Miss Madison, The Gold Cup Champion
Miss Madison's victory in the 1971 APBA Gold Cup on home waters in Madison, Indiana, ranks as one of racing's most memorable milestones. After years of countless retelling, the Miss Madison Gold Cup story has indeed reached mythic proportions.
The popular press account tells of Miss M--this aging underdog of a boat--suddenly and miraculously coming alive on July 4, 1971, and trouncing its well-financed opposition in the race of races. Here was a modern day David and Goliath--the hydro upset of the century--in the most memorable aquatic shootout since the Monitor and the Merrimac.
All of this hyperbole, of course, is pure poppycock. Miss Madison was not the thousand-to-one longshot of popular legend. On the contrary, she was a bona-fide contender. I've tried to develop this point in the story that follows.
At the time of the 1971 Gold Cup, it was easy for the media representatives to get caught up in the emotion of the moment. I know that I certainly did. The race was the answer to a sports reporter's dream. The inevitable reaction: "What a scoop! I can't overwrite this one!"
Unfortunately, quite a few columnists got carried away in the euphoria of the Miss Madison's triumph. And I was as guilty as anyone. The article that I did for Raceboat & Industry News on the 1971 Gold Cup was as badly written as anything that I've ever done in 36 years of covering Unlimiteds. I'm not proud of it.
Okay. I was a rabid fan of Miss M. The driver, Jim McCormick, was a personal friend. And this was my first of many visits to the picturesque Ohio River town that would soon become my home away from home. Small wonder then that my initial report on the race was something less than objective.
In the years that followed, I toyed with the idea of writing a truly definitive account of the race for posterity. The opportunity to do so presented itself in late 1983. That was when my friend David Taylor, editor of the Madison Regatta souvenir program book, asked for my help on the 1984 edition.
I worked all winter on the Miss Madison Gold Cup article. It totaled approximately 5000 words on nineteen typewritten pages, one of my longer efforts. Most of my stories average around 1500 or 2000 words, but this one was extra special.
My thanks go to David Greene and Philip Haldeman, both of the APBA Unlimited Historical Committee. I received a lot of valuable input from Dave and Phil that I greatly appreciate.
For what it's worth, I consider "Miss Madison, The Gold Cup Champion" to be the single best article that I've ever written for publication, out of the hundreds that I've done since 1962. I really gave it my all.
I wanted to set the record straight about the second Miss Madison being a competitive boat from late-1970 onward. But mainly, I did it for the driver and crew. I just wrote it down. They're the ones that went out there and did it. I wanted them to be able to re-experience their magnificent achievement. (All of the surviving team members told me that they enjoyed reading my story.)
I also wrote it for the fans. For those that were fortunate enough to be there, hopefully they can return (in the mind's eye) to that thrilling day of yesteryear. For those that weren't alive in 1971, perhaps they too will be able to feel some of the same emotions as if they had been there, cheering the Miss Madison on to gold and glory.
* * *
Miss Madison, The Gold Cup Champion
No one who attended the fabulous 1971 APBA Gold Cup Regatta in Madison, Indiana, will ever forget it. That was when Miss Madison, the world's only community-owned and sponsored Unlimited hydroplane, confounded the oddsmakers, winning the race of races before the hometown crowd.
The Miss Madison's richly sentimental triumph on that memorable July 4 was an historic one on several counts. Not since the 1965 Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, had the sun-bleached Miss M scored a victory. It was pilot Jim McCormick's first win ever in the Unlimited Class. The Miss Madison was built in 1959 and first entered competition in 1960, thereby making her the only Unlimited hydroplane ever to win a Gold Cup eleven years after its competitive debut. Not since mandatory qualifications began in 1949 had a Gold Cup winner placed lower than fourth on the qualifying speed ladder. (Miss M was seventh.)
The 1971 event also marked the first and only time that a community-owned boat has ever won the Gold Cup. Not since 1966 had the American Power Boat Association's Crown Jewel been won by a boat with Allison--rather than Rolls-Royce--aircraft power. The Miss Madison of 1971 also represented the end of an era. (She was the last Unlimited hydroplane with the old-style rear cockpit/forward engine/ shovel-nosed bow configuration to ever achieve victory.)
