Year of the Green Dragon
[1964 Season Summary]
It was expected, yet unexpected, that Miss Bardahl with Ron Musson helming would win the 1964 Gold Cup and National High Point Unlimited Championship.
Musson is a hard man to beat racing in any class, driving any kind of boat, using any kind of strategy.
The Bardahl unlimited is a fast hull-motor combination. Bardahl's maintenance and repair is handled ably by Crew Chief Leo Vanden Berg and his crew. Owner Ole Bardahl spends the money it takes to win in a systematic, organized fashion.
It takes a least these four factors to win unlimited races repeatedly. So on these factors alone it was expected the Bardahl camp would triumph.
But winning also takes Luck. And only the foolish trust Luck in boat racing. The single factor of Luck can outweigh the other four of the driver, boat, maintenance and money. So on the Luck factor alone, it was unexpected that Bardahl would win.
Fortunately, the Green Dragon had all five factors going for her throughout the season. There is no other explanation for a craft that won only four of nine races, hit a buoy, missed a buoy, received penalties, and didn't even get into the Final heat of one race!
When her hull mis-handled or engine faltered, her driver compensated. When her driver erred, hull and motor compensated. When speed was necessary the boat supplied it, When strategy was needed, driver and camp supplied it. Bardahl had what in racing is called "the winning combination."
So whether the wins were expected or unexpected is beside the point. On the basis of overall performance, they were deserved.
Dixie Cup - Guntersville, Ala.
Bardahl began the 1964 season auspiciously by posting a 106.635 mph qualifying speed before the race. This speed served notice that Bardahl hoped to repeat her 1963 Dixie Cup victory.
But Notre Dame came along two days later with 108.434 mph to top all qualifiers. A new boat, helmed by Bill Muncey, Notre Dame was regarded more of a threat than most new crafts.
Threat she was, too. Muncey; drove to victory with two heat wins and a second place in the Final. Madison was second overall, Bardahl third.
Paradoxically, the field seemed slow to observers. Yet Notre Dame's first heat average was 106.677 mph, higher than Bardahl's qualifying speed.
The race seemed unspectacular — no accidents, no arguments. Yet both Notre Dame and Bardahl took full force roostertails from other boats.
Some observers felt boats were not in top competitive shape, or else drivers were conserving equipment for Gold Cup two weeks later. In truth it was a competitive regatta because it's no longer possible to loaf in unlimited racing and finish anywhere but last.
The opener, however, gave good indication of which camps would campaign the full circuit: Gale V, Miss Smirnoff, Mariner Took Miss Madison, Tempo, Savair's Mist, Miss Budweiser, Tahoe Miss $ Bill and Blue Chip.
Of this field, Tahoe Miss was destined for special attention the remainder of the season. And her first bid for it came on the Detroit River during Gold Cup competition.
Gold Cup — Detroit, Mich.
The 56th running of the Gold Cup Race brought 17 boats into the pits and out to qualify. Again it was Notre Dame and Muncey who surprised spectators with an early qualifying speed of 115.302 mph.
But Bardahl upped that to 117.647 mph and then Exide shattered both times with 119.557 mph. (The Gold Cup qualifying record is 119.998 mph set in 1958 by Bill Stead helming Maverick on Lake Washington.)
The first heat run on calm water in stiff breeze saw Exide and Notre Dame fight a turn battle that ended in Notre Dame's favor. Despite Exide's superior speed, Notre Dame won the heat.
As if that wasn't enough upset, in the next heat Bardahl and Tahoe Miss dueled five laps but Tahoe Miss won. Having qualified in eighth place, this win against second qualifier was a shock.
When Tahoe Miss won her next heat also, it was speculated that the Gold Cup was any boat's trophy. Then, in Heat 3A when Notre Dame, Bardahl and Exide fought a tight three-way duel until flares stopped the action, it was a cinch the cup was up for grabs.
Bardahl won the Heat 3A re-run when Notre Dame's engine refused to starts — dead battery. The Tahoe Miss pulled a win in Heat 3B.
