The Florida Racing Circuit [1949]

The 11 new motorboat records that were set during the Florida racing circuit were all made on the three most protected courses. Five records were broken at Lakeland on the weekend of March 5 and 6 on the circular Lake Hollingsworth course, which is right in the center of the town. Lorin Pennington, from Santa Monica, who last year was the circuit's sensation with his E inboard runabout Copperhead, set the mark for the 225 hydroplanes up to 74.751 m.p.h. with his new Copperhead II. This was up from 73.170 made by George Mattucci's California Kid in 1947. Following the 225 event the original Copperhead, now owned by Al Lodwick and driven by Charles Pierce, both of Lakeland, got up to 61.771 against the former 61.058 m.p.h. for the E’s.

Also at Lakeland, Eleanor Shakeshaft, of White Plains, pushed her own outboard record for M hydros first to 35.019 and in the next heat up to 26.779. In the Florida Family outboard runabouts James Whitt, of Yalaha, Florida, set that mark at 42.333. These records were all set in competition and in five mile heats.

At Mt. Dora on Feb. 6, which was the beginning of the circuit of 12 regattas, the Florida Family mark had been pushed up to 41.783 by John Ferlita, of Tampa, in a field of nine boats. The same afternoon Reese Layton, of Baltimore, established a record of 37.716 for the new 48 cubic inch hydroplane class which had been authorized only last year by the A.P.B.A. Layton and his wife Jane trailed two of the new boats down for the opening.

At St. Petersburg on Feb. 12 in the Southland Sweepstakes regatta, Layton's Yellow Jacket advanced the 48 cu. inch mark to 39.526. Leigh B. Hightower from Port Arthur, Texas, pushed the mark for 91 cu. inch hydros from 53.129 to 53.540. His Buddy, which is powered with two Crosley engines mounted on the same bed, also took the national 91 class championships which were a feature of this regatta. In the C inboard racing runabouts Les Trafton, local dockmaster, pushed his own mark of 52.386 up to 52.601 and next day advanced that to 54.878. This was all done on the Lake Maggiore course which was tried out so successfully last year.

Outboards have been turning up in such numbers that this year Sebring, Tampa, Ft. Pierce, Panama City and Orlando scheduled regattas only for them. St. Petersburg and Ft. Lauderdale limited their races to inboards. Mt. Dora, West Palm Beach, Miami, Lakeland and Lake Alfred included both.

The big 7 litre hydros did their first Florida racing as a class at three of the regattas. Lou Fageol, of Kent, Ohio, who had won Miami's Gold Cup Race in 1947 with So Long Jr., was down with his new So Long to place first at Palm Beach. Dan Arena's Peg-A-Lee also from Kent placed second. Joe Taggart's Tomyann from Canton and Tom Keane's Tomadge from Washington developed engine trouble. Positions were reversed at Ft. Lauderdale when Arena was first and So Long second with Bill Cantrell of Louisville driving. Taggart was third when his supercharger blew up and Keane, who was in only one heat, fourth. At their last racing in Miami, Arena was first, Keane second and Fageol third. The best speed was 60.810 which Fageol made at Palm Beach. It's obvious that another year the courses will have to be longer to give these boats a chance.

Though they set no records the two most consistent winners during the winter were Sidney Street, of Kansas City, and Douglas Creech, of Charlotte, N.C. Both are comparative newcomers, having taken up boat racing in the last three years, but they gave lessons to some of the oldtimers. Creech we'll come to a little later. Street, who presumably knows his engines as an automobile dealer, was down last year with Sid's Ace, a 135 hydro which had taken the 1947 Jafco Trophy when owned by Merlyn Culver. This time he had two new Hallet boats, Gee Whiz in the 135s and Whiz in the 225s.

At Mt. Dora he took the 225s and finished second to Thom Cooper of Kansas City in the 135s. At St. Petersburg he took the Andy Crawford Trophy, winning all three heats of the 135s, got two firsts and a second in the 225s and then took the big Southland Sweepstakes free-for-all. Then at West Palm Beach, Street really wowed the crowd. Barely losing out to Cooper in the first heat of the 135s he had built up a good lead in the second but capsized in the wash of an unpatrolled spectator cruiser. Uninjured but irked, and with cause, he was picked up and brought ashore. With no time to change his wet clothes he wound up his 225, hit the line with the gun and went on to take both heats with the meet's fastest speed of 65.217.