The hull that became the Gold Cup-winning Miss M was designed and built by Les Staudacher of Kawkawlin, Michigan. Staudacher had previously constructed such successful contenders as Miss Pepsi, Gale V, Tempo VIII, Miss Thriftway, and Hawaii Kai III. The future Miss Madison measured 30 feet in length with a 12-foot beam. Made of marine plywood and aluminum, she tipped the scales at close to 7000 lb. in racing trim.
The craft made its competitive debut at the 1960 Detroit Memorial Regatta on the Detroit River. She was called Nitrogen Too at that time and owned by Industrialist Samuel F. DuPont of Wilmington, Delaware. The Too was a teammate of DuPont's original Nitrogen, another Allison-powered Staudacher creation, constructed in 1957.
Driven primarily by Ron Musson of Akron, Ohio, the Nitrogen Too performed no better than average in the early part of the 1960 campaign, running well behind the speedier boats of that era. Still, she performed well enough for a nomination to the United States Harmsworth Challenge Team along with her sister ship and with Joe Schoenith's Gale V. In the Harmsworth International Race on the Bay of Quinte at Picton, Ontario, Nitrogen Too led the first lap of the Second Heat, posting a speed of 123 miles per hour on the 5-mile oval course. This was only 3 mph under the world record set by the Canadian defender and eventual Harmsworth winner, Miss Supertest III.
At the 1960 Silver Cup in Detroit, Nitrogen Too won a surprising and impressive victory, beating the favored Miss Thriftway and averaging 101.919 miles an hour for the 45-mile distance. Leadfoot Ron Musson would not be denied, leading Miss Thriftway pilot Bill Muncey all the way in the Final Championship Heat. The DuPont team's triumph was all the more remarkable, considering that Miss Thriftway used the more-powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. Nitrogen Too, on the other hand, ran a basically stock Allison power source.
At season's end, Nitrogen and Nitrogen Too had tied down second and third positions in the 1960 National Points chase behind Miss Thriftway in a field of 29 boats. In addition to her Silver Cup achievement, the Too had taken second place in the Madison Regatta and third in the Buffalo Launch Club event.
In 1961, Sam DuPont withdrew from competition and donated the older Nitrogen to the city of Madison, Indiana. The name was changed to Miss Madison, Graham Heath of Madison became the Crew Chief of an all-volunteer crew, and Marion Cooper of Louisville, Kentucky, signed on as the driver.
The original Miss M took a fifth in its first race, the 1961 Detroit Memorial. Later in the season, the team scored a hard fought victory in the second division Seattle Trophy Race at the Seafair World's Championship Regatta on Lake Washington. The following year, Cooper and Heath and company took fourth in the Spirit of Detroit Trophy and third in the Indiana Governor's Cup.
In 1963, the first Miss Madison ended its career where it had begun--in Detroit. During trials for the Gold Cup Race, Miss M was completely destroyed and pilot Morlan Visel was seriously injured.
Not to worry, the city of Madison was not about to lose its floating chamber of commerce for very long. The Ohio River townspeople already had another hull, the Nitrogen Too, waiting in the wings, which had likewise been acquired from Mr. DuPont.
The "new" Miss Madison, which was to become a racing legend, made its initial appearance in competition at the 1963 Madison Regatta. She placed fifth in the Indiana Govemor's Cup, driven by George "Buddy" Byers of Columbus, Ohio, a champion 7-Litre Class pilot.
The craft had a big year in '64. She gave an extremely consistent performance that allowed her to finish second in the National Point Standings. And although she didn't win a race, Miss M ran better than in her initial season as Nitrogen Too. She was runner-up in the Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, and the Dakota Cup at New Town, North Dakota. Miss Madison also took third place in the Diamond Cup at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, the Seafair Trophy at Seattle, and the President's Cup at Washington, D.C.
And everywhere she competed, Miss M served as the best ambassador of good will that the tiny Midwestern town had ever had. Indeed, the city of Madison became a household word from coast to coast, thanks to the fast-moving U-6, her intrepid driver Buddy Byers, and her masterful Crew Chief Graham Heath.
