1967 APBA Gold Cup
"I Drive Just Fast Enough to Win"
24-year-old Billy Schumacher brings Miss Bardahl to victory in the Seattle Gold Cup
By Tom Weiler
A tempest in a Gold Cup was brewing as waves of doubt washed over the unlimited hydroplane racing community in the wake of the accident-baptized Gold Cup Race run in Seattle August 6.
Critical eyes of the big-boat racing buffs were turned toward race procedures and design factors, almost ignoring the fact that a 24-year-old boating prodigy, Billy Schumacher, snatched the Gold Cup from racing veterans who held a total of five Cups. And he did it in Miss Bardahl, a Seattle-based boat new to the circuit this year.
It happened in six seconds. Six boats — Miss Bardahl, Miss Lapeer, Hilton Hy-Per-Lube, Savair's Mist, Notre Dame and Harrah's Club — thundered over the starting line in heat 1A, first of the day. About 150 yards down the course the Notre Dame blew apart, scattering engine and hull parts, and its driver, Jack Regas, into the water.
Schumacher in Bardahl dodged the pieces. Chuck Hickling, following in Harrah's Club had a choice: hit Regas or his boat.
"I didn't want to hit him," he noted from the hospital bed where he was recovering from cuts, broken ribs and a minor puncture of a lung, "so I just plowed over the top of his boat."
Harrah's Club skipped into the air, threw Hickling clear, and plunged to the bottom of Lake Washington. It was taken from the water the following day, along with the remains of the Notre Dame. The owners presently have no plans to rebuild either boat.
Regas, also hospitalized with broken ribs, told how he had the lead, going about 150 mph, when "I saw two big holes (low spots) in the water. I knew I'd had it," he said. He took evasive action but the boat, not responding, flipped and nose-dived, ejecting Regas.
High praise came from all parties for the Coast Guard and the rescue crews assisting. Regas was plucked from the water by the Coast Guard helicopter within 15 seconds of the crash. Hickling singled out one tender-boat driver, unknown to him.
"He was in the water and holding me up about 30 seconds after the accident. He sure did a good job — I don't know if I could have made it without him because my jacket was all torn and falling apart."
He was, however, critical of the rules which permitted a pack of giant hydroplanes to charge into a race. He suggested dropping the number of boats competing in a heat from six to five.
"It can get pretty crowded on that first turn. I wish they'd run more heats with fewer boats in each."
Not overcrowding but a tendency to become airborne seemed to be the preliminary estimate of the source of hydroplane racing's troubles, according to builder Les Staudacher, and J. Lee Schoenith, chairman of the Unlimited Racing Commission, and a boat owner himself.
Staudacher has discontinued production at his Michigan plant "until I am satisfied that the tendency of some present hulls to leave the water and fly is corrected and eliminated." He added that he will employ engineers and aerodynamic experts to study the problem. The studies will be available to boat owners and drivers.
"Although lap speeds are not any faster than in the past," Schoenith said in praising Staudacher for his decision, "our boats are running at much higher speeds - for shorter distances - than formerly was the case. It is during these times that their attitude seems to change."
Whatever the reasons, the sport has cause for introspection, since six drivers have gone to their deaths as a result of racing accidents since the start of the 1966 season. The single casualty this year resulted when Miss Budweiser became airborne and flipped, killing Bill Brow, at the Suncoast Regatta in Tampa, Florida.
Even the winning camp has been singled out for tragedy — perhaps the worst. Ron Musson won three gold Gold Cups in the old Green Lady, put out to pasture after the 1965 season. He was at the wheel when the new rear-engine cabover design Bardahl blew up at the President's Cup Regatta in Washington, D.C. — killing the 1965 driving champion.
That was the chain of sad events that put the prodigious Schumacher at the helm of Bardahl. The curly-headed youngster has been racing hydroplanes since the age of eight, holds six U.S. National titles, two Canadian National titles, two APBA Region 10 titles, set five world outboard competition speed records and two for U.S. inboards.
He was up against Bill Muncey, seeking his fifth Gold Cup in the Miss U.S., and Mira Slovak after his second in the Chrysler Crew.
Bardahl took first in the rerun of Heat 1A, topping Miss Lapeer and Hilton Hy-Per-Lube. Miss Budweiser led heat 1B, Savair's Probe was second, and Muncey straggled in third. Slovak couldn't finish.
Slovak took second behind Lapeer in 2A, and Hy-Per-Lube was third. Schumacher again guided the new lemon yellow and pale green Bardahl to first place in Heat 2B, with Muncey close behind and Budweiser third.
Heat 3A saw Bardahl repeat its winning ways; Muncey in Miss U.S. was third. In the B section Slovak and Chrysler Crew gave up the ghost as Miss Lapeer came in just ahead of Budweiser.
Lapeer was the Bardahl's only threat in the final heat. All Schumacher had to do to collect the trophy was to finish ahead of Lapeer. And he did, giving the glory of winning the final heat to Bill Muncey in the U.S. The pragmatic young veteran could have made it a race with Muncey. But, as he admitted, "you don't take chances like that if you don't have to. It doesn't make sense." He added candidly: "I drive just fast enough to win."
In the final summing up Miss Bardahl had 1200 points; Miss Lapeer, 1100; Miss Budweiser, 925; Miss U.S., 750; Atlas Van Lines, 596; Wayfarers Club, 521; Hilton Hy-Per-Lube, 450.
(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, October 1967, pp.28-9)