1946 Presidents Cup

The First Allison Victory

1946 Presidents Cup Programme Guide
1946 Presidents Cup Programme Guide

The first victory by an Allison-powered craft occurred at the 1946 Presidents Cup, recorded by the Miss Great Lakes. Earlier, at the Gold Cup, the boat (then known as Miss Golden Gate III) had demonstrated tremendous speed. But it was at the Presidents Cup where she proved her reliability.

For the next four decades, the Allison — together with the Rolls-Royce Merlin — was the power plant of choice in the Unlimited ranks and accounted for the vast majority of race wins.

As the following article indicates, Miss Great Lakes — at 26½ feet — was a wild rider and clearly couldn't handle the power of an Allison V-12. This was at a time when most boats in her class were 20 to 24 feet in length. Following and as a result of Miss Great Lakes, hulls of 28 to 30 feet were deemed a more appropriate environment for an Allison or a Rolls engine.

Miss Great Lakes driver Danny Foster made his Unlimited debut at the 1946 Presidents Cup. Foster quickly established himself as the Thunderboat Era's first superstar. He went on to win the 1947 APBA Gold Cup and National Championship with Miss Peps V and the 1948 Gold Cup with Miss Great Lakes.

Unlimited racing in the late 1940s was very much an amateur endeavor. Prize money was rare and commercial sponsorships — although tolerated — were frowned upon. The sport was also very regional. The races were pretty much confined to the Mid-West and the Atlantic seaboard. Most of the boats hailed from the Northeast quadrant of the United States. Not until the 1950s would a West Coast influence be keenly felt.

(Introduction by Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian )

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Presidents Cup

By Lou Eppel, "The Rudder"

When Albin Fallon brought the Miss Golden Gate III out in Detroit after the final heat of the Gold Cup races, the big bulky yellow hull with its Allison power plant was still an unknown quantity. True, it had shown a tremendous amount of speed in the final heat, but the ability of the huge aircraft engine to take the severe punishment imposed by the Arena designed and built three-point hull was questionable. Down on the Potomac, though, the former Miss Golden Gate III, now known as the Miss Great Lakes, gave the fifty thousand and more spectators all they were looking for. Danny Foster, who had been with Danny Arena, took over the controls and wheeled the lurching, spray tossing craft around the widened Presidents Cup course to take top honors in all three fifteen-mile heats.

Guy Lombardo and his beautiful Tempo VI also were very much in evidence and as usual the combination ran smoothly and effortlessly, but not quite fast enough to take first place in any of the heats. Each time the glistening Lombardo entry was forced to be satisfied with second spot, a position a bit strange to the winner of the National Sweepstakes and the Gold Cup. Guy managed to pour on all the coal the Zumbach-Miller engine could take, but the difference between the 585 horsepower put out by the Tempo VI and the 1,700 generated under the hatch of the Miss Great Lakes was just too much to overcome.

On Saturday the first of the three fifteen-mile heats was run, and all of the big fellows of power boat racing were on hand and supposedly ready to go. A quick trip around in the pits at the Navy Yard disclosed the Miss Canada III, owned by E.A. Wilson of Ingersoll, Ontario, perched on its trailer; and according to Harold Wilson, the driver of the shark-nosed Canadian entry, she was all set to run, the supercharger trouble which had developed in Detroit having been cured.

Bill Cantrell and the Why Worry seemed to be all set, as Bill had the hybrid Hisso roaring up on the trailer. Henry Slocum's So-Long was also in running condition for a change and appeared to be a sure starter. The Pepsi-Cola III, owned by W.H. Stroh of Detroit, was overboard early and running. The Miss Great Lakes had been at the Navy Yard, but there was not any way of putting the outsized craft overboard there, so she was taken elsewhere.

The Tempo VI, with the appearance of a champion, was present and head mechanic Maeder had it ready to go. The determined Gib Bradfield, second place winner in both the Sweepstakes and the Gold Cup, had his Buckeye Baby all ready to roll, too. Buckeye Baby, the only 225 to enter the classic, looked more or less like a toy compared to the size of the other entrants.

At the start of the first heat Why Worry and Buckeye Baby hit the line with the starting cannon, followed across by Lombardo. The Great Lakes hit the line fourth, but traveling at such a speed that by the time the first turn was reached she was making her bid for the lead. Coming down the backstretch Foster mashed down on the throttle and the yellow and silver craft literally hurtled past the other boats. Cantrell and the Why Worry were not taking it easy in any sense of the word.

Wild Bill lived up to his name and hung on the tail of the Great Lakes, not more than twenty feet astern, receiving a terrific hosing from the spectacular rooster tail put out by Foster. The Tempo seemed to be holding back, feeling out the opposition, Lombardo being content with third spot.

The three leaders remaining in the same position for the first three laps, and then the Tempo took hold and started out for the front. Why Worry, in spite of the manhandling of Cantrell, was overtaken and the lead of almost two hundred yards which the Great Lakes had piled up was slowly being whittled down. Foster had it all his own way on the straightaways, but on the turns it was a different story. The roaring Allison could not be held anyway near open, and the Tempo ate up the yardage at each turn. On the fifth lap Why Worry began to come apart; first the hatch let go, and shortly after the right sponson became unstuck. For the first time in his career Cantrell let discretion be the better part of valor and took off for the pits before the whole boat disintegrated.

