1947 Pacific Motor Boat Trophy

For the Pacific Motor Boat Trophy:

"California Kid" Drives to Victory

by Kent Hitchcock

California Kid (date unknown)
California Kid (date unknown)

November 2 was a red letter day at Newport Harbor. It marked the return of power boat racing after a six-year absence from this popular yacht harbor. When the day was done there was a new world record for the books, ten heats of terrific racing had been completed and the 1947 Open Speedboat Championship of the Pacific Coast had been settled.

Star of the regatta was the California Kid, the big white racing machine from Oakland, competing under the banner of the California Speedboat Association. The Kid, jointly owned by George Matucci and Lon Graditi, had a field day with Matucci at the wheel. In the 5-mile qualifying heat for 225-cubic inch Division II inboard hydroplanes, Matucci jacked up the world 5-mile competition record for this class to a healthy 73.170 mph. As the day wore on he cleaned house on the best in the west to win the 12th annual competition for the Pacific Motor Boat Magazine Trophy, emblematic of the Speedboat Championship of the Pacific Coast.

The Pacific Motor Boat Magazine Trophy Race is a far cry from the usual run of the mill regatta and the boat and crew who win this award are well entitled to the championship that goes with the big perpetual trophy. The usual regatta procedure schedules two 5-mile heats of racing for each different class of boats so that boats race only with others of their own class. The PMB Race in contrast is a grueling 45-miler split up into three 15-mile heats, a slam-bang wide open race, open to any speedboat capable of making 45 mph. This is a contest of speed, driving skill and racing knowledge, with a premium on the ability of the driver to rate his race correctly.

Not the least of the points involved are the ability of the driver to absorb the physical punishment that comes with 45 miles of hammering through choppy water at break-neck speeds and the ability of the hull and machinery to withstand the same beating and hold together for the full route. This is a fascinating and exciting race for spectators, pit crews and officials to witness. The runabouts and slower hydros wage a race among themselves, with the coal poured on all the time fostering the hope that the leaders will kill each other off with speed. The fast hydros travel at a murderous pace trying to force the man ahead to break up under the beating.

This 1947 regatta passed all previous Pacific Motor Boat races in all departments. Some past regattas have suffered for lack of entries, but not this one. For the first time in the history of this race it was necessary to run off a set of qualifying heats to iron down the 30-boat entry to a reasonable number. As the Pacific Coast inboard racing fleet is made up of five racing classes, the officials simply held a five-lap qualifying heat for each of these classes with the first three finishing boats in each class qualifying for the main event. This ingenious plan automatically cut the starting field to 15 boats composed of the three fastest in each of the classes. A 10-lap consolation heat was held for the non-qualifiers, so every entrant had a shot at the galaxy of trophies posted by the sponsoring Lido Isle Yacht Club.

Many past races fell apart in the last two heats as the mortality from the rough water and blistering speeds took its toll, with usually a pretty tame race ensuing at the finish between two or three boats. Not so this one. Of the 14 starters in the first heat 11 boats weathered the grind to start the third heat and there were eight finishers, a new all-time record for the 45-miler.

The five qualifying heats were a full scale preview of the racing to come. The first five-lapper was for the dynamic 135-cubic-inchers and it was sure to be a peach of a scramble with a star-studded cast, including the competition record holder Burney Edwards' Mighty Chevron. A breezy west wind had ruffled up the North Lido Channel and the course was a shade on the bumpy side for the first heat of the program. Reth Bush got his screaming Scamper out in front of Edwards at the start and he stayed there, averaging a fast but not sensational 62.5 mph for the five miles. The Mighty Chevron was a close second and the PMB trophy defending champion Eddie Meyer in his new Avenger III looked anything but impressive in the third place.

The fireworks really began in the second event which was the five-lapper for the 225-cubic-inch Division II hydros. The instant the field took the flag it was apparent that George Matucci at the wheel of the world record holding California Kid was out after more than first place. He left the rest of the four-boat field like it was tied and from there on out it was a one-boat race against Commodore Otto Crocker's stop watches. The water wasn't perfect by any manner of means but the diminutive Matucci simply stuck his foot into the carburetor and kept it there for five miles with the big white hydro screaming every inch of the way. He toured the five miles at the new world record speed of 73.170 mph, bettering his own record for the class by a clean-cut 2 mph and exactly equaling the Division I record for the 225-class! With the one-mile record for the class of a shade over the 90-mph mark already in her name, this gave the Kid a topper on all 225 records for both divisions.

The dope bucket got a kicking around as Frank Darrow found a few extra revs in his Ketch Up to take some of the hottest of the cracker boxes into camp. Elmer Cravener, the perennial winner in the PODH's got a little revenge for a rough year by taking his arch enemy Doc Novotny. The racing runabout event was an easy touch for Roy Skaggs in his E-racing job, Skallawags. Roy rattled along at an easy 55 mph with Fred Amsbry's supercharged K-racing runabout Tiny Mike II in the second spot.

The freshening west wind had chewed up the course in fine shape by the time the first of the 15-mile Pacific Motor Boat Trophy heats was due to go on the water. The start of this event with 14 red-hot outfits bearing down on the line was one of the highlights of the 1947 racing season. Matucci rattled down the first straightaway of the 2½-mile course like he intended to run away and hide from the rest of the field. The course was a lather of foam and spray as the balance of the field ripped up the course and as the boats hit the turn it was California Kid out in front with the defending champion Eddie Meyer in the Avenger III a good second, and then a grand mix-up of the rest of the field all together. Matucci made the first buoy but then apparently got lost and cut the second flag. Realizing his mistake he found himself cutting across the field between the second and third buoys in the five-buoy turn, so he carried on to the outside of the turn and eased back to the second buoy waiting for the field to pass so that he could return to the course. Back abeam of the No. 2 marker he cut back into tile slot and took up the chase, running in twelfth place. Beat by boat he passed up the pack with the roostertail stretching out behind the flying hydro in a great sheet of spray 200 feet long.

