A Tribute to Roy Pedersen
From the 1950s to the 1990s, the late Roy Pedersen was the premier hydro button collector of the world. Roy got in on the ground floor when the button phenomenon really got rolling in about 1959. His single most cherished collectible was a 1920 Miss America pin that he obtained from a past-Commodore of the Detroit Yacht Club.
Souvenir button collecting is a cottage industry in the Unlimited hydroplane subculture. It is a rare race team or race committee that doesn’t hand out promotional buttons to the fans.
A resident of Bainbridge Island, Washington, Pedersen watched his first hydroplane race in 1954 when Lou Fageol won the Gold Cup on Seattle’s Lake Washington with Slo-mo-shun V. There were some incredible side-by-side battles in that race, involving Slo-mo-shun IV, Slo-mo-shun V, and Miss U.S. Roy was “hooked” for life.
In 1959, Pedersen came down to the Stan Sayres Memorial Pits on Lake Washington Boulevard with pad and pencil in hand. He made a checklist of all the souvenir buttons that he saw being distributed and then went about obtaining them for his collection.
Roy wrote letters--hundreds of letters--to current and past participants asking for buttons, programs, photos, autographs, anything hydro-related. By the late 1960s, his collection was second to none. On more than one occasion, he was offered substantial sums of money in the thousands of dollars for his collection. But he rejected all offers.
Pedersen had many friends in the sport. Three of his closest comrades were drivers “Wild Bill” Cantrell, Walt Kade, and Warner Gardner. His friends were happy to supply him with their teams’ current souvenirs.
Roy was living proof that one need not be a one-man clearing-house to be a successful collector. He was an outspoken critic of the infamous photo-button rip-off scandal of the 1970s and argued against the recognition of said buttons as legitimate hydro collectibles.
As important as his collection was to Pedersen, it was the sport itself that had top priority. Roy loved the competition. He attended the races not only in Seattle but also the ones in the Tri-Cities, Coeur d’Alene, Kelowna, Detroit, and Madison. His wife Marie and daughters Carol and Heidi shared Roy’s keen interest in the boats.
Pedersen was devastated when he learned of the death of Miss Bardahl driver Ron Musson at the 1966 President’s Cup in Washington, D.C.: “I would have thrown the whole collection in the lake if it could have brought that guy back.”
Roy would go out of his way to show support to new collectors and help them get started. Too many collectors, he believed, tended to flaunt their wares and thereby discourage newcomers to the hobby. It’s not necessary, he said, to own every button ever made to be a successful collector.
His hometown Seattle Seafair Regatta was always a highlight of the year for Roy. He would arrange his vacation time from work at Todd Shipyards to coincide with the racing season. At the time of his death in 1997, he had an unbroken string of consecutive appearances at the Tri-Cities, Washington, race between 1966 and 1996.
Unlimited racing has spawned generations of intensely loyal fans. But few have demonstrated the dedication and the longevity of Roy Pedersen who deserves to be remembered as one of the sport’s most ardent supporters.