1959-03 (Sharkey) / 5903 (UNJ)

Two Thousand Horsepower Under Me At 160 Miles An Hour [1961] (Miss Supertest III)

By Bob Hayward

On August 5 [1961] Bob Hayward, Canada's unsung world champion of speedboat racing, defends the Harmsworth Trophy at Picton, Ont. Here Hayward and photographer Don Newlands take you into the cockpit of the hottest racing boat afloat.

TO TAKE THE PICTURE at left Don Newlands put his feet into the engine pit about eight feet from the bow and sat on the cherry plywood deck, facing the stern of Miss Supertest III, the boat I pilot. We gave him a life-jacket and a helmet like the ones I wear at the wheel. Then we lashed him into place — I was going to show him speed on the water, and I didn't want to lose him.

Out on the St. Clair River off Sarnia, where we had been making some final tests before shipping Miss Supertest to Picton [Ontario] for the Harmsworth, I took her up to seventy-five — well under half her top speed. Newlands signaled that he was ready. I accelerated to about 100, as fast as I dare go when the water is swelly. (Choppy water doesn't bother an unlimited class hydroplane too much, but swells do; a good long one acts like a ramp and can send your boat flying 200 feet before it touches the water again.)

When we came in, Newlands, who has raced sports cars and owns and drives a Jaguar XKE, said: "That makes any automobile I've ever been in feel like a kiddy car."

It would. Miss Supertest can be cruising at 100 and, given more throttle, pick up to 160 as fast as your car will go from 20 to 60. And speed feels faster on water than it does on land. The windshield top is just below my eye-level and I can feel the wind tugging at my helmet.

That windshield, incidentally, isn't the only protection I have. Our engine is open to the spray. At its front, where Newlands sat, there's an aluminum alloy shield across the carburetors. In the Detroit Memorial race in June, where I piloted Miss Supertest II, I hit some choppy water at about 130 m.p.h. I could see a black stripe in the wall of water that went up as the nose dipped. I was certain there was something wrong with the hull. I slowed down, and lost the race. Afterward, we found a hole in the bow of Number II big enough to pass a loaf of bread through, and a bash in the aluminum shield about an inch and a half deep.

How fast will Miss Supertest III go? Over 180, and probably faster, though I wouldn't like to do it. These racing boats, which are worth $40,000 or more each, are designed not only for speed, but to take the turns of the oval courses used in competition. These boats are hydroplanes. The simplest way to describe a hydroplane is to say it rides on the water like an inverted saucer with the ends chipped out. It rests, in fact, on a small cushion of air. At 160, the only parts of Miss Supertest that touch the surface are half the propeller, fourteen inches of rudder and two areas of the forward sponsons (the remaining lips of the saucer) about the size of my hands. If a hydroplane is driven too fast, it will take off. Most racing boats are designed to go 15 to 20 miles an hour faster than they'll ever be driven, and I once saw a hydroplane take off up a swell and do a complete loop-the-loop. With Miss Supertest II in 1957, we set a world speed record for propeller boats of 184.45 m.p.h., and it's been broken twice since then. When I first won the Harmsworth in 1959, with Miss Supertest III, my fastest lap was at 109 over a three-mile course. Retaining it last year over a five-mile course, my fastest lap was a little over 126. This year, at three miles again, my top speed likely won't exceed 150.

That's fast enough when you're steering a three-ton boat. The faster you go on water the harder it is to steer. To save drag, Miss Supertest's 13-inch steel propeller is set half way out of the water. (That may sound like not much power to drive the boat, but our two-thousand horsepower Rolls Royce Griffon engine spins it 11,000 times a minute.) One result is that the prop tries to "walk" the boat sideways and all I've got to hold against it is that fourteen inches of rudder. I figure driving takes almost exactly as much out of me as running; the forty-five miles of the Harmsworth is as tiring as running hard for twenty-five minutes.

