1967 Suncoast Cup

Bill Brow Killed in Tampa Race

The 1967 unlimited hydroplane racing season was precisely one minute old when tragedy, the seemingly unshakable spectre that rides the roostertails these days, struck in the circuit opener, the Tampa Suncoast Cup race, June 11. Miss Budweiser, driven by Seattle dairyman Bill Brow, 41, went out of control while in the lead on the first backstretch. Brow was thrown from the boat and despite heroic, swift medical measures, died two hours later without regaining consciousness.

He was the fifth unlimited driver to be killed in nine races dating back to the 1966 season. Some 12,000 spectators gasped as Miss Budweiser, estimated to be running close to 170 m.p.h., became airborne after briefly bouncing over a choppy portion of the course. The boat teetered from left to right a couple of times just before she took off, fluttering like a bird in flight that had been hit with shot and crippled. Bernie Little's hydro climbed skyward, rolled to the left and came clown on the water with a crash. The racer seemingly hooked, became airborne again as she turned 180 degrees. The boat was breaking up at that point and it was then that Brow was thrown. The second time Miss Budweiser smashed down, she cartwheeled and went to the bottom.

The eventual victory of Billy Schumacher of Seattle, driving the new Miss Bardahl, was an anti-climactic thing. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, with a doctor aboard, immediately dropped down on the accident scene, had Brow aboard and was flying again in three minutes. Five minutes later Brow was in the emergency room of St. Joseph's Hospital, Tampa, but despite a team of doctors working only eight minutes after the crash, Brow died from multiple injuries, mainly in the area of the brain.

Miss Bardahl was in the first heat with Budweiser, Miss Madison, Jim McCormick in Notre Dame, and Red Loomis in Miss Wickman. Ed O'Halloran in Miss Madison made a fine start but on the outside. Brow had the inside lane but came up too fast, had to back off. Miss Madison was to the turn first. Rough-running Notre Dame didn't start well and Miss Bardahl was not doing well. Schumacher said Miss Madison washed him clown. O'Halloran got Miss Madison around the turn with Miss Budweiser close behind. On the back straightaway Madison was almost immediately overtaken by Brow, just as soon as there was room for acceleration. O'Halloran said later, "I was set up for around 130 m.p.h. but Brow went by so fast it startled me." About 100 yards beyond the mid-way buoy on the backstretch, the end came. O'Halloran had to swerve his hydroplane in order to escape running through the debris but fortunately Miss Budweiser, and Brow, had fallen to the inside edge of the nautical infield.

In the rerun of the heat, it was Miss Madison, Miss Bardahl, Notre Dame and Miss Wickman. Another good start paid off for O'Halloran but the speed, in the wake of the accident, was a cautious 94.4 m.p.h.

Heat 1-B brought together Warner Gardner in Miss Lapeer, Walter Kade in Savair's Mist, Roy Duby in Smirnoff and Chuck Hickling in last year's high point Tahoe Miss, this year running as Harrah's Club. Smirnoff got a lot of pre-race attention because of its computerized fuel injector with miles of spaghetti-like wiring. Scheduled driver Wild Bill Cantrell, hours before race start, had to fly to Louisville due to the sudden death of his brother. Duby pinch hit. Lapeer, running well, was the winner with 96.3 m.p.h. against 96.1 for Savair's Mist, the veteran Kade driving with his experience working for him. Smirnoff's computer must have been punched wrong for she did not run well. Harrah's Club went out with a mechanical breakdown.

Heat 1-C was won by Bill Muncey in the new Miss U.S., pegging 99.9 m.p.h. for the fastest time of the day on Tampa Bay. Jim Ranger in My Gypsy was second, Bob Schroeder in Atlas Van Lines ex-Maverick, a good third. Bill Sterett in Miss Chrysler Crew did not finish. A minor fire was just enough to knock the engine dead.

In the second round of heats, reduced to two, the winners were Miss Lapeer and Bardahl. Atlas Van Lines and Savair's Mist followed behind Miss Lapeer. Bardahl, going much better after some engine adjustments, pushed Miss Madison back to second with My Gypsy third. Schumacher claimed this time he got a good hosing from Muncey at the initial turn. Miss Bardahl sputtered along well back but got going. In one lap Billy, part-time University of Washington student, went from fourth to second. The duel between Schumacher and Muncey folded when Miss U.S. went out with motor trouble. The early and impressive leader was Miss Chrysler Crew but a broken supercharger belt cost him a real chance for a win after building a nice lead.

Going into the final heat, Miss Bardahl and Miss Madison had 700 points apiece but top point man then was Col. Gardner with 800 aboard Miss Lapeer. In the showdown, Miss Lapeer was unable to get enough r.p.m.'s to stay in contention. By the end of the second lap Miss Bardahl was out front to stay. Kade, in Savair's Mist, pushed Schumacher but not quite enough. The final order was Bardahl, Savair's Mist, Miss Madison, My Gypsy, Atlas Van Lines and Miss Lapeer.

Final point standings: Miss Bardahl-1,100; Miss Madison-925; Miss Lapeer-895; Savair's Mist-825; My Gypsy-694; Atlas Van Lines-652; Miss U.S.-400; Miss Wickman-238; Smirnoff-225; Notre Dame-225.

-- Red Marston

(Reprinted from Yachting, August 1967, pp.153-154)