In 1965, the Miss Madison racing team posted its first major victory with a 102.746 mile an hour come-from-behind triumph at the Dixie Cup. Miss M entered the Final Heat on Guntersville Lake with two second place finishes in the preliminary action. Sprinting toward the starting line, Byers realized that he and the other drivers were too early and in danger of "jumping the gun." Buddy eased off on the throttle and wisely resisted the impulse to follow when the rest of the field thundered past him. Sure enough, front runners Miss U.S. 5, Notre Dame, and Tahoe Miss all crossed prematurely and incurred a one-lap penalty. Byers backpedaled to a legal start, cruised to an easy victory, and wound up with 1000 accumulated points, 73 more than the second place finisher Mariner Too, driven by Warner Gardner.
For the balance of the 1965 campaign, Miss Madison generally failed to show the consistency or the speed of the previous year. Exceptions to this summary included the U-6's l06 mile an hour heat at the Seattle Gold Cup and her second place overall finish in the San Diego Cup.
Jim McCormick of Owensboro, Kentucky, made his Unlimited Class debut as driver of the community-owned entry in 1966, replacing Buddy Byers who had signed on to drive Bill Harrah's Tahoe Miss. By this time, Graham Heath had also left the team to accept the position of Crew Chief for Jim Ranger's new Detroit-based My Gypsy organization.
The reorganized Miss Madison team had a mediocre year at best in 1966 and had difficulty qualifying for Final Heats. Their highest finishes were a third at the Tampa Suncoast Cup and a fourth at the Madison Regatta.
Following a reduced schedule of races in 1967-68 with Ed O'Halloran of Detroit, Michigan, as driver, the craft improved on its 1966 performance but was simply not the contender she had been under the helmsmanship of Buddy Byers. The highest finish during the O'Halloran years was a second place in the 1967 Suncoast Cup on Tampa Bay.
In 1969, the now-experienced Jim McCormick returned to the cockpit. But even with the change in drivers, the boat's performance did not improve. A third at the hometown Madison Regatta was the team's highest finish. Indeed, the glory days of 1964-65 seemed light years away.
Miss Madison almost missed the 1970 campaign entirely on account of being involved in a highway accident in Georgia while enroute to the first race of the season in Tampa, Florida. Pulled off the circuit, the stricken craft underwent repairs by original builder Les Staudacher. In retrospect, the mishap was probably a blessing. Staudacher used the occasion to go through the entire hull and fix several things in addition to the highway accident damage that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
The end result was an improved contender when Miss M returned to action a month later. Had the National Championship been determined that year solely on the results of the five races that the Miss Madison did enter, discounting the three that she missed, the team would have finished fourth instead of sixth.
Miss M defeated the highly regarded Tommy "Tucker" Fults and Pay 'n Pak's 'Lil Buzzard in Heat 1-B at Madison, which was a surprise. The U-6 also showed a lot of class--and a definite increase in speed-- when she and McCormick trounced the favored Bill Muncey and Myr Sheet Metal in both Heats 1-C and 3-A of the season-concluding San Diego Gold Cup.
At year's end, Miss Madison was running the best of her long career and giving the better-than-average performance that was expected of her. She could make the front runners work for it and could run with them on occasion. But the general consensus at the outset of 1971 was that only a newer hull and more power would put the U-6 team in the winner's circle. Nevertheless, the Miss Madison organization decided to stay with their eleven--going on twelve--year old craft for one more season.
The 1971 campaign started with a new race, the Champion Spark Plug Regatta, on Biscayne Bay at Miami Marine Stadium. Miss M was leading in both of her preliminary heats but was forced to drop back on account of a fuel mixture problem in section 1-A and a faulty supercharger in 2-B. Not to be denied a spot in the finale, the volunteer crew members proved their mettle by performing a complete engine change in less than thirty minutes. Pilot McCormick then proceeded to take second spot in both the Third Heat and the overall standings behind Dean Chenoweth and the Miss Budweiser.
Miss Madison continued in the Champion Regatta a resurgence that had begun in the last race of 1970. No longer was the U-6 thought of as a slightly better-than-average boat that was merely along for the ride. The Miss M was now regarded as a viable contender. However, the team was still short on money and horsepower, and most people still refused to take the community-owned boat seriously.
