1966 San Diego Cup

Missed Buoy Prevents "The Great Confrontation"

Bill Brow, popular and seasoned driver from the newer group, was so busy piloting Miss Budweiser to a perfect-points victory in the San Diego Cup on Mission Bay, September 25, in the major fall windup of the tragedy-pocked 1966 unlimited hydro season, he couldn't have realized that he was signaling what just may be remembered as the closing of the modern era and the beginning of the new approach.

It has been just 16 years since Stan Sayres, Ted Jones and an accomplished coterie of power-plant wizards made believers out of everyone racing against the unbelievable Slo-mo-shun IV. This quiet, calculating team, fronted by garrulous drivers, revolutionized designs and propulsion created an unlimited hydroplane era attuned to the speed of the mid-century; brought Gold Cup and unlimited racing to the West and became the first to nudge 200 mph on the water with a propeller as they set world records.

In a one-fell-swoop raid on the Detroit dynasties they created the now-accepted blend of three-pointers, fixed position air rudders and 2000-hp marine versions of the Allison and Rolls-Royce airplane engines.

What, then, were the significant points indicating changes that tied themselves into this Third Annual San Diego event? Well, one that had to be in the minds of every race official, driver and owner: This was a neat, clean race. Creditable, though average speeds, sound driving, no mishaps, no protests. There was clever driving without foolish chance-taking. And the equipment looked surprisingly good considering what a beating the fleet had taken during 1966. In short: Unlimited racing could use this good, all-round confidence-producer after the disastrous season of four top driver deaths and the temporary beaching of the circuit's best racing teams.

The talk in the pits was of who was developing what for next year. It adds up to one piece of bold handwriting on the big orange and black racing clock: 1967 will probably see the most updated boats ever coming onto the circuit at one time; the depth of speed and staying quality will be significant; there will be new faces, new backing and new openings for the unheralded. And that can mean change.

Even the traditional jerry-rigged billboard that serves as the final one-minute clock is due for obsolescence. San Diego says it will try out a newly-designed series of "venetian-blind" slats in a big round face where each second is electronically timed and actuated into the flip of the orange side over into the black. The present system is somewhat less accurate. There was even some confusion during heat 2-B when the starting gun, bombed a fraction later than the official clock, indicated that four racers were not across the line early — a confusing incident, at best.

The biggest significant factor, that means change is evident for the seasons to come, was all wrapped up in the strategic Case of the Hit Buoy. This eliminated Miss Chrysler Crew from entering the third heat as one of the top five. It can now be only conjecture, but the incident probably took away the finest two-boat finale challenge of the year, especially because Miss Chrysler Crew proved in heats 1-B and 2-C that her automotive power plants are now the first threat to Allison and Rolls-Royce unlimited supremacy since Stan Sayres proved the one in Slo-mo IV and the other in Slo-mo V and all of the Hawaii Kais, Gales, Thriftways, Tahoes and Budweisers etched the records longer and deeper throughout the past decade-and-a-half.

The main core of racing would have loved to see this finale that never got to the starting line. It takes nothing from Miss Budweiser. She had a great day. Brow was superb; wise with his equipment. But he might have been the center of one of the great power stories in years — the light-heavy vs. the proven heavyweight, a water version of who's faster, who's the best fighter, or the change to challenging lightweights at the Indianapolis 500.

Even if they didn't meet each other, sponson-to-sponson, in the finale heat, the records of the day for these two are definitely a part of this San Diego Cup story.

If you don't already know it, Miss Chrysler Crew became an unexpected surprise for 1966. Spawned by this Detroit automobile builder, she is driven by a 426-cu. in. Hemi (for hemispherical combustion chamber) automotive engines from the same kind of blocks used in the company's automotive line. They are supercharged for this hydroplane version and now produce somewhere between 800 and 850 hp each, transferring this power through a special Casale V-drive. No automotive power plant has had any recognition to date above the limited classes. Few gave Miss Chrysler Crew a chance to advance this far in 1966, including this viewer.

The premise for her design and engineering centers around a lighter total weight to offset the lesser horsepower. The crew has figured her to be around 5000 pounds and, taking the program weights of some of the other competitors, this would put her approximately 1000 pounds under My Gypsy (one of the lighter hydros, herself) and perhaps 2000 pounds less than Miss Budweiser.

