Wednesday, July 3, 2013

HYDROMANIA: ATTRITION AND SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

There were several intriguing story lines to follow going into race weekend in 1959. Would W.T. Waggoner’s Maverick be able to defend its 1958 Diamond Cup championship? Would Miss Bardahl be able to win its second straight race of the 1959 season? Would Norm Evans be able to secure a win with the local favorite, Miss Spokane? Could Bill Muncey overcome his bad luck streak in the Diamond Cup and see success with Miss Thriftway.

Although one of the story lines would actually play itself out, little did anyone know that the main storyline would be attrition and survival. By the end of the weekend, the big bad lake would take its share of victims…and only the strong would survive.

Saturday of race weekend dawned with clear skies and rising temperatures. The predicted high had the temperature soaring past ninety degrees. In contrast to the previous year, the weather was trending towards great and the winds were minimal.

With the good weather, the fans arrived in droves. Local law enforcement estimated that the crowd on Saturday was nearly four times that watched the ’58 race. To underscore the crowd estimate, virtually all hotel and motel rooms had been rented for the night. Hydromania had broken out in all its glory.

When the course opened for testing, both $ Bill and KOL-roy 1 made qualifying attempts. Ray Crawford did break the 90 mph barrier with Bill Schuyler’s boat, but the time was taken down because the boat was on the course before the time set aside for qualifying. He made a second attempt with the $ Bill, but fell short of the benchmark speed. KOL-roy 1 didn’t even come close, so both boats spent the weekend on tilt in the pits.

Heat 1-A

All five boats made it to the start of the first section of racing, but Jack Regas in Miss Bardahl and Bill Muncey in Miss Thriftway maneuvered themselves into position to a slight advantage as the boats crossed the starting line. By the time the two lead boats had made it to the turn, Regas had built a small lead.

The lead was short-lived, however, as the Bardahl hooked as it slid through the top of the turn. Regas regained control, but Muncey saw his opportunity and took it. By the end of lap one, Miss Thriftway had built a healthy four-second lead over Regas and Miss Bardahl. Norm Evans and Miss Spokane was trailing a full ten seconds behind the leaders, and Pay n’ Save and Nitrogen were not even in the picture.

For the next two laps, Muncey maintained the four second differential. As the boats moved through the north turn on lap four, things quickly changed. Suddenly, Regas found power from someplace deep in the Miss Bardahl’s Rolls-Merlin engine and the Green Dragon was suddenly on Muncey’s hip through the south turn.

Calling on his myriad of racing skills, Muncey kept Regas at bay for all of lap four. Regas countered his every move, but the margin seemed to stay within 100 feet through three-fourths of lap five.

As the duo hit the exit pin on the fifth circuit of the course, Regas suddenly found another burst of speed. With the crowd on their feet the two charged for the finish line. Miss Bardahl closed the narrow gap, but Muncey crossed the finish line with the Thriftway in first with a scant fifty-foot win.

The gap at the finish was only four-tenths of a second representing a .277 of a mile per hour. It would be one of the closest races on record.

Heat 1-B

As Heat 1-B got underway, Miss U.S. 1, Hawaii Kai, and Maverick came to the start line deck to deck. As soon as the boats crossed the line, the complexion of the race changed suddenly, and it became a parade of boats for the remainder of the heat with Bill Stead and Maverick in full control.

From the first to fifth lap, Stead built what would become a six hundred yard lead over his closest challenger, Don Wilson and Miss U.S. 1. Bill Brow in the Miss Burien and KOL-roy followed them across the line a good deal later. Hawaii Kai broke down in the middle of the first turn and Bryan Wygle found himself watching the action from the infield of the course. Coral Reef failed to complete even one lap.

Maverick’s owner W.T. Waggoner was not present to enjoy Stead’s easy heat victory. He had taken ill earlier in the day and was immediately flown to Phoenix for treatment aboard his private plane. The report out of Arizona Saturday evening had him in critical condition.

The first estimates of the Saturday’s crowd placed the number at 40,000 to 60,000 people. Despite the huge crowd, law enforcement reported no untoward incidents in the Lake City overnight.

The weather stayed warm overnight, and Sunday brought temperatures soaring to near triple digits. The continued hot weather brought even more spectators to the lake and early estimates put the crowd above the number present the day before.

The heat draw appeared to favor Miss Thriftway as the listing for the second sections of racing were announced. Bill Muncey was set to face Miss U.S. 1, Hawaii Kai, Coral Reef, and Miss Pay n’ Save in Heat 2-B, and the white and orange boat appeared to have the edge on all of those hulls.

Heat 2-A appeared less predictable, as Maverick and Bardahl posed the potential for a major battle. Joining them were the very competitive Miss Spokane and Miss Burien, as well as the off-times unpredictable KOL-roy and Nitrogen teams.