Moving on to the President's Cup contest on the Potomac River, Miss Madison won her first two heats convincingly. She defeated the likes of Billy Schumacher in Pride of Pay 'n Pak, Leif Borgersen in Hallmark Homes, and Billy Sterett, Jr., in Notre Dame, each of which had a millionaire owner and used the more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.
Prior to the finale, Miss M and Jim McCormick were not an illogical choice to win the race, based upon their strong showing in the preliminary action. Charging into the first turn of the Championship Heat, however, the U-6 was hosed down by the roostertails of Hallmark Homes and the eventual winner, Atlas Van Lines I, handled by Bill Muncey. McCormick managed to restart and take a disappointing fourth behind Hallmark, Atlas I and Miss Budweiser, although he managed to overtake and outrun Pride of Pay 'n Pak by a wide margin.
The Miss Madison team won the overall second place President's Cup trophy for 1971 and had the satisfaction of running both the fastest 15-mile heat and the swiftest 45-mile race of the contest. But driver McCormick was bitterly discouraged. He had missed victory by a scant 31 points and was beginning to wonder if winning a race wasn't perhaps an impossible dream.
In the Kentucky Governor's Cup at Owensboro, Miss M did not improve on her two previous performances, taking an overall third behind Atlas Van Lines I and Pride of Pay 'n Pak. The U-6 challenged Miss Budweiser for the lead in Heat Two, but otherwise her performance was undistinguished.
At the Horace E. Dodge Cup in Detroit, Miss Madison ran head-to-head with Terry Sterett and Atlas Van Lines II (the former Myr Sheet Metal) in the First Heat, despite rough water. On the last lap, Sterett moved ahead of McCormick and maintained this advantage to win by three boat lengths.
In the Second Heat, Miss M broke down and recorded her first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the year. Consequently, the U-6 was ineligible for the finale. Still, Miss Madison was running the best of her almost ended career.
The Thunderboat trail now led to Madison, Indiana, which was steeped in a competitive tradition that dated back to 1911. As things developed, the city's 60th boat racing anniversary story would have amazed a fiction writer. No publisher would have accepted a make-believe script on the race.
For the first time since 1951, the Indiana Governor's Cup shared the spotlight with the APBA Gold Cup, power boating's Crown Jewel, which had never before been run in so small a town as Madison. Due to a technicality and a misunderstanding, the $30,000 bid for the race by the sponsoring Madison Regatta, Inc., was the only one submitted in time to the Gold Cup Contest Board.
For ten years, the volunteer Miss Madison mechanical crew had tried to win the hometown race without success. They faced an uphill fight in 1971, and they knew it. In the first four races of the season, Miss Budweiser and Atlas Van Lines I had both scored two solid victories apiece. Atlas Van Lines II, a five-race winner in 1969-70, was likewise a formidable contender. (Having been her team's number one entry during the three previous years, the II's performance had suffered little in her secondary role with Terry Sterett in the cockpit.)
Also not to be overlooked in the pre-race figuring at the Madison Gold Cup were the Hallmark Homes, the Notre Dame, and the Pride of Pay 'n Pak.
Hallmark was having a difficult season but nevertheless had championship credentials, being the former 1967-68 Gold Cup and National High Point-winning Miss Bardahl.
Notre Dame, a virtual copy of the Hallmark Homes, had a reputation as being a fast competitive boat, although she had never won a race.
Pay 'n Pak was likewise having an uneven 1971 campaign. The Pak sported a radical new design. She was wider, flatter, less box-shaped, had a pickle-forked bow configuration, and had performed admirably on occasion. The craft had experienced a disastrous 1970 season, but there were a few who staunchly believed that if Pride of Pay 'n Pak ever had the "bugs" ironed out of her, she would revolutionize the sport, and render obsolete all of the top contenders of the previous twenty years.
Several days before the race, Jim McCormick placed a crucial telephone call to Reno, Nevada. He requested and obtained the services of two of the finest Allison engine specialists in the sport--Harry Volpi and Everett Adams of the defunct Harrah's Club racing team--who flew to Madison and worked in the pits alongside U-6 regulars Tony Steinhardt, Bob Humphrey, Dave Stewart, Keith Hand, and Russ Willey. Volpi and Adams are credited with perfecting the Miss Madison's water-alcohol injection system.
