Wednesday, July 10, 2013

HYDROMANIA: THE BARDAHL CONTROVERSY AND THE DECISION ON A THIRD INSTALLMENT

There was no doubt that the crowd for Diamond Cup weekend was record setting. The Coeur d’Alene Press estimated the crowd at 100,000, but other estimates put Sunday’s throng at closer to 60,000 to 80,000 spectators.

Law enforcement reported that despite the size of the crowd that it was extremely well behaved. A minimal number of arrests were made, and the crowd seemed to enjoy themselves.

The city’s merchants reported excellent retail sales during race weekend. Many also said the bump in sales carried over into the week that followed the race. Total sales for the week of the race were estimated at $350,000 over a comparable sales period. Also noted by the merchants was an increase in sales to our neighbors north of the border with many Canadian dollars finding their way into local cash registers.

The badly damaged Miss Burien was recovered late Monday afternoon from an estimated eighty-two feet of water. A diving crew headed by Loren “Skip” Murphy had located the wreckage in murky water with a visibility factor of only seven feet. They struggled through the day to bring the larger pieces of the boat to the surface where they were placed on Fred Murphy’s barge for transport back to the pits.

The boat was declared a total wreck with the only usable part to survive the wreck being the Burien’s big Allison V-12. The crew had checked it out at John Pointner’s welding shop before trucking what was left of the boat back to the Seattle area.

What is left of Miss Burien sits on the trailer awaiting its return to Seattle after the 1959 accident.

Used with the permission of the Crimmin Project - high resolution versions can be purchased by contacting Ned Crimmin at khabt114@att.net

Also on Monday, the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association reported that they had decided to move forward with plans for a third annual Diamond Cup race. The crowds on Saturday and Sunday had helped the committee raise the $15,000 needed to balance the association’s budget.

The races were also considered an artistic success with the drivers, owner, spectators, and media expressing their pleasure with the officiating, facilities, and racing during the weekend. To celebrate the success, the CUHA hosted a “victory dinner” on June 29th to honor the many volunteers that had planned and worked on the race.

After the dinner, the CUHA elected a new slate of officers. Replacing John S. Richards as commodore was the young Coeur d’Alene Press publisher Duane Hagadone. Joining him on the executive board were Norris Benson as vice commodore, Ken Campbell as treasurer, and Ken McEuen as secretary.

During the meeting, Richards displayed a tray containing the $9,000 promissory note that had been signed by members of the previous year’s Diamond Cup board in order to keep the race effort afloat. He then had Duane Hagadone (representing his father Burl), Don MacDonald, Ben Pederson, Ken McEuen, Norris Benson, Carl Gridley, Bill Webster, Arnold Porter, and Doug Downing join him in burning the note, signifying that the debt had been repaid from the receipts of the ’59 race.

Despite all of the positive news, there was one owner that was far from pleased with the outcome of the weekend.

A view of the Miss Bardahl Cockpit after it was towed back to the pit area following the injury to Jack Regas

Coeur d’Alene Press Photo

Lost in the reports of record crowds, strong retail sales, and the race committee’s strong sense of accomplishment was a statement issued by Ole Bardahl shortly after race concluded. With controlled emotion, the owner of the badly damaged Miss Bardahl announced that he would be selling his boat and that it was his intention to leave the sport.

“I don’t want to race anymore,” an emotional Bardahl was quoted as saying. “Not with Jackie (Regas) or any other driver lying there like that as a result of this sport. The only thing that matters now is Jack’s return to health.”

By the time he returned home, his stance on selling the boat had softened a bit, but his statement to the Seattle press revealed that he was deeply angry about the rules of the sport and its leadership.

Charging that there was “more squabbling than racing” in most unlimited contests, he said that he wouldn’t race his boat again until the “unnecessary hazards…and needless bickering are removed.” He indicated that the decision to sell or retire the boat was based on “the conditions which I think brought on that accident.”

“The possibility of an accident is heightened,” he said in a prepared statement, “by the mismanagement of a few selfish non-racers and hangers-on interested in self-aggrandizement and personal profit.”

Bardahl refused to accuse anyone by name. He did urge that “any individual who profits monetarily from a race, directly or indirectly,” be prohibited from serving in any capacity with the American Power Boat Association or as a regatta official.

“The owners and drivers who take all the risk and spend all the money are at the mercy of the whims of the few who govern the sport for their personal gain or glory,” he said. “Unlimited racing needs a drastic housecleaning.”

The owner also criticized the safety efforts found in hydro racing, saying that “it is a full lap or more before aid is even sent to a stricken driver…and often is in the form of equipment unable to rush a driver to medical attention or save a boat from needless sinking.”