At the end of ten miles he was in second spot and there he had to stay for the remainder of the heat as Pop Meyer hung grimly to his lead in the sloppy going. Art Maynard was just a split second behind the Kid in his easy-riding Restless and right on his transom was Roy Skaggs in his E-racing runabout Skallawags. Twelve boats finished this first heat.

Only 10 boats appeared for the second heat. The second heat was a honey. The six leaders were pouring on the coal. Every lap was turned a little faster than the preceding one. Matucci put the California Kid out in front at the start and he had to keep her going for Meyer had the Avenger III screaming. On the South straightaway Meyer could keep the flying 135-cubic-incher open except for a few occasional shut-offs when she would hit a big one and come clear out and Matucci would have all he could do to keep a safe lead between the boats. On the North side, going up into the wind, Matucci could ease up a bit and still keep his lead as Meyer was having trouble with his outfit which persisted in becoming airborne. All six laps were the same with both boats leaping, hammering and bounding at a suicidal clip. They closed up on the south leg and drew apart slightly on the North run. Matucci obviously had more speed than Meyer and Meyer was just as obviously trying to shove the 225 hard enough to force a breakdown if it was possible. At the finish of the heat it was Matucci first with an average of 56.2 mph, and Meyer second with 55.7. While these two were battling it out, Art Maynard's 225 Restless with a third in the first heat withdrew with motor trouble, leaving the third spot to Skallawags. Skaggs was right up in there with the leaders, with an average of 53.539 mph, driving a steady conservative race that would pay off if either or both of the leaders cracked up. Fred Amsbry's K-racing runabout Tiny Mike II, was fourth with a 51-mph average.

Fred was playing the same waiting game. While the leaders were having it out the rest of the field was having a regular dogfight. This was the final race of the season and several of the winners of the Southern California Speedboat Club's seasonal high point trophies hinged on their finishing positions in the day's racing.

The big row was between Dr. Louis Novotny's Cherub II and Elmer Cravener's Pudgy in the PODH class, and both boats were having trouble but sticking to the fray. Pudgy tore off a water scoop on a piece of drift and Cherub II jammed a scoop full of wood, but both outfits were repaired between each heat and returned to competition.

The wind slacked off before the third heat and the course calmed down a little. Hallett had repaired I'm In and 11 of the original 14 starters went over the line.

This final heat turned into the same two-boat race for first place. The smoother water was meat for Eddie Meyer as he could stay in the water better and could put more pressure on the leader. Near the end of the fourth lap the tremendous roostertail behind the California Kid suddenly flattened out and it was apparent she had bent her prop on a piece of drift, but even with this handicap Matucci had enough left to keep his lead over Meyer who was now being troubled with a fire in the engine compartment. The rough water had battered loose the exhaust pipe leading out through the side of the hull and the flaming exhaust was burning the side of the boat out. With just two laps to go and the leader now pouring on all he had to overcome the loss from the bent prop, Meyer wasn't going to let a little thing like fire stop him.

On the down wind run, the fire would blow out and just smoke and up into the wind it would freshen up. Eddie gave it the works but the world record holding 225 just had a little too much steam for his 135 and they finished just seconds apart.

Matucci toured the final 15 miles at 58.778 and Meyer at 56.663. Skaggs' E-racing runabout, again in third place with an average of 54.501 for the heat. Tiny Mike II, Restless and Clyde Randall's cracker box Ski-Bee were the only DNF's, leaving eight finishers after the 45 miles of racing.

This remarkable percentage of finishers for this grind is a reliable index of the great strides made in Western Inboard racing in the last six years since this event was last contested. An actual check up on the casualty list shows that half of the DNF's throughout the day's racing were due to the driftwood on the course.

The 10-mile consolation races for the non-qualifiers for the PMB race brought out no large entries, but it did achieve it's purpose in giving the fellows who have gone trophy-less all season behind the red-hots a chance to rack up a win and take home a cup.

Trophy presentation was made immediately after the last heat of racing at the Lido Isle Yacht Club with Commodore Tom Rutter handling the ceremony. The entertainment committee served welcome hot coffee and doughnuts to wind up the most successful of all Pacific Motor Boat Trophy Races.

Officials for the race were: Referee, A. L. Bobrick, vice-president American Power Boat Association; chairman, Fred Fredericks, American Power Boat Association; chief timer, Commodore Otto Crocker, San Diego Power Boat Club; chief scorer, Tom Silvernail, San Diego Power Boat Club; starter, Don Steans, American Power Boat Association; registrar and tabulator, Peggy Hitchcock, Lido Isle Yacht Club; pit superintendent, Al Thornhill, Southern California Speedboat Club; measurer, Al Hart, American Power Boat Association; general chairman, Kent Hitchcock, Lido Isle Yacht Club and American Power Boat Association.

Regatta committee for the Lido Isle Yacht Club were: trophy presentation, Commodore Thomas Butter; stand facilities, Fleet Captain Ned Hill; refreshments, Secretary Ella DeMark. The course committee were: chairman, Vice-Commodore Nick DeMark, Port Captain George Peters, Dave Spies, Warren Atherton, Sonny Peters, Henry Hill, Johnny Martin, Stan Hodgkinson and Johnny Callahan. Patrol chairman was Lloyd Jensen, American Power Boat Association. Communications chairman: Commodore Walter Olsen, Santa Monica Mike and Key Club.

(Reprinted from Pacific Motor Boat, January 1948, pp.26-28)