Gib Bradfield managed to complete only one lap and was forced back to the pits. While the Great Lakes and the Tempo were putting on a nip and tuck battle for the thousands lining the shores, Pepsi-Cola III and So-Long were making the necessary laps without too much bother. Slocum's engine was not running at all well, and the Pepsi was simply outclassed from the start.

At the end of the six laps Miss Great Lakes was out in front of Tempo by about fifty yards. The officials on board the Coast Guard boat which served as the judges' stand announced the time for the winner was 67.771 miles an hour for the fifteen-mile distance. Lombardo's time for second place was 67.415. Neither speed was close to the heat record set by Theo Rossi in the Alagi in 1938 at 69.675 miles an hour. Pepsi-Cola III was clocked at 58.862 and Slocum's So-Long averaged 53.89 in spite of a badly running engine.

Miss Canada was seen to leave the pits with everything apparently all right, but the sleek craft never reached the starting line. A broken oil pump was blamed by the Wilsons for the breakdown.

On Sunday the second and the final heats were scheduled. Cantrell was definitely out of the running, as the damage to the Why Worry was far too great to be patched up in time. Miss Canada was thought to be ready, and the finishers of the first heat were again supposedly all set to run. By the time the five minute gun had been fired there were only three boats out and ready for the start: Great Lakes, Tempo and So-Long. Coming down for the start of the second heat Lombardo hit the line beautifully. The Tempo VI was really running, and for a while it looked as if there might be a chance for the maestro.

At the end of the first lap the Tempo was out in front by a scant twenty yards, and the Great Lakes, with Foster again at the wheel and owner Fallon jouncing along as riding mechanic, was picking up fast. Foster's start was something for the books. Coming up to the line a bit late, he had the crowd up on its feet screaming as the big yellow boat careened crazily all over the course, barely missing the starting buoy.

Foster finally managed to get his boat under control, but for several moments owner Fallon probably wished he had the old Hotsy Totsy and not the leaping, lurching, power-packed, twenty-six footer in which he was riding. The Tempo managed to stay out in front for the second lap, Lombardo taking full advantage of the turning ability of his boat. On each turn he was able to increase the lead he had on the Great Lakes, but the tremendous horsepower of the Allison was too much to cope with on the straightaways. Foster was never able to really use the full speed of his craft.

No sooner would he get it flattened out after a turn than he would be going into the next turn. Regardless of the percentage of speed he was able to use, the Tempo was just not match on the straight runs.

The So-Long was also a starter in this heat but with the V-6 engine aboard running like a worn out cement mixer, she retired and went back to the pits.

The scant lead Lombardo held at the end of the second lap didn't last long. The Great Lakes surged ahead, and for the rest of the race it was simply a matter of how close Guy could keep. When Miss Great Lakes went out in front she was well on the way toward breaking the old lap mark of 70.866 which was set by Rossi in 1938. Foster was recorded as turning the third lap at a speed of 74.258 miles an hour. This really knocked the old mark into the well known cocked hat. Foster then went on to set a new heat record of 71.181 mph, which removed from the Italian count's list of records the last American mark he set in 1938, or any other year for that matter. Rossi's average speed in 1938 was 69.675 mph. Lombardo also broke the lap record, but there was little satisfaction inasmuch as Foster had done the same thing, only much more so.

The third heat was not too much for the spectators. Only Miss Great Lakes and Tempo VI came out for the start, all of the other entrants having suffered some sort of trouble. Miss Canada never managed to get out to the startling line once, and even though she was running early on Sunday morning there was no chance of her getting into the final two heats as she didn't qualify in either of the two scheduled qualifying heats on Saturday.

Foster pushed the Great Lakes across the starting line first in the final heat and from then on it was merely a chase for Lombardo. Try as he did, he just didn't have the steam to gain on the big yellow boat, and even though he trimmed each turn to the nub the Great Lakes added yard after yard to its already commanding lead. Perhaps Lombardo was hoping for a breakdown similar to that the same boat suffered in Detroit, but the Allison never missed a beat, and by the time the six laps were finished some one hundred and fifty yards separated the two boats.

Foster's time in the final heat was not up to the second heat's record breaking run. When he got the checkered flag, and also clear title to the Presidents Cup for a year, his time was announced at 69.945 mph, which is not standing still on anybody's piece of water.

When all the shouting had died down it was clearly evident that next year would find several craft competing using the same type engine Danny Arena installed in his Miss Golden Gate III. Danny showed the lead and it looks as if everyone will have to follow if they have any designs on the Gold Cup, National Sweepstakes or the Presidents Cup. The throwing out of engine limitations certainly opened up the way to higher and higher speeds. Now that it has been proven that it is possible to keep the mills together and still control the boat, next year should prove to be the best ever for speeds in these three great classics of motor boat racing.

It was hoped that Danny Foster would take Miss Great Lakes over the measured mile on Sunday in an attempt to set a new American record. However for reasons not divulged no try was made.

(Reprinted from The Rudder, 1946)