* * *
Race day, July 4, 1971, dawned bright and warm with ten qualified boats prepared to do competitive battle. A crowd of 110,000 fans literally choked the small Mid-Western town of 13,000. The river conditions were good, but Miss M was down to her last engine, having blown the other in trials. This put the U-6 people at a distinct disadvantage, because, at that time, the Gold Cup Race consisted of four 15-mile heats instead of the usual three.
The race was less than thirty seconds old when Hallmark Homes disintegrated in a geyser of spray and sank in the first turn of Heat 1-A, after encountering the roostertail of Atlas Van Lines I. Hallmark pilot Leif Borgersen escaped injury, but his boat was totaled.
Miss Madison was drawn into Heat 1-B along with Towne Club, Miss Timex, The Smoother Mover, and Atlas Van Lines II. During the warm-up period, Smoother Mover joined Hallmark Homes at the bottom of the river when her supercharger blew and punched a hole in the Mover's underside.
Miss M had the lead at the end of lap one but was then passed by Atlas II. On lap three, the Fred Alter-chauffeured Towne Club began to challenge Miss Madison for second place. McCormick and Alter see-sawed back and forth for several laps and brought the crowd to its feet. Miss M managed to outrun the Towne Club and hang on for second place points behind the front-running Atlas II.
For the second round of preliminaries, Miss Madison matched skills with Miss Budweiser, Notre Dame and Atlas I in Heat 2-B. Bill Muncey reached the first turn first with Atlas I, followed by Miss M. Budweiser and Notre Dame were both watered down by Muncey's roostertail, causing both to go dead in the water. Atlas I widened its lead over the field down the first backstretch and in the ensuing laps, while Miss Madison settled into a safe second. Miss Budweiser immediately restarted to follow Miss M around the course in third place. Notre Dame also managed to restart but only after being lapped by the field.
At the end of 15 miles, Muncey and Atlas I received the green flag instead of the checkered flag, indicating a one lap penalty for a foul against Miss Budweiser and Notre Dame in the first turn for violation of the overlap rule. This moved Miss Madison from second to first position in the corrected order of finish. Miss Budweiser was given second place, and Atlas I wound up officially in third after running seven laps before Notre Dame could finish six.
After another random draw, Miss M found herself in Heat 3-B along with Atlas II, Notre Dame, and Pride of Pay 'n Pak.
As Bill Muncey was preparing to drive Atlas I before Heat 3-A, he received word that Referee Bill Newton had put him on probation for the next three races of the season. The probation had resulted not only from the foul against the field in Heat 2-B but also from the cumulative effect of similar infractions by Muncey in 1970 at Seattle and San Diego. The consequence of the probation was that any further violations by Muncey would result in an indefinite suspension from racing.
Unperturbed, Muncey made a good start in Heat 3-A and was chasing Dean Chenoweth and Miss Budweiser down the first backstretch when Atlas I sheared off her right sponson and started taking on water. Bill frantically tried to steer his wounded craft toward the bank on the Kentucky side of the river but was unable to do so. Atlas Van Lines I rolled over on its side about 100 feet from shore and slipped beneath the surface, forcing Muncey to abandon ship. Now, three boats rested at the bottom of the Ohio.
Terry Sterett and Atlas II entered the first turn of Heat 3-B in the lead and stayed there, but Miss Madison kept nipping at their heels. Pride of Pay 'n Pak, running in third, tried to overtake Miss M, but the U-6 pulled away to maintain second position. On the last lap, Miss Madison came on hard to finish only two seconds behind Atlas II and four seconds ahead of Pay 'n Pak.
After three grueling sets of elimination heats, the five qualifiers for the final go-around comprised Atlas II with 1100 accumulated points, Miss Madison with 1000 points, Pride of Pay 'n Pak with 869, Towne Club with 750, and Miss Budweiser with 700.
As the sun started to set on that historic July 4, the race for the Gold Cup and the Governor's Cup boiled down to Atlas Van Lines II and Miss Madison. Miss M had to make up a deficit of 100 points in order to win the championship. To do this, the U-6 would have to finish first in the final 15-mile moment of truth. This appeared rather unlikely since the combination of Terry Sterett and Atlas II had bested the team of Jim McCormick and Miss Madison in each of their four previous match-ups that season, twice on the Ohio River and twice the previous weekend on the Detroit River.
