Saturday, June 1, 2013

HYDROMANIA: THE 1958 DIAMOND CUP RACE AND ITS AFTERMATH

In 1958, the Coeur d’Alene Press was an afternoon newspaper. When the Press landed on the front porches all over town on Saturday, June 28th, everyone pretty much already knew what the headline would be for the day.

Extremely windy conditions had wiped away the first day’s schedule of racing, and the Press headline for Saturday afternoon’s paper said it all: Diamond Cup Racing Scheduled All Day Sunday – Wind Alters Plans.

With an entire day of activity wiped out, the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association had to radically rearrange an already full race program. Trying to save the races for the limited class hydroplanes, the CUHA at first scheduled the limited hydro races to early Sunday morning and then eliminated them altogether when someone pointed out that the downtown neighborhoods might have trouble dealing with roaring boat engines as early as 6:30 a.m.

Sunday’s action started mid-morning when the Adios made a last ditch attempt to get into the field. With seconds left on the clock, George McKernan fired up the big Allison Type W, and all twenty-four cylinders roared to life. The boat took a warm-up lap, and charged toward the starting line with its roostertail shining against the morning sun. It was then that the referee inexplicably fired a flare from the official barge, signaling an immediate return to the pits by the big white and black hydro.

Gliding back to the dock, race officials told McKernan that he had three minutes to return to the course to continue the qualification run. The crew quickly turned the boat around, and this time McKernan experienced more than a little difficulty getting the engine to restart. Suddenly the engine fired, and for the second time that morning the boat made it on the course with only seconds to spare.

This time there was no official interference during the qualification circuit, and when the official time for the Adios was announced, McKernan had successfully placed the boat in the race by a mere .22 of a mph, recording a speed of 90.220 mph.

With Adios now in the fold, a crowd estimated at only 30,000 people settled in to watch the very first heats of competition for the Diamond Cup for unlimited hydroplanes. With a field now totaling eleven boats, the first section of racing would offer two heats of racing. The moment had finally arrived to get the boats wet in pursuit of the big trophy.

The draw had taken place on Friday night, but the success of the Adios in qualifying finalized the field for Sunday’s race program. Heat 1-A featured Miss Burien, Miss Seattle, Miss Thriftway, Coral Reef, and Miss U.S. 1. Heat 1-B put together Miss Bardahl, Maverick, Miss Pay n' Save, Thriftway Too, Adios, and Miss Spokane.


Heat 1-A

The first heat of racing went against the pre-race handicapper’s predictions, and it was no walkover for Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway. The big white and orange boat never put up a challenge to Fred Alter and a red-hot Miss U.S. 1. Alter pulled away from the field and averaged a very respectable 104.166 mph for the fifteen-mile heat.



Crews prepare Adios and Thriftway Two for Heat 1-B as Miss Thriftway is returned to the trailer

Museum of North Idaho Photo


Heat 1-B

It was déjà vu all over again, as the two favored boats, Miss Bardahl and Maverick both fell off the pace early on in losing to Bryan Wygle in the Thriftway Too. The innovative cab forward hydro navigated the rough water conditions more easily than its competitors on the way to five-lap average of 99.410 mph.

Following Heat 1-B, the draw for the second set of sections took place. As luck would have it, the winning boats from the first sections of racing landed together in the same heat. Thriftway Too and Miss U.S. 1 topped the list of boats in Heat 2-A along with Miss Spokane and Adios. Heat 2-B matched pre-race favorites Maverick and Miss Bardahl taking on Miss Thriftway, Miss Burien, and Miss Seattle.


Heat 2-A

It was all Miss U.S. 1 again, as Fred Alter and the mahogany and white U-2 outclassed the rest of the competition on the way to its second win on the day. Thriftway Too never came close after the first lap, and Alter steered his way to a one-lap course record of 110.769 mph and a five-lap average of 99.228 mph.


Heat 2-B

The predicted battle between Bill Stead and Maverick and Mira Slovak and Miss Bardahl failed to happen, as the big green and yellow boat threw a propeller blade mid-way through the heat and failed to finish. With the Bardahl sidelined, Stead demonstrated why he was considered the favorite to win the trophy by posting the fastest heat of the day with an average of 106.698 mph. So dominant was Maverick’s performance that at the finish he had pulled away to a full thirty-two second leads over Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway.


The busy Third Street Pit Area on race day in 1958

Museum of North Idaho Photo

Final Heat

All of the preliminary heats were five-lap, fifteen-mile long affairs. As was the practice with some of the races during that era, the championship heat was doubled to a distance of thirty-miles. With the added laps of racing, attrition became a big factor in the outcome.

In actuality, attrition had already affected the final field. Damage to engines and hulls had trimmed the field only six boats. Miss Bardahl was not able to compete because of damage caused by a broken propeller blade in Heat 2-B. Adios, Miss Pay n' Save, and Coral Reef were all forced to withdraw because of equipment failure. The Adios had blown a supercharger, while Pay n’ Save and Coral Reef had both thrown a rods through the sides of their engines.

Miss U.S. 1 was the points leader coming into the final with two heat wins for 800 points followed by Thriftway Too and Maverick with 700 points apiece. Muncey’s Miss Thriftway (525), Bill Brow in Miss Burien (469), Chuck Hickling in Miss Seattle (394) rounded out what was left of the field.

The final was by far the most hair raising of the day. Five of the six boats crossed the start line deck-to-deck, with only Dallas Sartz and Miss Spokane trailing the field. With no one willing to give ground, the battle continued well into the first turn, where Thriftway Too collided with Miss Thriftway, smashing away half of the Thriftway’s distinctive tail in the process.

Coming out of the chaos unscathed was Bill Stead and the Maverick who had taken the inside lane at the start and maintained it through the first turn. He took the lead on the back straightaway and was never headed during the remaining nine and one-half laps. At the end stead held a fifteen football field lead over Thriftway Too, the second place finisher.

Returning to the dock, Stead was met a broadly smiling owner W.T. Waggoner and an exuberant Maverick team. According to tradition, the crew rewarded Stead’s winning effort by throwing him into the lake in celebration.


Ruthanna Hawkins (Rauer) presents the Diamond Cup trophy to Maverick driver Bill Stead – Also pictured is Maverick owner W.T. Waggoner and the 1958 Miss Washington Anne Hendrickson.

Ruthanna Rauer Collection

Later, Stead would offer this assessment of the race:

“I never really was pushed. And once I got out front, I had my own water, my own turns, my own everything.” It was especially so after that hectic first turn.

While the race was pretty much an artistic success, it was less so financially. Falling woefully short of the predicted crowds of 200,000+, the regatta committee fell equally short with its bottom line. When all receipts had been counted, the weekend resulted in a $9,000 deficit in 1958 dollars. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that same amount in 2013 dollars would $72,414.

On the positive side, there were only a few arrests made during the inaugural weekend, and despite crowded streets there were no major incidents reported by law enforcement.

When the dust settled, the biggest question facing the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association was simple: Would there be a second annual Diamond Cup?


NEXT INSTALLMENT: The regatta committee considers its options as to whether to do it all again in 1959.

PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: The Inaugural Race Week


Steve Shepperd

Author/Historian

Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs






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