Monday, May 20, 2013

HYDROMANIA: THE INAUGURAL RACE WEEK

Prior to the first ever unlimited hydroplane lap on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Mayor Perry Christianson of Coeur d’Alene commissioned Coral Reef owner Austin “Doc” Snell and his driver Harry Reeves as members of the Coeur d’Alene Navy. The “commissioning” took place at the 3PM dedication of the new Third Street pit area.

Having accepted the commission, Reeves stepped into the cockpit of the Coral Reef to the sound of the music of the Coeur d’Alene Elks Band and the booming of a cannon fired by members of the Chamber of Commerce “Navy”.

Reeves circled the new course eight times on the dedicatory run as an estimated crowd of 20,000 people looked on from every possible vantage point around the racecourse.

With crowds predictions for the 1958 estimated to be at 200,000 plus, race planners coordinated closely with law enforcement to develop plans to any problem that might develop on the water and on land. Towards that end, a record number of law enforcement officers were expected to be in town on race weekend to help with traffic control and public safety.

The regularly assigned city police and sheriff’s officers were to be augmented for the weekend by a force of Idaho State Police, the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Posse, the Idaho National Guard, Civil Defense police from Spokane, state liquor law enforcement officers, state game conservation officers, border patrolmen, a U.S. Coast Guard crew, the Spokane reserve Coast Guard contingent, and the Coast Guard auxiliary contingents from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

The test laps by Coral Reef kicked off what would be a busy race week. While in later years, testing and qualification would drop off to next to nothing, the inaugural race week saw boats on the water from Monday through Friday.

The activity on the racecourse caused some unforeseen problems for swimmers enjoying City Beach, however. In a joint press release from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association, the two entities announced that swimming would not be allowed during those times that hydroplanes were on the water.

City Beach lifeguards were instructed to clear the water of swimmers as soon as they were advised that a raceboat was about to enter the course. If the swimmers failed to comply, the course was to be closed down until everyone was safely on the beach. There was a fear that if a boat went out of control in the north turn that it would injure swimmers located there.

Rainfall wiped out the first official day of testing on Monday of race week. Crewmembers of the Bardahl, Maverick, and Coral Reef used the down time to work under tarps or spent the day in team trailers preparing equipment.

On Tuesday, the weather was only slightly improved. Despite scattered showers, W.T. Waggoner’s Maverick took the $100 daily prize for the fastest timed lap, thus establishing the first of many course records that the red, white, and gold boat would hold. With an extremely slow speed of 81.100 MPH, Maverick took the prize largely by default. The other two boats in the pits failed to make it off their trailers for the entirety of the day.


Maverick leaves the pit area at the foot of Third Street

Museum of North Idaho Photo

After receiving the fast lap check from the CUHA, Waggoner took the money and donated it to a Spokane orphanage for train fare and tickets to help bring its young people to Coeur d’Alene for the races.

Wednesday saw vastly improved weather conditions as the course officially opened for qualifying. First to give it a go were Bill Stead and Maverick who quickly erased the slower time from Tuesday with a more respectable lap of 111.300 MPH. The Maverick team took the $100 fast time money they won for the day and donated it to a local charity.

During an untimed run late in the day, one of the Maverick’s exhaust stacks suddenly flew off and struck Stead. The driver suffered burns to an arm and one leg, and the boat’s cockpit briefly filled with a flash of flames. The burns were superficial and Stead was soon back in the pits with bandages covering his wounded appendages.

Bill Brow shared driving time in the Miss Burien with fellow crewmember Dick Short. They each had timed runs, with Brow running the fastest lap at 97.300 MPH.

Maverick clearly established that it was the team to beat as Stead posted the fastest time on for a third straight day with a run of 111.100 MPH on Wednesday afternoon. Also making the qualifying ladder were Miss Burien with 97.400 MPH and Mira Slovak and Miss Bardahl with 93.100 MPH.


Crewmembers work on Miss Bardahl as Maverick is lowered into the water in the busy Diamond Cup pits – The tail of Coral Reef is also visible.

Museum of North Idaho Photo

Thursday’s fast time money went to Bill Brow and Miss Burien at 102.273 MPH despite the fact that Stead and the Maverick recorded a new course record speed of 113.233 MPH. The Arizona boat was ineligible for the top-qualifying prize, having won the money the previous two days.

Several unlimited drivers revealed their intention to participate in the limited hydro card of races scheduled for Saturday of race weekend. Miss Spokane’s Dallas Sartz was set to go with a 266-class hydro, while Bill Muncey and Mira Slovak were scheduled to get it on in the 280-class. Coral Reef driver Harry Reeves, Miss Seattle driver Chuck Hickling, Miss U.S driver Bill Brow, and a young Rex Manchester were all registered for the race in various classes.

Cloudy skies and high humidity greeted race fans flocking to the shores of the lake on Friday. Highlighting the day were two 111 MPH laps by the red-hot Maverick. After Stead’s fast turns around the course, the wind started to kick up, and only Miss Pay n’ Save and Adios would make it onto the course before it was officially closed for safety reasons. Adios took the fast lap money for Friday with a not so fast high speed of 75.784 MPH.

The weather did not improve much on Saturday. Steady winds whipped the lake’s surface into a froth of white caps that kept the boats on their trailers until late in the afternoon. When the course did open, Thriftway Too took the fastest lap money at 106.509 MPH despite bouncing and banging its way through pockets of high wave action.

The limited races were postponed until early Sunday morning and then canceled altogether. When the cancellation announcement was made, several of the limited teams trailered their boats to nearby Fernan Lake on the east end of Coeur d’Alene and held an impromptu race for a handful of fans and family.

On Sunday morning, two of the unqualified boats were allowed a chance to qualify. Adios was the first to go, but the boat broke loose a gas line and the engine compartment quickly filled with racing fuel. Driver George McKernan immediately shut the boat down and it was towed back to the dock to have the fuel siphoned away.

Miss Athletic Round Table also attempted to run, but the American Power Boat Association safety committee declared the aging boat unsafe after it failed to pass a required safety inspection. It spent the rest of race weekend sitting on its trailer at the north end of the pit area.


Lyle Park’s Miss Athletic Roundtable sits atop its trailer after being declared unsafe to race

Diamond Cup Hydromaniac’s Photo

The heat draw took place Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s races. Drawn into Heat 1-A scheduled for 12:30 p.m. were Miss Bardahl, Miss Burien, Miss Seattle, Miss Thriftway, and Miss U.S. In Heat 1-B at 1:15 p.m. were Maverick, Coral Reef, Miss Pay n’ Save, Thriftway Too, and the local favorite Miss Spokane. Adios would have one more chance to make the field on Sunday morning and would be assigned to Heat 1-B if it proved to be successful.

Slightly overcast skies and cool temperatures in the mid-sixties greeted an estimated 30,000 spectators on Sunday morning. Eleven boats were poised to do battle for the Diamond Cup trophy, and conditions were relatively good for boat racing. The time had finally arrived to go racing.



NEXT INSTALLMENT: The 1958 Diamond Cup Race and Its Aftermath

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: The Race to Get Ready and Getting the First Boat Wet


Steve Shepperd

Author/Historian

Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs






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