Jack Bartlow

Jack Bartlow Remembered

Jack Bartlow
Jack Bartlow

One of the most enigmatic drivers of Unlimited hydroplanes in the post-World War II era was Jack Bartlow of Detroit, Michigan.

He arrived on the Unlimited scene in the late 1940s as one of the "River Rats" that inhabited the post-war Motor City boat racing scene.

Bartlow drove for just about every Detroit Unlimited team at one time or another in the middle 1950s, most particularly for owners Horace Dodge, Jr., and George Simon.

An engineer for Grey Marine, his last race was in 1957. Jack then mysteriously vanished from Thunderboat racing and passed away a few years later.

Bartlow's first appearance in an Unlimited cockpit occurred at the 1949 APBA Gold Cup in Detroit as a riding mechanic with his friend Al D'Eath in Hurricane IV.

The Hurricane was a wild rider and a real handful to drive. Owner Morlan Visel had to withdraw midway through Heat One on account of badly blistered hands, suffered in trying to hold onto the steering wheel. D'Eath replaced Visel for Heat Two and recruited Bartlow as co-pilot.

Jack cut his hand in the cockpit and was bleeding so badly that Al had to drive close to the Judges Stand to allow Bartlow to dive overboard.

Not much was heard from Jack Bartlow for the next couple of years until he showed up behind the wheel of Hornet Crust at the 1952 President's Cup in Washington, D.C.

Hornet Crust, owned by Horace Dodge, was on loan to Jack Schafer and had the burned-out Such Crust IV's gear box and other equipment. The "IV" had caught fire at the Gold Cup in Seattle, seriously injuring driver Bill Cantrell.

In his first appearance as an Unlimited driver, Bartlow finished fourth in the President's Cup behind Chuck Thompson in Miss Pepsi, Joe Taggart in Miss Great Lakes II, and Danny Foster in Gale II.

He was out of action in 1953, but his career shifted into high gear in 1954 when he was named driver of Dodge's Dora My Sweetie, a step hydroplane. He handled the Dora in six races, finished in the top-three at five of them, and ended up third in a field of 21 drivers in the National High Point Drivers Standings.

Horace Dodge didn't like the three-point design. Hydroplanes with sponsons never appealed to him after the failure of a boat named Excuse Me in 1938.

Dora My Sweetie was designed by John Hacker and built by Les Staudacher. Initially, the Dora had a reputation as a wild-rider. (Walt Kade had been seriously injured while driving it at Washington, D.C., the year before.) But that impression would change before season's end.

Bartlow made an inauspicious debut with Dora My Sweetie at the 1954 Seattle Gold Cup. He conked out in the first turn and was through for the day. But it was onward and upward from there.

Jack pulled off the upset of the year a few weeks later when he won the Silver Cup at Detroit. He didn't have the fastest boat in the race but he had the most consistent.

The Silver Cup, in those days, consisted of five heats of 12 miles each on a 3-mile course. Bartlow finished second in all four preliminary heats and then cruised to an easy victory in the Final Heat, ahead of teammate John Ban in My Sweetie.

Cantrell in Gale IV and George Simon in Miss U.S. both turned faster competition laps than Dora My Sweetie but were unable to finish the 60 miles.

At the next few races, Bartlow placed second in the President's Cup, third in the Imperial Gold Cup (at New Martinsville, West Virginia), third in the International Cup (at Elizabeth City, North Carolina), and second in the Indiana Governor's Cup (at Madison).

There can be no denying that Jack Bartlow got more out of Dora My Sweetie than any of the others who took a turn at her wheel over the years, including the likes of Bill Muncey and Don Wilson.

For 1955, Bartlow was hired as crew chief for the Miss U.S. team. Owner Simon did most of the driving that year but did relinquish the cockpit to Jack a few times in late-season. Here, too, Bartlow got considerably more out of the boat than Simon did.

Jack's stand-out performance of 1955 was the Rogers Memorial Trophy at Washington, D.C., which he won hands-down.

Between 1954 and 1958, the President's Cup Regatta committee always scheduled two National High Points races: a 3-heat/45-mile race for the President's Cup and a 2-heat/30-mile race for the Rogers Memorial.

Bartlow and Miss U.S. took first-place in both heats of the Memorial race at speeds of 100.363 and 100.037 miles per hour. This bettered the speeds of second-place Chuck Thompson and Miss Pepsi, which did 97.297 and 98.289.