As the field took to the water for the last time, some of the hometown fans hung on to the hope that perhaps Atlas II would fail to start and thereby allow the local favorite to win the big race by default. But that was not to be. As McCormick wheeled Miss M out onto the 2½-mile course, there was Sterett, starting up and pulling out of the pit area right behind him. Thus, as the final minutes and seconds ticked away, the die was cast. If McCormick hoped to achieve his first career victory on this day, he would have to earn it--the hard way.
Meanwhile, the ABC "Wide World Of Sports" television crew members, who were there taping the race for a delayed national broadcast, decided among themselves that Terry Sterett was a shoo-in for the title. Accordingly, they set up their camera equipment in the Atlas II's pit area in anticipation of interviewing the victorious Sterett when he returned to the dock.
All five finalists were on the course and running. Moments before the one-minute gun, Miss Madison was observed cruising down the front straightaway in front of the pit area. Then, abruptly, McCormick altered course, making a hard left turn into the infield. He sped across course, making a bee-line for the entrance buoy of the upper corner. His strategy was obvious. McCormick wanted the inside lane to force the other boats to run a wider--and longer--course.
As the field charged underneath the Milton/Madison Bridge, four of the five boats were closely bunched with Fred Alter's Towne Club on the extreme outside, skirting the shoreline. Miss Madison had lane one; Atlas Van Lines II had lane two and was slightly in the lead when the starting gun fired.
Sprinting toward the first turn, Pride of Pay 'n Pak spun out. Atlas II made it into and out of the turn in front with Miss Madison close behind on the inside. As the field entered the first backstretch, the order was Atlas, Madison, Budweiser, Pay 'n Pak, and Towne Club.
Then McCormick made his move. After having run a steady conservative race all day long, "Gentleman Jim" slammed the accelerator to the floor. The boat took off like a shot and thundered past Terry Sterett as if his rival had been tied to the dock.
The partisan crowd screamed in unison, "GO! GO! GO!" Even hardened veterans of racing were dumbfounded. An aging, under-powered, under-financed museum piece was leading the race and leaving the rest of the field to wallow in its wake.
McCormick whipped Miss M around the upper turn expertly and sped under the bridge and back down the river to the start/finish line. It was one down and five laps to go. The Atlas, the Budweiser, and the Pay 'n Pak were closely bunched at this point as they followed Miss Madison around the buoys.
The crowd was going absolutely wild. In lap two, McCormick increased his lead. And, in lap three, he extended his advantage even more. It dawned on the "Wide World Of Sports" crew that an upset was in the making. Frantically, the ABC-TV technicians scrambled out of the Atlas pit area and hustled their camera gear over to the Miss Madison's pits.
Out on the race course, Sterett had shaken free of Budweiser and Pay 'n Pak and was going all out after Miss M. He was fast on the straightaways, but not as fast as McCormick. The Atlas cornered well, but not as well as the U-6.
Miss Madison was running flawlessly, her 26-year old Allison engine not missing a beat. Jim McCormick was driving the race of his life. Together, the boat and driver made an inspired combination. Bonnie McCormick, Jim's wife, who had averted her eyes during the first few laps, was now concentrating fully on the action, cheering her husband on at the top of her lungs.
Miss M received the green flag, indicating one more lap to the checkered flag and victory. By now, the community-owned craft had a decisive lead. Sterett was beaten, and he knew it. The Atlas pilot could only hope against hope that a mechanical problem or a driving error would slow the Miss M down.
But that didn't happen. McCormick made one last perfect turn. The Miss M's roostertail kicked skyward. The boat streaked under the bridge, past Bennett's dock, and over the finish line, adding a new chapter to American sports legend, as pandemonium broke loose on the shore.
Firebells rang, automobile horns sounded, and the spectators went out of their minds with delight. Everybody, it seemed, was a U-6 fan and, whether they lived there or not, a Madisonian. Even members of rival teams were applauding the outcome of this modern day Horatio Alger story.
