The Ed Cooper Story
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
In a category dominated by Lycoming turbine engines, the father-and-son of team of Ed Cooper, Sr., and Ed Cooper, Jr., from Madison and Evansville, Indiana, was unique. They used the time-honored Allison V-12 piston power plant, originally intended for use in World War II fighter planes.
The Coopers started their racing careers in the 1960s as crew members for the community-owned Miss Madison. In 2002, the U-3 team became the first to turn a lap at over 160 miles per hour with an internal combustion engine.
U-3 Team victories include:
1989 - Tri-Cities, WA (Columbia Cup); driver-Mitch Evans 2003 - Evansville, IN (Thunder On The Ohio); driver-Mitch Evans 2003 - Detroit, MI (APBA Gold Cup); driver-Mitch Evans 2003 - San Diego, CA (Bill Muncey Cup); driver-Mitch Evans
The elder Mr. Cooper served on the board of directors of Madison Regatta, Inc., in the 1970s. In the early 1980s, he and Ed, Jr., helped on the crew of Miss Kentuckiana Paving, owned by Graham Heath and Bill Cantrell of Madison.
In 1985, the father and son pooled their resources and started their own team. They purchased Chuck Hickling's former Tempus, which they debuted in 1986. They built new boats in 1988, 1997, and 2002.
Ed Cooper, Sr., passed away on December 13, 2005. He was 86. Ed, Sr., was a great friend and admirer of the late Bill "Pappy" Cantrell, who together with Graham Heath, taught the Coopers everything they knew about the Allison engine.
In an interview with this writer, Ed, Sr., revealed his greatest thrill in racing. That was the time when he tested the former Tempus hull on the Ohio River. “I always admired ‘Pappy’ Cantrell and wanted to be like him. That time when I drove the boat, I felt like I really was ‘Pappy’ Cantrell.”
The Cooper team's supreme achievement has to be the 2003 Gold Cup at Detroit. They were the first piston-powered winners in twenty years of APBA racing's Crown Jewel. Every champion between 1984 and 2002 had used Lycoming turbine power.
Running under the sponsorship of Fox Hills Chrysler-Jeep/Sun Coatings, the U-3 and driver Mitch Evans defeated the defending Gold Cup champions Dave Villwock and Miss Budweiser in the Final Heat, 144.152 miles per hour to 141.488.
The most recent Gold Cup winner to use a piston engine had been the Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered Atlas Van Lines in 1983 with Chip Hanauer driving. No Allison boat had won the Gold Cup since Tom D’Eath drove Miss U.S. to victory in 1976.
The new U-3 had impressed mightily in late 2002 and won the 2003 season-opener in its hometown “Thunder On The Ohio” race at Evansville under the sponsorship of Master Tire. This was the first victory by a piston-powered boat in the Unlimited Class since the 1989 Tri-Cities (Washington) Columbia Cup, which had been won by an earlier Cooper craft with Mitch Evans driving.
Between the Evansville and Detroit races in 2003, Miss Budweiser (Turbine-6) had won at Madison, Llumar Window Film and Mark Evans had won at the Tri-Cities, and Miss Budweiser (Turbine-5) had won at Seattle. The U-3 experienced mechanical difficulty at Madison and Seattle but finished third at the Tri-Cities as Vacationville.com.
Eleven teams set up shop in the Horace Dodge pits for the 2003 Gold Cup. The fleet demonstrated quite a bit of parity during the time trials. Five boats ran within 1.2 miles per hour of each other for the 2-lap/5-mile distance. These included Llumar Window Film at 159.514, Miss E-Lam Plus at 159.285, Al Deeby Dodge at 159.275, Fox Hills Chrysler-Jeep/Sun Coatings at 158.392, and Miss Budweiser (Turbine-6) at 158.361.
Quite a bit of equipment damage occurred at the 2003 Gold Cup. Miss DYC with Mike Weber and Miss E-Lam Plus with Nate Brown both lost propellers. Miss Trendwest with Terry Troxell tipped over in the “Roostertail Turn” prior to the start of Heat 2-A. And Llumar Window Film did a 360-degree flip on the backstretch of lap-two during Heat 3-A.
The Llumar accident was quite serious. The boat was through for the day. And driver Mark Evans suffered a broken right leg, a fractured vertebra, and blood clots. From his hospital bed, Mark learned that his brother Mitch had won the race.
Fox Hills Chrysler-Jeep/Sun Coatings won Heat 1-B over Miss DYC, 144.092 to 140.929. The U-3 then finished second in Heat 2-B behind Al Deeby Dodge, the Mike Jones Racing Team entry, 150.757 to 142.781.
Mitch Evans conked out during the warm-up for Heat 3-A but rebounded to win Heat 4-B over Al Deeby Dodge, 142.196 to 140.173.
Heading into the Final Heat, Al Deeby Dodge had 113 points, followed by Fox Hills with 110, Miss Budweiser with 104. Oh Boy! Oberto with 103, and Miss E-Lam Plus with 93.
The defending champion Miss Budweiser was having an uneven weekend with preliminary heat finishes of second, fourth, first, and fourth.
Miss Budweiser crossed the starting line first. But Fox Hills led out of the first turn. Al Deeby Dodge was second onto the first backstretch, followed closely by Miss Budweiser.
Fox Hills led by a roostertail length after lap-one, followed by Budweiser, Deeby, E-Lam, and Oberto in that order.
Mitch Evans recorded laps of 147, 150, 145, 140, 137 en route to victory. Dave Villwock finished two roostertails behind with laps of 142, 142, 143, 143, and 135.
Miss E-Lam Plus passed Al Deeby Dodge on lap-two and started challenging Miss Budweiser for second-place before losing a prop. Deeby finished third and Oberto was a distant fourth.
A jubilant U-3 crew greeted their driver back at the dock after the Final Heat. Their friends from the rival Miss Budweiser team joined them in the celebration. Only the injury to Mitch’s brother, earlier in the day, kept everyone’s joy from being complete.
With two victories in five races on the 2003 tour, the U-3 tied down one more win four weeks later at San Diego. This gave the Coopers more victories than any other team in 2003 and enough National Points to finish third behind first-place Miss Budweiser and the second-place Jones Racing Team.