Bardahl further suggested that rules should be written specifically for unlimited racing, with enforcements through fines or suspensions; sanctions should be refused for races where adequate safety precautions are not taken; drivers should be screened “for personal attributes and desirability as well as driving skill.”

The CUHA quickly responded to Bardahl’s charges. Speaking through former Commodore John S. Richards, the association took the position that the race had been conducted under maximum safety regulations. They also defended the race officials and U.S. Coast Guard for the manner in which they conducted the race.

Richards recounted the response times for the two injury accidents, making the case that the time involved was reasonable given the seriousness of the accidents. He also agreed with Bardahl’s call for reform in the sport, and expressed the association’s call for greater sponsor representation on the board of directors of the American Power Boat Association.

“It is always unfortunate when accidents occur in any sport, Richards said. “We must recognize that they do, despite all the precautions and safeguards that can be taken.”

“In this instance, the Coeur d’Alene Unlimited Hydroplane Association feels every precaution and safeguard was taken and feels that the race, as it was conducted by Stanley Donogh and Commander Weston left nothing to be desired.”

Bardahl had called by standardization of officials at every race so that the rules were enforced the same at every race. He charged that different officials and different sponsors changed the rules and safety precautions from race to race. He alleged that this lack of familiarity with race problems led to unnecessary risk.

While he didn’t point the finger at any specific driver (or drivers) for their recklessness, he did say that there were drivers who did such things as “habitually cutting off other boats and failing to signify well-being after a minor mishap.”

Since Miss Bardahl’s driver, Jack Regas, was attempting to cut inside of Norm Evans and Miss Spokane at the time according to media reports of the accident, it appears that Bardahl may have been pointing in Evans direction, indirectly blaming his driving for the crash. Add to this Evans’ behavior after his own crash, and it becomes obvious that he was likely taking the locally sponsored Spokane boat and driver to task through his comments.

It didn’t take long for the APBA to respond to Bardahl’s statements. Without mentioning Bardahl by name, the group announced strict rules of course patrol and safety for the Gold Cup two weeks after the Diamond Cup. The Coast Guard was given direct responsibility for supervising the program, and the guidelines stated that inside the course there would be three boats provided with water pumps, skin divers, and rags. In addition to the three boats, the rules demanded the presence of a fleet of safety boats outfitted with stretchers, fire-fighting equipment, smoke bombs as warning signals, and two-way radio or telephone communication with patrol officials. (The rags were to be used to quickly patch holes in damage boats to keep them from sinking.)

It appeared that the APBA had received Ole Bardahl’s message, and had responded appropriately.

Jack Regas (in life vest) and Ole Bardahl (with binoculars) discuss a test run prior to the 1959 Diamond Cup race.

Museum of North Idaho Photo

Regas meanwhile remained in a coma for the first three days after the race. By Wednesday, he was reported as semi-conscious. By Friday he came completely out of the coma briefly and his first words were to request a sandwich from the nursing staff. He also spoke briefly with Bardahl crew chief George McKernon and recognized his wife. He held her hand but didn’t speak to her.

By August 6th Regas had improved enough that he could be transported from Coeur d’Alene by chartered plane to the San Francisco area nearer his home in Oakland, California.

On August 7th, Regas underwent delicate brain surgery at the University of California hospital to remove fluid from around his brain. The surgery lasted four hours and was termed a success.

Eventually, Jack Regas would recover enough to leave the hospital and return home, but the long-term effects of the accident would be profound.

Jack’s once pleasant and outgoing personality changed. According to his daughter, Sharon Barousa, he became a different person emotionally, and the change deeply affected his relationships with others and his ability to work. It would eventually lead to the dissolution of his marriage.

The personality change and his cognitive issues from the accident also made it impossible for Regas to deal with the stress of the world of work, so he has been the recipient of disability benefits since the late 1960’s and has not worked at gainful employment since that time.

When I interviewed Sharon in 2012, she shared with me that he still has no memory of the accident or of his many successes before that day in Coeur d’Alene. He knows that he did something special because of the way people treat him today, but he has no memory of that time to speak of at all.

Today, he lives with Sharon in Nampa, Idaho, and just turned ninety years of age. He has taken up residence in a trailer adjacent to her home, and she has become his guardian and best friend. On occasion, she has taken him to the vintage events in Seattle and the Tri-Cities where he has enjoyed the admiration of his many fans including the elite of today’s hydroplane drivers. While he doesn’t know why, he is comforted that he had an impact on the sport that changed his life forever.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: More Change Comes to the Sport and Preparations Begin for a Third Annual Diamond Cup
PREVIOUS INSTALLMENT: Attrition and Survival of the Fittest

Steve Shepperd
Author/Historian
Coeur d'Alene Hydromaniacs

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