las Vegas that year. The format consisted of four heats of 15 miles each on a 2½-mile course.
Three Thunderboats participated in 1950. The Gold Cup-winning Slo-mo-shun IV won the first heat with designer Ted Jones at the wheel. Slo-mo seemed a shoo-in for the victory but experienced mechanical difficulty in Heat Two and had to withdraw. Jack Schafer's Such Crust II was another early casualty.
The 1950 National High Point Champion My Sweetie took second in Heat One and won the next three heats almost without opposition. A couple of Limited boats were recruited to fill out the field for Heats Three and Four. But they were no match for the Allison-powered My Sweetie, which was a two-step hydroplane, designed by John Hacker and built by Les Staudacher.
"Wild Bill" Cantrell handled My Sweetie in the first three heats, while owner Horace Dodge, Jr., took the wheel for Heat Four.
The 1950 Las Vegas race was the first major Unlimited event to be conducted west of the Mississippi River in the post-World War II era.
In 1955, Lake Mead was the setting for a successful mile straightaway record attempt by Englishman Donald Campbell's Bluebird II. The non-propeller-driven jet hydroplane was the first to be officially timed at better than 200 miles per hour — 202.32 to be exact.
The first Las Vegas Unlimited race to count for APBA National High Points was the 1956 Sahara Cup, sponsored by the Sahara Hotel. Jack Regas won the race with Edgar Kaiser's Hawaii Kai III, which won all three heats.
One of the stories about the 1956 Sahara Cup that has withstood the test of time concerns Norm Evans, who finished second in the race with Miss Seattle. Norm was the father of Unlimited drivers Mitch and Mark Evans.
Norm operated on a poverty budget in those days and arrived in Las Vegas from Chelan, Washington, flat broke. He and crew member Jack Lafferty didn't have money for a hotel room. Evans also wasn't sure how he was going to pay for gas for the trip home.
So, Norm wangled a deal with a local casino owner. He agreed to park the boat in front of the casino in exchange for free accomodations.
After Miss Seattle took second in the Sahara Cup, Evans used the prize money — which consisted of a few hundred dollars--to pay for gas for the return trip to Chelan.