The first instance of the effects of attrition came with the announcement that Mira Slovak would replace Chuck Hickling in the Miss Pay n’ Save. Hickling had hit a roller during Saturday’s racing and had been thrown into the dashboard of the boat when it suddenly hooked sideways. A doctor’s report later indicated that he had suffered severe bruises and torn ligaments in one of his knees.

Heat 2-A

Variable winds from the south and rogue wave action from the log boom on the south end of the course formed deep rollers on the southeast corner of the racecourse.

Despite the deteriorating water conditions at both ends of the course, Bill Stead and Maverick started off where they left the day before – out in front and leading the parade. Taking the lead on the back straight from a surprisingly strong Miss Spokane, Stead built a small lead going into lap two.

Enjoying cleaner water out front, Stead built on his lead. Behind him, conditions were not so good for his competition. As Bill Brow brought Miss Burien through the south turn behind the two lead boats, the deep swells took their first victim of the day. Hit a crosswise roller, Brow suddenly went airborne, nearly fifty feet in the air according to some witnesses. The boat then flipped over as it caught air and descended back to the water nose first.

The impact with the water disintegrated nearly the entire left side of the boat, tearing away the decking and destroying the stringers and other internal structures of the boat.

Brow was thrown clear of the accident and Bob Larson in the KOL-roy saw him lying amid the rapidly sinking wreckage. Larson quickly shut down his boat and helped the rescue patrol boat personnel pull Brow from the water. Reports indicate that it took only thirty-nine seconds for the rescue to be completed.

Surprisingly, Brow was relatively unhurt. He was taken to Lake City General Hospital where doctors diagnosed him as suffering from shock and deep bruising.

The race was delayed nearly an hour as the course was clear of what little remained of the Miss Burien hull.

Heat 2-B

In one of the most exciting starts, all four boats making the start for Heat 2-B roared across the start line in a deck-to-deck line with Bryan Wygle and Hawaii Kai leading by only a foot or two. From there to the exit pin of lap one, it was all Hawaii Kai as the Pink Lady posted a blistering 115.632 circuit of the course to blow the competition away.

Trailing by some distance was Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway and the rest of the field. Miss U.S. 1 failed to start and Don Wilson watched the race from the dock in the pit area.

As Miss Pay n’ Save slid through the south turn on the first circuit of the course, the rogue water took its second victim. Hooking a sponson in the rough water where Miss Burien had flipped, Pay n’ Save spun around, and went dead in the water. Driver Mira Slovak was tossed about in the cockpit, but managed to stay in the boat. He restarted the engine, but with the spin went any chance of the boat making the final heat.

Hawaii Kai went on to win with a speed of 105.017 mph for the five laps. He was followed distantly by Miss Thriftway, Coral Reef, and Miss Pay n’ Save.

Heat 2-A (Rerun)

Don Dunnington brought the bright blue and yellow Nitrogen across the line in first place to start the rerun of Heat 2-A. Trailing him were Maverick, Miss Bardahl, and Miss Spokane in that order.

The first turn was about as far as Dunnington was able to maintain the lead before Maverick asserted itself and moved into the lead. By the end of lap two, Norm Evans had also moved Miss Spokane past the faltering Delaware boat into second.

Trailing Miss Spokane and charging were Jack Regas and Miss Bardahl. As he neared the south turn at the end of lap two, Regas closed the gap significantly. Evans had the inside lane, but Regas made a move to take the inside away as the two boats started to power slide around the buoy line.

As he made the move, Regas and the Bardahl appeared to hit the wake of one of the lead boats or perhaps hit another of the rogue rollers lurking in that part of the turn. Whatever the cause, Miss Bardahl rose from the water an estimated twenty feet in the air at which point gravity took over and the boat slammed back into the water nose first at roughly 130 mph.

The hydraulic force of tons of water drove the bottom of the boat up and through the firewall and cockpit, throwing the instrument panel and the steering wheel into the upper body and face of Jack Regas. The force was equivalent of the full weight of the boat (6,100 lbs.) being doubled back directly on the driver.

Regas lay motionless in the boat’s cockpit when the spray settled from the accident. He was taken from the boat, placed on oxygen, and transported directly to Lake City General. The record shows that he suffered three broken ribs, a broken right hand, cuts, bruises, and a badly sprained leg in addition to the skull fracture. He was unconscious and stayed in a coma for nearly a month.

That Regas was alive surprised many who saw the condition of the cockpit when the boat was returned to the pits. The steering wheel was disfigured from its impact with Regas’ body and the hold he put on it to stay in the boat. A gaping hole replaced where the left sponson once had been.

Since Maverick had completed lap three when the flares ended the heat, Bill Stead secured his second win of the weekend. His average for the three laps was 107.290 mph. Evans and Miss Spokane placed second a few seconds back. Nitrogen and KOL-roy took the third and fourth place spots.

Miss Spokane and Nitrogen prepare to leave the dock for the 1959 final as Hawaii Kai is lowered into the water.