Into the Final it was Tahoe Miss leading Bardahl by 100 points. New, healthy, handling beautifully, and speedy, the Tahoe Miss had every chance to win the Gold Cup. But her engine refused to fire until 30 seconds before the one-minute gun. Chuck Thompson and Tahoe Miss started three-quarters of a lap behind the pack!
Bardahl needed only third place to win the overall. Wisely she got that spot and held it. Tahoe Miss needed only to pass Miss U.S. V to win the cup. Unfortunately, she couldn't quite make it .
Bardahl won the cup with speed and strategy, both liberally applied in proper proportion, at proper times, But the loss for Tahoe Miss was a hard luck loss. It was the first of many.
Dakota Cup — Newtown,
A new regatta at a new site, the Dakota Cup also was the first of three races on three consecutive weekends, which taught the unlimited contingent that this scheduling was too tight.
However, fresh from Gold cup and a 19-day interval between races, 11 boats converged upon the Garrison Reservoir course. From starting gun to finish, the race was a duel between Bardahl and Tahoe Miss.
Exide won one heat but blew out of the race with a blown engine. Tahoe Miss placed one-two in two heats.
Bardahl placed first in two heats and first in the Final to win the overall trophy. But that final was a heart-breaker.
Bardahl entered with 800 points, Tahoe Miss with 700. The overall winner had to win the Final. So when Tahoe Miss took the lead for three laps she looked like a sure victor. But in lap four Tahoe Miss went dead, leaving Bardahl the win.
With this event Chuck Thompson and Tahoe Miss acquired the title of "Hard Luck Boat." Bardahl became red hot and invincible with two victories in a row.
Observers began betting Bardahl would sweep the season. But a boat named Exide put a stop to that gamble.
Diamond Cup — Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
The unlucky number of a 13-boat field should have been a warning, but fans at the Diamond Cup site pegged Bardahl as a sure winner. Then, in rapid succession Miss Eagle Electric won a heat; Miss Exide won a heat; Miss Madison won, and Tahoe Miss won and . . . but where was Bardahl?
Musson and his Dragon posted a respectable second in one heat, finally won Heat 2B. Bit Bardahl garnered only a second in the Final. Therefore, Miss Exide with Bill Brow helming won the overall.
Bardahl was second overall, Madison third. Though Tahoe Miss was seventh overall, she posted the fastest heat average speed, 111.801 mph.
The race spoiled Bardahl's hoped-for three-in-a-row showing. It also consolidated some nebulous opinions about Tahoe Miss, Madison and Exide.
Without any controversy Tahoe Miss was acknowledged the fastest, best-handling boat on the circuit. In rough water or smooth, the huge craft had everything it takes but luck and durability. Engine mortality rises sharply above 110. And Chuck Thompson often was pushing Tahoe Miss above 110; so she often blew.
As for Madison with an essentially stock engine and top race driver Buddy Byers helming, this lady was moving toward third lace in national point standings. It was impossible, but true.
Naturally, Exide and Bill Brow always were a formidable team, but one other boat surprised fans — Mariner Too. Supposedly a 3-4 place boat, it kept entering the first turn first, and finishing in the two-spot more often than expected.
Suddenly, as Seafair approached, there were not two but five boats capable of surprising performance.
Seafair Regatta Seattle, Wash.
Fifteen boats showed up for the Seafair Regatta and a week of speed runs in fine weather. Came race day and came miserable weather. But the racing was good. In fact, overall speeds were higher than the rough water safely allowed.
Bardahl won the race from Miss Exide by .2 of a second. Bardahl also posted the highest heat average speed of 111.065 mph. Exide was second overall and tied with Bardahl for points. Madison, in third place, confirmed earlier opinions about her steady performance and Tahoe Miss, fourth, was inching up the ladder toward the leaders.
Rough water and the close finish made this one of the most exciting races of the season. It also left the remainder of the circuit much in doubt as to possible winners.
For the first time since Miss Thriftway retired from racing, the sport had eight hot boats capable of winning races. The final four events proved it.
