1938 APBA Gold Cup

Gold cup Class Revisited

For 1938, a new Notre Dame was entered but never made it to the starting line. Driver Perry flipped the boat on the day before the race. He was badly injured and suffered a crippled arm. Count Theo Rossi, driver of Alagi, was reported so distraught after the accident that he (Rossi) considered withdrawing from the race.

Motor Boating Magazine suggested that perhaps the rudder design was responsible for the crash. But twenty-four years later, in 1962, Shirley Mendelson McDonald, daughter of Herb Mendelson, reported to interviewer Fred Farley that Notre Dame had met with foul play at the 1938 Gold Cup. She insisted that someone whose identity was known to the Mendelson team had deliberately "sawed away part of the step."

Whatever the explanation, no official action was ever taken against the alleged saboteur and the 1938 Gold Cup was run as scheduled. Rossi and Alagi took the top honor and established a 3-mile lap record of 72.707.

Second-place in 1938 went to a homebuilt boat from San Francisco, the Miss Golden Gate, which was one of the first hydroplanes to utilize the new-style three-point design (two sponsons and a propeller), from the drawing board of owner/driver Dan Arena.

Another three-pointer, the Excuse Me, owned by Horace Dodge, Jr., fared less well at the 1938 Gold Cup. With the respected Bill Horn driving, Excuse Me resembled a hump-backed ping-pong bat. She was supposed to be a trendsetter for a new line of racing hulls, to be produced by Dodge. However, the boat wallowed along in last place and quite literally fell apart. She sank before completing a single heat.

Horace Dodge was so soured by the Excuse Me experience that, for the balance of his career, he concentrated almost exclusively on step hydroplanes. The only other three-pointer to carry the Dodge colors into competition was the short-lived Hornet of 1951.

The new Miss Canada III led for several laps in Heat One of the 1938 Gold Cup but had to withdraw on account of a faulty oil scavenging pump. Delphine IX dropped out with a blown gearbox.

Count Rossi had arrived in the United States with a fast, perfectly tuned, and painstakingly assembled engine and a boat that did everything asked of it without falling apart. The 19-foot 7-inch Alagi, powered by half of an Isotta-Fraschini aircraft engine, was the boat of the hour and the first craft from another continent to ever win the Crown Jewel of APBA racing.

In claiming the runner-up spot, Miss Golden Gate had posted the highest finish ever, up to that time, by a West Coast boat in the Gold Cup series. (Californian had finished third in 1931. The first Western boat to win the Gold Cup was Seattle's Slo-mo-shun IV in 1950.)

Miss Golden Gate driver Arena and riding mechanic Danny Foster impressed mightily at the 1938 Gold Cup. Truly, a lot would be heard from both of these young men, barely out of high school, in the years to come. And the story of their finish in Heat Three would be told and re-told. That was when, for the last eight laps, Foster had to hang precariously out of the cockpit into the engine compartment, holding the gas controls open with his hands after the fittings connecting the foot throttle with the carburetors went adrift.

Rossi hoped for back-to-back triumphs at Detroit and Washington, D.C., that year. And so he did. Unfortunately, no other Gold Cup boats showed up to contest the President's Cup. Alagi ran one 15-mile heat unopposed and was awarded the trophy by default.

In an exhibition race at Washington against some of the 225 Cubic Inch Class boats, Rossi and Alagi set a Potomac River lap record of 70.866 on a 2½-mile course. This translated to approximately 75 miles per hour on the faster 3-mile course used at Detroit.

The Italian Count's presence on the late 1930s APBA tour generated lots of favorable publicity for the sport. Rossi was clearly the most popular foreign driver since Kaye Don, driver of Miss England II, in 1931.

Years later, Rossi would donate the Martini & Rossi National High Point Trophy, which to this day is presented annually to the High Point Champion Unlimited hydroplane team.

(From "The Gold cup Class Revisited" by Fred Farley)