That was on Tuesday, Washington's Birthday. On Saturday of the same week at Ft. Lauderdale, Street took the 225s with a first and a second with Whiz and the 135s with two firsts with Gee Whiz that he had been working on day and night. On Sunday at Miami, he took both heats in both classes. This Biscayne Bay regatta for the third year had rough water, though the course had been moved to the lee of a causeway, and both Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach had had rough water. Sid Street was doing so well it was too darn bad he had to return North and miss the good going the next week at Lakeland when Pennington broke the class record.

The 225s had good competition straight through with 13 boats that divided up all but the top honors. At Mt. Dora Ollie Prather's Lil Injun from Arcadia, Calif., was second; Ray Gassner's Sunshine Baby from St. Petersburg third and Pennington fourth. At St. Petersburg, Pennington was second, with a first and two seconds; C. A. Widenhouse's Lazy Day from Concord, N.C., third. At West Palm Beach, which had the biggest turnout of the class, Paul Sawyer's Belligero from San Antonio was second and Pennington third.

At Ft. Lauderdale, John Erickson's Papoose from Columbus, Ind., was second in the 225s; Sawyer third and Pennington, who capsized on a sharp turn in the second heat, fourth. The accident kept him out of the Miami racing next day when Gassner was second and Cal Connell's Snowball from Detroit was third. For the wind-up at Lakeland, Pennington brought Copperhead II in first for the record in a field of eight boats and when told he had broken the mark gave a warwhoop and dived, helmet and all, into the lake. Erickson was in second place here, Gassner third and P. J. Henn's Goo Goo II from Murphy, N.C., was fourth.

The 135 hydros turned out eight strong at Mt. Dora with Thom Cooper's Pop's Tops taking both firsts, Street both seconds and W. C. Marten's Zip from Hampton, Va., both thirds. At St. Petersburg, Joe Palmer's Tommy Boy from Arlington, Va., which had dominated the class in 1948, followed Street to beat out Cooper for second. It was here that Street made the fastest time of the circuit, 65.655. Cooper took the unlimited Governor's Cup at Ft. Lauderdale, which his father the late Jack Cooper had won last year, and also ended up with class honors at Palm Beach and Lakeland. In the rough waters at Miami only Street and Palmer started and they finished both heats in that order.

There were E racing runabouts in seven different regattas and 12 starters competing. After Miami, however, the five out-of-state boats had to return home so that the entry lists at Lakeland and Lake Alfred were made up of Florida boats. In the final count Copperhead easily outran the field. Sherman Crichfield's Hell's Angel from St. Petersburg and Tracy Hill's Aloha II from Chicago were second and third on total points.

Douglas Creech trailed his A, B and C outboard hydro outfits down from Charlotte for his first try at winter racing. At Mt. Dora he took two firsts in A’s, fourth in B’s and second in C’s. At Sebring a week later he won every heat in all three classes. At Tampa he took the A’s and B’s and passed up the C’s. At West Palm Beach he took the A’s and C’s and was third in the B’s. At Miami he took the A’s, was third in B’s and second in C’s. At Lakeland he was second in A’s, third in B’s and second in C’s. At Lake Alfred he was second in both A’s and C’s. All this against fields running as high as 18 starters. Unofficial figures give him a fifth, 3 fourths, 3 thirds, 6 seconds, 17 firsts. Perhaps this is a record.

The most interesting duel of the circuit was in the midget outboards with a dozen starters but two girls always at the head. Boots Kaye Morphy, on from Hollywood with husband, son, and housetrailer as well as her Miss Shooting Star, took straight firsts at Sebring, Tampa and West Palm Beach. In every race, record holder Eleanor Shakeshaft, of White Plains, ran second. At Lakeland, however, Mrs. Shakeshaft really got her Sport tuned up to take both heats and set the new division II record of 36.779.

At Orlando, both A and B outboard hydros were won by Mabry Edwards. Doug Creech was second in the A’s, second in B’s, and first in the C’s. Speed Curry and Jack Wyckoff tied for C Service honors, and Curry took first in the Florida Family Runabouts.

The Col. Green Star Island Trophy went to Doug Creech for the highest point total of the Florida Circuit.

— Vivyan Hall

(Reprinted from Yachting, May 1949)