Kyle Walker Collection

Final Heat

By the time the field was set for the final heat, attrition had taken a tremendous toll. As stated earlier only the strong survived. The waves had whittled the original eleven boats down to a precious few.

Topping the list of survivors was Bill Stead and Maverick with 800 points from two heat wins. Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway were not far off the pace with 700 points. Also in the hunt were Hawaii Kai (625), Nitrogen(531), Miss Spokane (525), and KOL-roy 1 (465).

Norm Evans miscalculated a bit and found himself trailing Maverick, Miss Thriftway, and Hawaii Kai across the start line. The three leaders roared side by side down the front chute and well into turn one, but as the boats emerged from the wall of spray at the back side of the turn, the mahogany and lilac Miss Spokane suddenly appeared in the lead.

Evans built a two and one-half second margin over Muncey and Thriftway by the end of lap two. Stead and Maverick were another one and one-half seconds further back. The lead grew even further after three.

It looked like the local boat would win the heat if not the race if Evans could hold the lead for the remaining two laps. Evans continued to charge, but disaster struck as he entered the north turn near Playland Pier on the site of what is now Independence Point.

Suddenly the Miss Spokane bounced crazily, twisted to one side, and dug the right sponson into the lake. The boat suddenly hooked to the left causing it to spin, and as it did so Evans was thrown ahead of the careening hull into the water. He landed several yards away from boat and as the boat spun a second time it nearly hit Evans where he lay in the water.

The spray begins to fly as Miss Spokane digs its right sponson in, throwing Norm Evans into the water.

Photo used with permission of the Bob Carver family

As the flares flew to end the race, the coast guard patrol and Bryan Wygle in Hawaii Kai approached the scene to help Evans. Suddenly he swam to the boat where it had come to a rest nearby and climbed up on the deck. He collected himself for a few moments, and then shocked everyone by climbing back in the cockpit to attempt to restart the boat.

Rescue crews took Evans back to the pits to be evaluated by medical personnel. He was treated for several facial cuts, but was otherwise uninjured. As the medical staff attended to him, Evans yelled over his shoulder to the Miss Spokane crew: “Get it ready to run! It’s alright!”

The race was over, however, and there would be no restart. Miss Spokane was disqualified because Norm’s abrupt exit from the boat had caused a race stoppage. When he failed to signal immediately he was all right, the corner judge fired a flare in the interest of his safety.

As the leader, Miss Spokane had completed three laps, so the race was deemed official at the time of the stoppage. Placing first in the final was Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway because of his position when the Miss Spokane was disqualified. Bill Stead and Maverick placed second, leaving the Thriftway and Maverick tied with 1100 points for the race.

Race officials then set about implementing the tiebreaker rules. The first such rule was based on the total elapsed time for the race. The total elapsed times for each boat were also incredibly close with the Maverick having a total time of 25:42.6 and the Thriftway 25:44.4 - a paper-thin 1.4 seconds separating the two. Their average speeds were also close with Maverick averaging 105.058 mph for the three heats, and Miss Thriftway averaging 104.922.

The Maverick was thus declared the winner for 1959 by a margin of .136 miles per hour. Bill Stead had edged his rival by scarcely a boat length after the forty-five miles of competition in the closest Diamond Cup ever run.

New course records were set during the race. Stead drove the Maverick to a new forty-five mile race record of 105.057 and a new heat record at 107.290. The Hawaii Kai set a new single lap course record of 115.632 during Heat 2-B.

Stead had proved himself to be the fittest of the remaining fleet, and in so doing he had secured his second straight win in the Diamond Cup. The celebration back in the pits was relatively subdued, however. With two driver’s hospitalized, everyone’s mind was on the well being of the injured. There would be time to celebrate at some later time.

Miss Burien was brought up from the bottom of the lake on the Monday after the race. The Coeur d’Alene Press published a report of divers Loren “Skip” Murphy, Graydon Johnson, Dick Williams, and Dan Donaldson assisting with the recovery of the hull from a depth of 82 feet. The team used Fred Murphy’s pile driver and crane apparatus to lift the various parts of the boat off the lake bottom.

Late in the evening the recovery was complete, and what was left of the boat was placed on its trailer for the return trip to Seattle. In the end, only the Burien’s engine proved to be salvageable.

And so the story of the 1959 race came to a close. It would prove to be the most dangerous of the Diamond Cup series. In five separate incidents, five drivers were treated for injuries, and two of those were serious enough to be hospitalized. The water of the big lake was unforgiving, and the attrition was as extremely high.

The race was also one of the most competitive with many deck-to-deck battles and the race winner determined by an eyelash in time. The race had attracted a record crowd to the shores of the lake. To most it would be remembered as one of the best shows ever.

Would the fan interest and resultant revenue be enough to bring the race back for a third year? It was time once again for the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association to reflect on the bottom line and assess the potential for the future.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: The Bardahl Controversy and the Decision on a Third Installment
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: DIAMOND CUP WEEK ’59 AND MORE…

Steve Shepperd
Author/Historian
Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs

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