Straight-line acceleration has been claimed Miss Chrysler Crew's forte. And through great craftsmanship at the wheel Bill Sterett proved this point in heat 2-C, the thriller of the day. Budweiser, $ Bill, Dixi Cola and Chrysler rounded the buoys in parade formation and horneted for the starting line in the final 15 seconds. The other three slightly backed off to prevent jumping the gun. Chrysler was a length back and surrounded. Boom! she shot out of the crowd (without benefit of the nitrous booster some are now using) and gave the illusion that her straightaway lead of 300 yards was split-second rocketry. The crowd roared and Chrysler began lap averages of 109 mph and above.

The makeup of her integral package called for Bill Sterett to go on this race strategy: quick acceleration at the low-torque end revving to 7200 rpm, then settling back to around 6800 rpm if in the lead — and hugging the buoys tight all the way. It backfired. Sterett hit the orange buoy entering the south turn, damaged it and moved it out of position. The report to the observers and crowd that he had gone "inside" the buoy was erroneous. Had he bumped the buoy lightly and had not moved it, he could have stayed by the five laps, made 400 points (almost surely) and gone into the finale.

Sterett didn't know he had hit it. But, after he ran the called-for extra lap which gave him a weak fourth, paint on the hull proved he had hit it. Miss Budweiser went on to cop the 400 points — and eventually a perfect 1200.

Can then an automotive propulsion setup stay with the big boys? It is still a moot question but you can look at these statistics:

Of boats completing the heats, Miss Budweiser was tops with an average lap of 112.500 mph. Hers was also the fastest heat at 109.778. For the two major heats, Miss Budweiser averaged 106.882, just short of 107; and, not pushed in the finale, coasted at a lesser 105.551:

Now, using only Miss Chrysler Crew’s unofficial five laps in heat 2-C (she was officially required to run six) and averaging this with her other heat, she reaches the suppositional figure of 108.062. In the realm of the iffy, what a final heat that could have been between Miss Bud and Miss Chrysler! The questions now are: With a season under her belt, will Chrysler be tuned to still better? Will others follow her lead into automotive-type propulsion? Will the growing scarcity of the Allisons and Rolls hurry this day? And try this one on: Roy Duby was picking up good points during the day in Miss Smirnoff with his experimental "Dubenhauser" engine — an Allison block using Rolls supercharger and appurtenances.

Ole Bardahl is building a new Miss Bardahl for re-entry to the field in '67. Miss Dixi Cola plans big things with Freddy Alter. Bob Fendler still believes he can bring championships to the Southland. The Notre Dame camp will have its newest back on the circuit next year.

And San Diego again showed a great course and fine facilities. It looks as though she'll become a giant on the circuit from now on.

In a bit of side drama to the deserved and easy win of Miss Budweiser, Mira Slovak piled up enough points in Tahoe Miss to lead for the national driver championship. Between the second heat and the Cup's championship heat, he flew over the course in a special Czech-built stunt plane and gave the crowd a tremendous show. His finish was a down the course, upside down, arms stretched toward the water "Look, Ma, no hands" frightener. He then finished the day challenging Budweiser in the first lap to have Tahoe Miss' engine conk out in the first backstretch where he spent the last eight minutes of racing visiting with the onlookers along the banks.

The Box Score

Final points: Budweiser, 1200; $ Bill, 1000; Gypsy, 850; Smirnoff, 700; Tahoe, 600; Chrysler, 489; Savair's Mist, 989; Dixi Cola, 450; Madison, 400; Loaner, 225.

Heat 1A, winner, $ Bill; 1B, Budweiser; 1C Smirnoff.

Heat 2A, Miss Madison, winner;

2B, My Gypsy;

2C Budweiser.

The last heat, Budweiser, $ Bill and Gypsy.

Smirnoff and Tahoe Miss, DNF.


The season finished with the Sacramento Cup on Lake Folsom. Miss Lapeer and Warner Gardner of Michigan took top honors. She beat Chrysler Crew in the final heat. And the latter finished third overall — taking an extra lap in 2-C over that nemesis of close starts, a jumped gun.

(Reprinted from Sea and Pacific Motor Boat, November 1966, pp.32-33)