Miss Madison had beaten Atlas Van Lines II by 16.3 seconds in the Final Heat and was 4.2 seconds swifter for the overall 60 miles. McCormick and Sterett had tied with 1400 points a piece in the four heats of racing. According to Unlimited Class rules, a point tie is broken by the order of finish in the last heat of the day. So, the U-6 won all the marbles. These included an engraved plate, that would say Miss Madison, to be added to the rows of gleaming testimonials to the conquests of Gar Wood, George Reis, Danny Foster, Stan Sayres, Bill Muncey, and others.
It was the biggest day in the history of Madison, Indiana. It was Unlimited hydroplane racing at its best. It was a victory for the amateur, for the common man, a triumph that everyone could claim as his own. And not since the Slo-mo-shun days in Seattle during the 1950s had such an outpouring of civic emotion occurred at a Gold Cup Race with people celebrating in the streets until 10 o'clock that night.
Deliriously happy Miss Madison crew members carried pilot McCormick on their shoulders to the Judges' Stand. Veteran boat racer George N. Davis, a mentor of McCormick's during Jim's 280 Class career, wept unashamedly at this, his protege's, moment of triumph.
After receiving the Gold Cup from 1946 winner Guy Lombardo and the Governor's Cup from Indiana Governor Edgar Whitcomb, a tired but happy McCormick explained his race strategy to the assembled legion of awe-struck media representatives. "We planned to take it easy in the early heats, and then let it all hang out in the finals."
McCormick was the first to give credit where credit was due. He quickly acknowledged that without the mechanical prowess of his volunteer pit crew, victory would have been impossible. "These guys have been working their hearts out getting ready for this. They deserve all the credit."
The Miss Madison crew received the Markt A. Lytle Sportsmanship Trophy at the Gold Cup Awards Banquet, where tribute was also paid to the two former Harrah's Club team members - Volpi and Adams - for their invaluable help in winning "the big one".
"Gentleman Jim" McCormick, who had achieved his "Impossible Dream," was the hero of the day, and he gratefully acknowledged the enthusiasm of the crowd. For several hours after the trophy presentation, McCormick, still in his driving suit, remained at the Judges' Stand, signing his name for one and all. "Let the people come," he said. "I'll sign autographs as long as I can write." It was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
As the spectators and participants drifted back to their own lives, one thought was uppermost in the minds of many: "Was it all a dream, or did today really happen?"
* * *
Yes, it did happen. And it happened again three weeks later on the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities, Washington. That's when Miss Madison driver McCormick, and crew members Steinhardt, Stewart, Humphrey, Hand, and Willey made the incredible seem commonplace. They won the sixth annual Atomic Cup Race and, in so doing, moved from second to first place in the National Season Points chase.
Entering the Final Heat in fourth place in regatta points with two second place finishes, Miss M was again lightly regarded as a title threat. The boat's nitrous oxide system (which gives the craft an added burst of speed coming off the corners) had failed to function during the first two heats. In fact, the crew wasn't even certain if the engine was going to start for the finale. But, in McCormick's words, "We got it all together," and not a moment too soon.
Most attention centered on Billy Schumacher in the Pride of Pay 'n Pak and Bill Muncey in the now repaired Atlas Van Lines I, who led the field with only 100 points separating them. The futuristic Pay 'n Pak looked especially formidable that day and seemed on the verge of coming into her own. Although, many experts were still siding with Atlas I to win due to that boat's superior record on the Eastern tour.
Again, Miss Madison moved to the inside lane before the start and stayed there. The first corner was tight with four of the five finalists closely bunched. Miss M exited the first turn in the lead with Notre Dame, Pride of Pay 'n Pak and Atlas Van Lines following in close pursuit and Miss Timex trailing. So evenly matched were the first four boats that they appeared as one long continuous roostertail down the first backstretch.
Miss Madison finished the initial lap one fifth of a second ahead of Pay 'n Pak and two fifths of a second ahead of Notre Dame with Billy Sterett, Jr. As the boats went through the first turn of lap two, Miss M started to pull away, while Pay 'n Pak dueled with Notre Dame. The Pak moved away from Sterett on the second backstretch as Notre Dame lost power and slowed way down. Schumacher tried to challenge front-running McCormick but, in so doing, blew his engine and went dead in the water.