Governor's Cup —
This race was no surprise, it was a shock! How? Look at the heat winners. Heat 1A, Tahoe Miss; Heat 1B, Miss U.S. V; Heat 1C, Notre Dame; Heat 2A, Tahoe Miss; Heat 2B, Miss Smirnoff; Final, Smirnoff.
Who finished first overall? Tahoe Miss. Who finished ninth? Bardahl!
As for pollsters, speculators and punsters, all bets were off. Here was Tahoe Miss, the "Hard Luck Boat" of the season winning the 13th Annual Governor's Cup from a 13-boat field! Here was Bardahl, Queen of the Season, rating below such back-of-the-pack boats as Savair's Mist and Roostertail! Here was Madison finishing third overall, moving into second place in high point standings! Here was another boat, Smirnoff, to add to the other eight hot dogs!
Unlimited racing was open wider to more fast boats than at any time in its long history. If this kind of upset could happen at Governor's Cup, it could happen at President's Cup.
And it did.
President's Cup —
There was that number again — 13, the boat field. There was that weather again, bad. There was that water again — rough. In fact, the water was so rough that Notre Dame withdrew after running one heat. The event was ripe for upset, and upset occurred.
Tahoe Miss won the first heat; Bardahl the second; Smirnoff, the third; Madison, the fourth; Tahoe Miss, the fifth; and Smirnoff, the final.
With Tahoe Miss' speed and two heat wins the natural assumption was that she would win. But natural assumptions are not the stuff of which racing is made.
To the victory circle for the trophy came a triumphant Bill Cantrell and Smirnoff. To the pits with a DNF in the Final went Tahoe Miss, again the Hard Luck Boat.
Reliable Madison placed second overall with Tahoe Miss third and Bardahl fourth. As camps headed for Nevada and Lake Tahoe, Bardahl and Madison were fighting a duel of the calculators. Unless Bardahl won or placed well at Tahoe, Madison could move into the High Point Championship spot. More on the President's Cup]
Regatta Stateline, Nev
That doggedly insistent 13-boat field climbed 6,200 feet to Lake Tahoe. There they gloried in the magnificent natural setting. There they cursed the altitude which dictated complete re-adjustment of carburetor, ignition, fuel pump, etc., for boat performance. There, eventually, they raced each other and the odds that Bardahl would win the regatta the third year in a row.
The odds won. Bardahl won.
But the odds held on the Hard Luck Boat, too. Tahoe Miss blew an engine in Heat 1B and, fresh out of additional racing engines, also was out of the race. Being unable to perform in her namesake regatta was an ironic indignity for a fine craft.
Except for a heated, sustained duel between Jerry Schoenith in Gale V and Billy Schumacher in $ Bill, the Tahoe heats and Final lacked excitement as Bardahl won with 1,200 points, winner of every heat she raced.
However, what the Tahoe Regatta lacked in sizzle, the new San Diego event substituted.
Regatta — San Diego, Calif.
The final race of the 1964 season was the newest race on the circuit and braved what unlimiteds had avoided many years, a salt-water course.
The by-now dedicated, inseparable, unalterable 13-boat field trundled to the pits on beautiful Mission Bay. For spectators the course was excellent. For racers the turns were judged a bit tight, water depths a bit shallow.
Speeds were expected high and fulfilled expectations. Exide scorched off a 119.498 mph run to establish the first unlimited record on the course. Eagle Electric managed two 117.647 and 115.384 runs.
Bardahl, Mariner Too, Gale V, Smirnoff, Budweiser and Madison roared around in the 110-112 mph category to impress spectators that unlimiteds were not only big but fast.
By race day Bardahl was a favorite on the basis of previous wins, plus garnering the High Point Championship at Tahoe. Yet it was any boat's race. Every heat proved that premise.
Mariner Too won Heat 1A; Budweiser, 1B and Bardahl, 1C. Madison won Heat 2A, Bardahl 2B and Mariner Too came to the wire as winner of the Final.
