1961 Detroit Memorial
Gale Wins at Detroit
Cantrell's Daring Driving Earns Him Third Trophy Victory
By Mel Crook
Probably the fastest unlimited hydroplane currently in competition is James Thompson's Miss Supertest II. Powered with a Rolls Royce Griffon, the most potent piston engine ever to propel a race boat, and meticulously groomed by her Canadian crew, this sister ship of the Harmsworth champion provides driver Bob Hayward with matchless acceleration and top speed. Thus she was the logical favorite to capture the feature event of the 15th annual Detroit Memorial Regatta June 24-25.
But the experts failed to foresee that Bill Cantrell, a 50-plus-year-old professional, would pick this race to reach a new peak in combining the daring of a teenager with the perfected technique accumulated through his years of driving auto and boat races. Piloting Gale Electric Co.'s Gale V, Cantrell outmaneuvered Supertest II and four other contenders for an exciting three-heat victory and became the first driver ever to win the Ford Memorial Trophy three times.
A brisk wind that forced cancellation of the first day's scheduled unlimited racing still whipped the Detroit River into whitecaps at the time of heat 1A on the 25th. Drawn for this section were Supertest II; George Simon's Miss U.S. 1, driven by Don Wilson; and Miss Madison, entrant of the city of Madison, Ind., with Marion Cooper at the wheel.
Miss U.S. 1 led as they bore down on the starting line, but two coughs from her engine slowed her markedly and Supertest flashed over in the lead site was to hold throughout the 15 miles. The water was too rough for record speed and Hayward never used more than 2,000 of the Rolls' potential 2,900 r.p.m. Miss U.S. 1 maintained her second spot but appeared to have greater difficulty negotiating the lumpy going than the others, Supertest took heat 1A, at an average of 87.062 m.p.h., by nearly a mile and a half.
With the water still rough but greatly improved since the first section, heat 1B brought to the line Gale V; Chuck Thompson at the wheel of his Miss Detroit; Jack Schafer's Such Crust IV, piloted by Fred Alter; and George Zigas' Thunderbolt, with Walter Kade driving. Thompson maneuvered near the second turn as the other three gathered in the conventional spot to commence their starting runs from the head of the backstretch. Thompson's technique has been known to worry another driver into thinking his watch was slow and tempting him into a premature dash for the start. Chuck fooled no one but did execute his usual high speed start at the head of the pack. Gale V roared across close behind Miss Detroit and the real duel of this section had begun.
Thompson was ahead by four boat lengths at the first turn and held a 150-yd. margin as they finished the first lap. Cantrell moved Gale V fast and wide through the first turn on the second lap, drawing almost even with Detroit. On the calmer backstretch Thompson again pulled ahead to a 100-yd. advantage. Throughout the third circuit Gale had the best of the turns and Detroit excelled on the straightaways. Thompson had a mere boat-length lead at the end of that lap. As they roared into the first turn of the fourth circuit, Detroit took a vicious bounce, hurling Thompson forward against the windshield, then whipping him back against the seat. The mishap also broke the supercharger drive. Thompson, in pain, abandoned the race. Gale came on to win at a 96.636 average, with second place going to Such Crust IV.
Miss Detroit's accident having reduced the field to the course capacity of six boats, the second heat was run as a single section. Cooper timed Miss Madison to be first over the line in a close, slow start. On the first turn Cantrell followed the tactics he has consistently applied when racing Hayward in Supertest. He steered Gale fast and outside the first-place, tight-turning Supertest and emerged from the turn even with the Canadian boat. Hayward accelerated and gained a two-length lead on the backstretch only to find Gale abeam and outside her on the second turn.
Gale led by a narrow margin at the end of the first lap only to be re-passed by Supertest on the homestretch. Gale came fast and first out of the initial turn of the second lap. This time Cantrell held his slight advantage all the way into the second turn and this time Supertest did better on the turn and came out again in number one spot. Gale failed to gain during the early stages of the third lap.
Supertest, with a 100-yd. lead near the end of the third backstretch, was obviously being driven faster than at any time that day. And this high speed took its toll as she became airborne in front of the Detroit YC. When she landed, bow first, the stress of impact was transmitted to her deck, tearing out several square feet of decking.
Gale flashed by while Hayward slowed to appraise the damage. Cantrell continued to open his lead as Supertest ran slower and slower in the late stages. Gale led by 1ź miles at the end, to post a 102.099 average. Supertest retained her second place.
The day's program, delayed by a series of postponements because of rough water, allowed only one hour between Heats 2 and 3. At that point only Gale V and Supertest II were in serious contention, with Gale enjoying a lead of 100 points and a time advantage of 1 min., 50 sec. If Supertest were first in the final heat, and Gale second, they would be tied on final points. The tie would be resolved on the basis of elapsed time and that 1:50 would be equivalent to a full lap at the speeds the leaders were running.
However, Heat 3 was not to be settled on so thin a margin. Hayward, involved with the Supertest crew in screwing and nailing a steel plate over the hole in her deck, had no opportunity to check the official time. Late in leaving the pits, he caught the drop of a minute marker on the big starting clock, but misread it as meaning three minutes to go instead of two. As a result, the five U.S. boats were roaring close to the starting line while Supertest loafed half a lap away.
Such Crust IV led at the start, followed by Gale V. Hayward spotted his mistake too late and was 14 seconds behind the leader at the line. Gale established an early lead and held a half-mile advantage at the end of the first lap.
Cantrell ran his lead to 5/8-mile and then throttled back to maintain that margin between Gale and the second place Such Crust.
Hayward drove hard, but to no avail. He finished the first lap sixth, then moved up one position in each succeeding lap. His final position was second for the heat, almost half a mile behind Gale.
Final point standings were: Gale V -1200; Supertest II -1000; Such Crust IV - 694 (third on elapsed time); Miss U.S. 1 - 694; Miss Madison - 479.
Fastest lap (lap 2, heat 2) Supertest -104.773 m.p.h. Fastest heat (heat 2) Gale -102.099. Neither was a record.
The regatta was a top-flight presentation by the sponsoring Windmill Pointe YC, proving that a fine unlimited hydro race can be staged without cash prizes.
(Reprinted from Yachting, August 1961, pp.61-62)