Some More Early Three-Pointers

Some More Early Three-Pointers [Version 2]

By "The Ghost of Hydroplane Past"

The three-point hydroplane class of 1939 included no fewer than four new Gold Cup Class rigs with the new-fangled sponsons on them.

In the 1939 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit, the three-pointers, for the first time, outnumbered the step hydroplanes.

The four newcomers to the combined Gold Cup and 725 Cubic Inch Class fleet that year comprised So-long, Why Worry, Mercury and Hermes IV. Together with My Sin, a 1938 vintage three-pointer, these four new sponson boats made the fast-steppers work for it in 1939.

So-long and Why Worry were products of the Ventnor Boat Works of Ventnor, New Jersey, while Mercury and Hermes IV were strictly homebuilt, as were most of the boats that participated on the 725 Class circuit in the Midwest.

All of the three-pointers of the 1930s were tail-draggers with fully submerged propellers and, as such, didn't kick up very much in the way of a roostertail. Not until the late 1940s did the boats begin to "prop ride."

So-Long, owned and driven by Lou Fageol, used half of a 12-cylinder Curtiss Conqueror engine. The power plan consisted of two banks of three cylinders each, rated at 450 horsepower. The 1939 race, with So-Long credited with a straightaway speed of 88 miles, was Fageol's first Gold Cup appearance. The boat hit some drift in the first heat, severely damaging the propeller, and wasn't much of a factor in the event.

In a later reincarnation, as the Dossin brothers' Miss Peps V, it was driven by Danny Foster to wins in the Gold Cup at Jamaica Bay, New York; the Ford Memorial at Detroit; the President's Cup in Washington; the National Sweepstakes and Auerbach Trophies at Red Bank, New Jersey, and the Viking Trophy at New Martinsville, West Virginia.

In 1953, as the Short Snorter, this same hull was the original winner of the Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy at Tahoe City, California, with Stanley Dollar driving.

Why Worry was originally a 225 Class hull, beefed up to handle a 725 Class Wright/Hisso V-8 engine. About the only part of Why Worry that wasn't homemade was the bare hull itself. In certain places, bailing wire was used in the craft. The gears dated back to 1925, and a second-hand automobile wheel with wire cable constituted the steering mechanism.

As the story goes, the engine cost driver Bill Cantrell $175. When he discovered that the type of pistons he needed would cost $700, he did the work himself at a cost of $3.50 per piston. Still, the boat could do 99 miles an hour on a straightaway mile (at Washington, D.C., in 1940).

But in 1939, this boat was ready to serve notice of its speedy intentions. Cantrell won all three heats of the special 725 Class invitation race, posting an overall average of 62.186 mph.

Cantrell himself was ripe for a shot at the big-time. He had begun racing in the mid-1920s and had become the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association's most celebrated personality. His first Gold Cup appearance also was in 1939 and, whereas Fageol hung up his helmet following the Slo-mo-shun V's blowover at Seattle in 1955, Cantrell remained an active driver until 1965 (with Miss Smirnoff), an owner until 1982 (Miss Kentuckiana Paving) and a team consultant until 1995 (Miss D.O.C./Cooper's Express).

In the Gold Cup proper for 1939, Cantrell and riding mechanic Jim Vetter led the field over the starting line of the first heat. It led Notre Dame, So-Long, My Sin, Miss Canada III and Mercury -- another 725 Class boat -- down the backstretch. For the first time in Gold Cup history, a three-pointer was controlling the race, not to mention a low-budget MVPBA rig holding its own against the high-dollar craft of the American Power Boat Association.

Why Worry's lead was shortlived. It leapt out of the water in the second lap with such force that all the blades sheared off its prop. Guy Simmons and My Sin eventually worked up through the field and took the checkered flag.

Fitted with a new propeller, Cantrell again led the start of the next heat. But, again, prop trouble forced him out at the end of the second lap. My Sin went on to win the heat and the race. Comparing fast laps, Why Worry had a best of 66.894, with Notre Dame 66.225, My Sin 70.153 and Miss Canada III at 70.102. Even in defeat, Cantrell's so-called "Haywire Hydro" could run with the best of them.

Marion Cooper's Mercury also hailed from Louisville and used Hisso power with eight dual Stromberg carburetors. The craft differed markedly from the Ventnor configuration in that the sponsons were situated largely underneath the hull with less than a foot protruding outward. By comparison, the Ventnor three-pointers had their sponsons located all to the outside of the integral hull.

Owner-driver Cooper had won many 725 Class trophies in 1937 and 1938 at the wheel of Hermes III. Cooper was, for many years, the general manager of Louisville Motors. One of Marion's employees who worked as a crew member on Cooper's 725 Class boats was Jim Noonan, the father of future UHRA referees Mike and Billy Noonan.

Mercury had mechanical difficulties and failed to finish the 725 Class race at Detroit in 1939, but managed an overall fourth that same weekend in the Gold Cup.

The following year, Cooper and Mercury won the Seagram Trophy on the Ohio River at Evansville, Indiana. They finished the day in a point tie with Cantrell and Why Worry. The victory went to Mercury for having registered a faster heat speed than Why Worry.

For two hours, Mercury was the fastest unsupercharged Gold Cup contender in the world with a straightaway clocking of 98 miles an hour at Washington, D.C., in 1940. Then, Why Worry went out and did 99.

In one of the last races to be run before World War II -- and gasoline rationing -- Cooper and Mercury traveled to Florida and won the 1942 Emil Auerbach Memorial Trophy on Biscayne Bay. This race carried with it the 725 Class national championship.