The Brains And The Bankroll

Two of us work full time on the boats, myself and crew chief Victor Leghorn, who has been with the Supertest people since they started racing ten years ago. Vic and I strip and inspect the hull and completely disassemble certain sections of the engine at least half a dozen times a year, and we are constantly modifying them. We know how long every part will last and our motto is "Replace it before it goes." The bushing in the wheel case, for instance, we replace after every ninety minutes of running time.

The real designing brains-as well as the bankroll - of the Miss Supertest team are supplied by Jim Thompson, now president of the Supertest Company. Jim, a graduate of Royal Roads naval college and an engineer, helped design Miss Supertest II, and did much of the test driving on her. We set the speed record with Miss Supertest II, but she could never quite win the Harmsworth. The Harmsworth is a challenge trophy, originally put up by the British. It had never been held by a Canadian boat until we came along.

I've always thought of Miss Supertest III, Jim's latest design, which has never been beaten in her three races, as "my" boat. The press often refers to me as a chicken farmer, and in fact my brother and I still have four acres of farmland at Embro, Ont., a tiny place near London, and we did raise chickens, but mainly we're in the trucking business now. I used to race outboards when I was fourteen, but as soon as I was old enough to have a driver's licence I switched to cars. I built a "dragster" (a stock car designed for speed) that was once clocked at 132 m.p.h. and I think I still hold the unofficial lap record for the track at Nilestown, Ont., another small place near London.

In 1957, when I was twenty-nine (I'm thirty-three now), I was asked to join Mr. Thompson's boat crew to help tune Number II for a race. I was given a chance to do some of the test driving and from there I soon worked up to pilot. That was the year when Mr. Thompson decided to try to use some of the things he'd learned from the design and performance of Number II in a new boat. In late 1958, Miss Supertest III went on the drawing board.

At three tons, Supertest III is 1,000 pounds lighter than her older sister, but she's still heavier than nearly all the present U. S. racing hydroplanes. The actions involved in driving a racing boat look simple; the only controls I have to move are the steering wheel and the throttle, which is a foot-pedal slightly bigger than a car's. Even the acceleration, however, is not quite that straightforward. With the supercharger, all I'd have to do is keep my foot on the gas too long and we'd pop the sparkplugs like champagne corks. In the minute and forty seconds, roughly, that it takes to go around the three-mile course, I have to negotiate both ends of the oval, which are semi-circles a thousand feet in diameter, and it is the cornering that is the real art of race-driving.

A look at the picture to the left will help you understand a racing driver's technique of cornering. We turn the rudder hard a couple of hundred feet before the curve, at the same time slowing down. I try to hit about, 120 where the curve begins. By the time I'm into the turn, the boat is skidding, broadsliding. At the end of the oval, if things are going right, I'm down to about 80. Then I accelerate again, still in a sort of controlled slide. I should be going about 110 as I hit the straightaway.

In last year's Harmsworth, my boat and I beat three challengers, the maximum any one country is allowed. This year there will be only one challenger though as I write in mid-July I don't know who it will be. I expect either Chuck Thompson in Miss Detroit or Wild Bill Cantrell in Gale V. Thompson is what we call a "hard" driver: he's excellent at timing the moving starts used in speedboat racing and he likes the inside of the course. I'll probably have to go around him if I want to get by. Cantrell, who is 52 and who beat Miss Supertest II and me in the Detroit Memorial, takes his corners faster and wider. Against him, I'll try for the inside.

Whoever I face, the Harmsworth will be the high point of my year. I've been known to say I drive for the money. But there are a lot of thrills in it - more than I can imagine in any other way of life.

(Reprinted from Maclean's Magazine August 12, 1961)

[Bob Hayward won that 1961 Harmsworth race held August 5 & 7, 1961. Tragically, he lost his life in the 1961 Silver Cup in Detroit on September 10, 1961, less than a month after this article appeared. See also the memorial to Hayward]