Top Campaigners: The Schoeniths and Their Gales [1959]

From people not thoroughly familiar with unlimited class powerboat racing one occasionally hears talk of "commercialism" because a lot of these race boats carry the names of business concerns by which they are owned and operated, or of the products of those companies. It is true that Gold Cup boats are often so owned and operated, and that this business expense is justified on the basis of favorable publicity for the sponsoring concern.

The fact is that, with costs what they are today, there would be little unlimited class racing if the sportsmen who race these boats could not allocate all or part of the costs to their businesses. To own and campaign a Gold Cup boat is something few individuals can afford. Taking cognizance of this situation, the American Power Boat Assn., supervising body of the sport, this year amended its rules to permit outright corporate ownership of unlimited hydroplanes.

The initial cost of a complete Gold Cup type boat, ready to operate, runs from $16,000 to $25,000 depending on such variables as the amount of increasingly-popular aluminum used in the construction of the hull. To move the boat about, and act as its resting place between infrequent operating periods, it is necessary to acquire a truck which costs about $6,500. Spare engines will carry price tags averaging $1,000 each, and about three such spare power plants will be needed for each season's racing.

The hull — barring accidents — should have a useful racing life of three to five years. And the end of its life must be anticipated, for it requires some four months to assemble a new outfit, from the time of placing the order for the hull until everything can be whipped into racing trim.

Depending on the length of an owner's campaigning season, the amount of work done on his craft out-of-season, and the amount of free work he can wheedle from friends, crew wages can amount to anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000 per year. Then there is rent on a shop and "home-port" pits which might run $2,500 for a 12-month period. Transportation charges to and from races have been calculated at $.25 a mile. (Detroit to Seattle and return would thus cost some $1,250.) While on the road, the crew — a minimum of four — will cost at least $15 per man per day in living expenses.

Of the 25 or so unlimited hydros in competition, the most active during the past decade have been the Gales, owned by W. D. Gale, Inc., of Detroit and campaigned by that firm's head, Joe Schoenith.

Schoenith owns the Gale concern, a large electrical supply and construction company. The founder, W. D. Gale, is now retired and lives in California. Though Schoenith has controlled the business for years, he has vowed never to change its name. The Gale boats have provided excellent advertising for both the company and the man who heads it. Few — even in Detroit — had ever heard of either the corporation or the Schoeniths until the Gales entered the Gold Cup picture.

A Fighter On Occasions

Joe Schoenith normally is a quiet, soft-spoken man in his mid-fifties, symmetrically small in stature. He has an engaging smile when in repose, but turns into a flush-faced, forceful fighter when a controversy develops. Controversies do develop before and after Gold Cup races, and the senior Schoenith hasn't missed many.

His son, Lee, the most active driver of the team, is 29 years old, married and the father of two sons. His future driving status is now in doubt pending a medical decision on his badly damaged back.

The chief engineer of the Gale camp is Bill Cantrell, who some time ago gave up driving the Indianapolis 500-mile auto races in favor of Gold Cup competition.

The senior Schoenith got into boat racing when Dan Arena introduced him to Jack Schafer, whose Such Crusts had publicized Schafer individually and advertised his bakery business tremendously. "I was a little envious of Schafer's success," Joe admits.

Schoenith's first unlimited hydro was Herb Mendelson's last Notre Dame which Dan Arena had designed and built. Joe renamed her Gale, after his firm. Aside from the advertising motive, Schoenith was urged on by son Lee. Joe recalls. "Whether Lee got me started or I got him, I don't want to say, but we both got in up to our ears. Lee was 21 then, and out of DeLaSalle High. We had a speedboat and an outboard but his first ride — and mine too — in an unlimited was in Notre Dame. We didn't win anything with her."

The Schoeniths have been incessant in their Gold Cup challenges since the late Stanley S. Sayres invaded Detroit in 1950 with Slo-mo-shun IV and moved the race from the relatively rough river that flows in front of the Motor City far away to Seattle and its ideally-surfaced Lake Washington.

As father Schoenith tells it, "We built Gale II, but Lee was in the Army before the boat was completed. After his return from Korea we went on with this and later Gales, doing our share of winning as we went. The real thrill, of course did not come until 1955 when we won the Gold Cup."

There have been at least 10 Gale hulls in the years the Schoeniths have been racing Gold Cuppers, despite the fact that the current Roman numeral is VI. Attribute that to modesty. conservatism, or what you will. When a Gale has smashed up — and Gales have — the Schoeniths have simply built a new hull, put in the previous power plant, and stayed with the old number.

The campaigners of the Gales have never been long on radical hull designs. Rather, they have concentrated their thinking and their dollars on power. Of late years all their hulls have been built at Kawkawlin, Mich., by former church pew builder Les Staudacher. They have been from blueprints originally prepared by Ted Jones who designed the Slo-mo-shuns and many other top West Coast boats.

Facilities For Making Them Go

Given the right hull, the Schoeniths have the facilities for making it go fast. They have a large machine shop 15 miles out of Detroit where, all winter long, work is done on engines, superchargers, gear boxes, shafts and props. Down on the river front, adjacent to their new cocktail lounge and restaurant called the Roostertail, they have their real racing headquarters — another machine shop, electrically operating hauling facilities and their own cranes.

The Schoeniths are sticking to Allison engines, which are lighter than the Packard-built Rolls power plants. In Gold Cup racing the Achilles heel of the Allison has been the quill shaft in the supercharger. Replacing a quill shaft is still a big job but the Schoenith team can now do it with reasonable speed. At least, a quill shaft which breaks in the morning no longer means no racing that afternoon. The Gale engine inventory includes enough Allisons to last for a season of 12 or more unlimited class races. In addition, there is a large stock of spare parts.

When the Schoeniths go to the Gold Cup race they will have five- or six-man crew, three paid employees and the remainder relatives or friends who have the know-how as well as the enthusiasm for racing.

Cantrell Will Drive Gale V

Bill Cantrell will drive Gale V in this Year's race unless the doctors put the "ok" on Lee's bad back. Up to the time of the Gold Cup Cantrell and Roy Duby, another ex-auto racer, will do all the test driving and racing. Though both Cantrell and Duby have had near-fatal accidents in Gold Cup boats, their backs have not been hurt. (Duby's neck was broken on the Detroit River and Cantrell was burned from head to foot at Seattle.)

The plans for the new Gale VI have not been resolved as this is written. She is a new two-engine-in-line craft. The Schoeniths supplied the power and Staudacher built the hull. If she proves herself, it is planned to send her to Seattle.

In the more than 10 years that the Schoeniths have been campaigning, their Gales have won a lot of races. But their biggest achievement was taking the Gold Cup from Seattle in 1955 after that city's Stanley Sayres had won it five consecutive times. It was the closest race in the trophy's history. Lee, driving a since-replaced hull named Gale V, didn't win a single one of the three 30-mile heats, but he piled up enough points to do the trick. He beat his former fellow townsman Bill Muncey in Miss Thriftway for the full 90-mile distance by 4.536 seconds.

The pendulum of Gold Cup racing success seems to have swung far to the west during the past decade. But no one has done more to reverse its direction than the Schoeniths and their justly-famous Gales.

(Reprinted from Yachting, July, 1959)