It was the Final which proved Bardahl's undoing. Mariner Too won with 1,100 points. Bardahl set a heat record of 113.600; but Bardahl didn't win that all-important Final.
And that was that, not only for the Mission Bay Regatta, but for the entire 1964 unlimited season. More on San Diego]
Highlights, Incidents and Accidents of the 1964 Season
Dixie Cup was distinguished as the first race of the season and drew a 12-boat field, as against a 7-boat turnout in 1963. Jerry Schoenith in Gale V returning to the pits to repair carburetor trouble rammed some rocks — was told, "That's not the way to fix the carburetor, kid." Five boats jumped the gun in the Final. What a way NOT to go.
Gold Cup hosted the roughest water of many a Detroit River Regatta. Every boat handled badly. Blue Chip broke a sponson by hitting a buoy in the first heat. Muncey in Notre Dame pulled into the infield while Musson in Bardahl slid wide to avoid hitting a pleasure boat drifting in mid-course. The re-start of this same heat found another pleasure boat drifting mid-course at the starting line! Chuck Thompson in Tahoe Miss started three-quarters of a lap behind the field but caught the pack in the final lap, an incredible feat of speed in terrible water. Budweiser tossed driver Bob Schroeder from the cockpit and injured his knee on one of the tail guy wires.
Dakota Cup sported two worries: how to cope with sudden 50 mph winds that sweep and die within minutes on the Dakota plains, and how to get drivers from lodging to pits 70 miles apart. Ron Musson commuted by piloting his own plane.
Diamond Cup found Bill Muncey sidelined by ailment and Rex Manchester helming the Notre Dame. Winner Bill Brow in Exide admitted using shots of "laughing gas," nitrous oxide, to obtain power spurts when necessary. "If it isn't Bundles for Britain, it's Oxide for Exide" was a punster's jibe. Muncey and Chuck Thompson both jumped the gun in Heat 1C.
Seafair brought a fire to Gale V but no injury to Jerry Schoenith. Fascination demolished a buoy in the extremely rough water. The finish was the closest in unlimited history. Some dastard stole the starter's cannon. There was the usual weather delay. And one three-driver, one-owner argument ensued with television cameras as jolly spectators. So viewers saw close up in unlimited what they see among their own relatives every holiday gathering — a big scrap, mostly sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Governor's Cup hosted the first serious accident when Don Wilson was ejected from the U.S. V and sustained facial cuts from hitting the windshield. Musson in Bardahl struck a buoy which glued itself to the bow and remained there bright, glowing and embarrassing the remainder of the heat.
President's Cup offered Musson another buoy problem. He missed one entirely. Meanwhile it rained, fogged, steamed, blew and generally was miserable racing weather and water. Budweiser spun out in the first heat, restarted, but the heat was stopped anyway.
Harrah's Cup racing was the most eventful of the circuit: its setting the most beautiful; pit personnel the most courteous, public facilities the cleanest; VIP entertainment the most thoughtful and overall regatta organization conducted with what the French term sangfroid and savoir-faire (composure and correctness). But then Bill Harrah is known for these qualities.
The San Diego Cup race easily provided the most hair-raising accident of the season. Budweiser driven by Chuck Hickling roared down the back chute, hooked, (it's been a hooking boat all its exalted life) sheared a sponson and sank. Hickling straightened out the hook and tried to accelerate again before he noticed the boat's strange tilt and empty space where sponson should have been. Hickling was rescued unhurt. Budweiser was beached partially sunk and her hulk scavenged by spectators. This unsavory activity should be discussed by the unlimited commission with ideas toward prevention or a recurrence in future.
Overall, it was a rough water, unpredictable weather anybody's-a-winner, slam-bang unlimited season: one of the best in recent years.
(Reprinted from the National Boat Racing 1965 Yearbook)
[Thanks to Patrick Gleason for his help in preparing this page]
[Note: throughout this article the U-2 is referred to as Miss U.S. V; the name, as painted on the boat, was Miss U.S. 5]