By comparison, the Rogers Memorial First Heat speed of 100.363 by Miss U.S. also bettered the fastest heat of that year's President's Cup, which was 100.092 by Danny Foster and Tempo VII, which did not enter the Memorial race.

From the standpoint of history, Bartlow's 2-heat/30-mile average of 100.148 was the first-ever in the Unlimited Class at over 100 miles per hour for any race scheduled for two or more heats.

And from a competitive standpoint, Jack pulled off the near-impossible feat of finishing ahead of Miss Pepsi twice in one day. This hardly ever happened. From 1950 to 1956, when Miss Pepsi was running right, she was the scourge of Unlimited racing.

For 1956, the Simon camp ordered a new Miss U.S. II from Les Staudacher. It was a problem boat from Day-One and never did ride right.

Jack managed a second-place with Miss U.S. II at the Prince Edward Regatta in Picton, Ontario, but soon relinquished the wheel to Don Wilson, who won the Silver Cup with the "II" but was likewise dissatisfied. Joe Taggart, on loan from the Slo-mo-shun IV team, took a turn with Miss U.S. II at St. Clair, Michigan, but was similarly unimpressed.

At the last few races of 1956, Bartlow divided his time between three different teams.

As the returning pilot of Dora My Sweetie, he placed third at both the Buffalo Launch Club Regatta and the Silver Cup.

Jack relief-drove for Frank "Bud" Saile in one heat of the Gold Cup at Detroit in the unusual Miss Wayne, which featured two V-12 Allisons, mounted side-by-side instead of in tandem.

At the President's Cup, he returned to the Miss U.S. I, the boat that had run so well for him in 1955 but which was by now a shell of its former self. It didn't make the cut for the Final Heat.

Bartlow was also active in 7-Litre Class racing and co-owned with John Ban a hydroplane of that description that they named Let’s Face It.

At the 1956 Buffalo Launch Club Regatta, one more entry was needed to reach the minimum of four boats for the race to count for Unlimited Class National High Points. (The Buffalo race was scheduled at a time when most of the Eastern fleet was out at Seattle competing for the Seafair Trophy.)

Lo and behold, Bartlow and Ban showed up at Buffalo with Let’s Face It in tow and a U-number painted on it (U-72). With John Bridge in the cockpit, Let’s Face It made a legal start in Heat One and thus enabled the race to count for National Points.

After 1956, Jack Bartlow's Unlimited career was pretty much over. Horace Dodge had retired from the sport and George Simon had Fred Alter and Don Wilson penciled in as his drivers for the newly-built Miss U.S. I and Miss U.S. IV.

By a curious set of circumstances, Bartlow made an unscheduled appearance in the cockpit of the Canadian Miss Supertest II at the 1957 Detroit Memorial Regatta.

During Heat 1-A, Jack was out in the middle of the race course doing patrol boat duty. Miss Supertest II had a rookie driver, Art Asbury, who was making his very first start as an Unlimited driver. Art had Supertest in the thick of things but got flipped out of the boat in the tight "Roostertail Turn."

Asbury was uninjured but Miss Supertest II continued under power at slow speed. The patrol boat fleet took off in pursuit.

Bartlow pulled alongside the driverless craft, made a fancy jump onto Supertest's deck, took the wheel of the boat, and drove it back to the pits.

Jack took one last sentimental journey as an Unlimited pilot with Jack Schafer's Such Crust III. The Schafer team was playing musical cockpits that year. In four races entered in 1957, four different drivers saw competitive action. Bartlow took his turn at the APBA Gold Cup in Seattle.

Such Crust III, built in 1953, was well past its prime, although it continued to make occasional appearances over the next few years. Measuring 35 feet in length and weighing close to 10,000 pounds, the twin-Allison-powered Crust was simply no match for the smaller and lighter single-engine boats of that era.

For his Unlimited swan song, Bartlow steered Such Crust III to two fourth-place finishes in the preliminary heats and didn't make the cut for the Final Heat. He ended up an overall 11th in a 20-boat Gold Cup field.

In the six decades since the end of World War II, approximately 250 men have driven Unlimited hydroplanes in competition. About 70 of those have managed to win at least one race that counted for National High Points. Jack Bartlow won two of them.

He got as much--if not more--out of Dora My Sweetie and the original Miss U.S. in 1954 and 1955 than anyone else ever did. And this was at a time when he was running against one of the most competitive fields in Unlimited history.

His career was short but meaningful.