Meanwhile, Atlas Van Lines had gone past the ailing Notre Dame and then moved into second place. By this time, Miss Madison had an enormous lead and was putting added distance between herself and the Atlas. Jim McCormick was flat out-driving his more powerful and heavily financed rival. Now no longer considered an upset threat to win, the U-6 was making it all look easy.
At the checkered flag, Miss Madison had a full 22 second lead over Atlas Van Lines. Then came Notre Dame, followed by Miss Timex, which was lapped by Miss M on the leader's last time around the course.
In winning the Atomic Cup, Miss Madison became the first Tri-Cities champion to do the honors with an Allison engine as opposed to a Rolls-Royce Merlin. Miss M also became the first Allison powered craft since 1966 to score consecutive race victories in the Unlimited Class.
"This is really sweet," beamed a jubilant McCormick. "This should prove to some race fans that our Gold Cup win wasn't a fluke."
The Miss Madison team's triumph was now complete. "We're number one!", they proudly proclaimed. At long last, they stood at the very top of the racing world. In a sport dominated by millionaire owners and large corporate sponsorships, no one could afford to take the low budget U-6 for granted on the race course.
* * *
Many years have come and gone since those brief shining moments in July, 1971, when Miss Madison found her place in the annals of boat racing history and legend. To this day, she remains one of the most popular champions of all time.
Following her back-to-back victories on the Ohio and Columbia Rivers, Miss M competed in three more races. She blew an engine and didn't finish at Seattle but quickly regained her commendable form at Dexter, Oregon, where Miss Madison took a strong second place to Pride of Pay 'n Pak, the experimental craft that had finally gotten its act together.
The Pay 'n Pak was not significantly faster on the straightaway than the other top Unlimited hydroplanes of post-1950 vintage. But, with her low profile/wide afterplane design, the Pak could corner more efficiently than any previous boat in history. Handled by Billy Schumacher, Pride of Pay 'n Pak became the first to reach a speed of 121 mph on a 3-mile course at the 1971 Seattle Seafair Regatta.
The boat of the future had arrived as the first in a new and faster generation of Thunderboats. The handwriting was on the wall. Inside of two years, every boat would have to be a Pay 'n Pak design to be competitive.
In the twinkling of an eye, Miss Madison was obsolete. The days of the box-shaped hull with the narrow transom and the shovel-nosed bow were gone forever. The craft that had debuted so many years earlier as Nitrogen Too had seen its better days. It was time to make way for the new generation of world class race boats.
On the last day of her career, September 26, 1971, Miss M took an overall third in the Atlas Van Lines Trophy Race at Lake Dallas, Texas, with a victory in Heat 2-A over Season High Point winner Miss Budweiser. The U-6 also tied down enough points to secure second place in the 1971 National Standings and thereby duplicate her 1964 accomplishment for overall performance during the season.
Miss Madison's year-end box score read 26 heats started, 24 finished, six in first place, thirteen in second, four in third, and one in fourth. This brought her all-time career total to an unprecedented 163 heats started, an even 150 finished, 26 in first place, 53 in second, 46 in third, 21 in fourth, three in fifth, and one in sixth.
During the finale at Lake Dallas, the Miss M's deck started to work itself loose. McCormick kept her going at a safe conservative pace, finished the heat, and brought the aging U-6 back to the dock for the last time.
A new Miss Madison represented the Ohio River town on the Unlimited tour, starting in 1972. Another Miss M carried on the tradition, beginning in 1978, followed by another in 1988. And while each of these boats represented their 13,000 owners well, it is still the 1963-71 hull that inspires awe.
Now, when a new breed of Unlimited Class competitors takes to the water, Miss Madison, the Gold Cup Champion, will not be at the starting line with her engine roaring and roostertail flying. Presently owned by Dr. Ken Muscatel, Miss M is scheduled for restoration by the U-6 crew and others who honor the memory of July 4, 1971.
Miss Madison's racing days are over. But her fame will endure.
(NOTE: The author is indebted to David Greene and Philip Haldeman, both of the APBA Unlimited Historical Committee, for their editorial assistance in the preparation of this article.)