Jack Gordon


History of 'Kentucky Derby' of Speedboating


by Jack Gordon, Greater Seattle, Inc., Publicity Director

(Reprinted from the 1955 Seafair Gold Cup Race Press Book.)

THE SPORT OF POWER-BOAT RACING in America will reach its zenith with the 48th running of the Gold Cup Race on Lake Washington, Seattle, August 7, 1955. Just 51 years ago three long needle-like launches roared over the Hudson River for three 32-nautical-mile heats in the first Gold Cup Race, the 59-foot multiple-cockpit "automobile" boat Standard winning with the then amazing speed of 23.6 m.p.h. Motor boat competition was thus born in America.

Those early craft were a far cry from the hydrodynamically designed speedsters of today that are capable of speeds upwards of 150 m.p.h. Five decades ago the long, narrow, heavy displacement racers had to push the water out of their way. Today, the three-point hydroplanes skim over the surface, barely touching the water.


The initial competition in June 1904 for the American Power Boat Association Challenge Cup -- better known as the Gold Cup - saw C. C. Riotte's Standard outrun Frank Seaman's Water Lily and C. H. Tangeman's Fiat I. Enthusiasm after this race ran so high that another Gold Cup run was conducted three months later, also on the Hudson River off New York, with 10 entries. Willis Sharpe Kilmer's Vingt-et-Un II, a 75-horsepower craft, topped the fleet with an average speed of 25.3 m.p.h. The following summer the race moved up to the Thousand Islands region on the St. Lawrence River where it stayed through 1913. Jonathan M. Wainwright, past president of the APBA, won the coveted trophy in 1905, '06 and '07 with Chip and Chip II. E. J. Schroeder, who first brought the British Harmsworth Trophy to the United States in 1907, dominated Gold Cup competition with his Dixie II in 1908 and 1909.

Count Casimir Mankowski, averaging over 40 miles an hour for the first time in Gold Cup history, won the 1913 event and moved the trophy to Lake George, ending the Thousand Islands domination of motor boat racing. The 50-mile-an-hour speed in competition was topped in 1914 when Mrs. Paula Blackton's Baby Speed Demon II, piloted by the late sports columnist and cartoonist, Bob Ed-gren, took the race on Lake George. Mrs. Blackton is the only woman listed as owner of a Gold Cup winner.

The 1915 event was held on Manhas-set Bay, New York, and against a fast field, a Midwest entry, Miss Detroit, showed her transom to the fleet and took the goldplated silver trophy west for the first time. It was another 10 years before an eastern challenger could bring the Gold Cup back to the Atlantic Coast. In 1916 Miss Minneapolis moved the cup to the Mississippi River and was the last of the Sterling-powered craft to win the award.


Gar Wood, one of the most famous names in motor boating annals, made his debut in Gold Cup competition in 1917 with Miss Detroit and carried the bauble to the Motor City, where it remained for seven years, Wood winning three of the next four events between 1919 and 1921. In the 1920 race he established the first heat speed of over 70 m.p.h., a record that was to stand for 26 years until Guy Lombardo finally topped it in the first post-World War II year.

During Wood's domination, the Gold Cup competition began to lose its purpose as a development class, so great was the cost of the unlimited craft. In 1922 it was ruled that a limitation of 625 cubic inch piston displacement be placed on engines, and certain hull and equipment regulations were stipulated to lower competing cost and increase interest. This proved just the tonic needed to stimulate the sport and in 1922 J. G. Vincent's Packard ChrisCraft topped a field of 13 starters, better than three times the number that had participated in the previous five events.

Caleb Bragg's Baby Bootlegger bested all comers in the 1924 race to take the cup back east, where it remained, except for one year, until 1937. One of the largest fleets ever to cross a Gold Cup starting line featured the 1926 run on Manhasset Bay when George H. Town-send's Greenwich Folly topped the field of 15 craft. After a one-year sojourn in Detroit when Horace E. Dodge's Delphine IV won the cup in 1932, the race was brought back to the East when George Reis pushed his El Lagarto to a victory over the Detroit River in 1933. That started a three-year string of consecutive victories in the same craft, a feat that has not been equaled to this day. Stanley Sayres, of Seattle, however, has won more races than any other man three with Slo-Mo-Shun IV; two with Slo-Mo-Shun V. Wainwright had three consecutive wins in two boats, and Wood had four wins in three boats.

Rules were altered in 1937 to permit foreign entries and piston displacement limits were raised to 732 cubic inches to conform with the international 12-litre class that was becoming very popular in Europe. Herbert Mendelson's Notre Dame defended American honors against three European and one Canadian entry in the 1937 race, but the following year Count Theo Rossi of Italy became the first and only foreigner to win the trophy for the Detroit Yacht Club with his Alagi.


My Sin, owned by Zalmon G. Simmons, of Greenwich, Conn., won two races, in 1939 and 1941 - the last before World War II. During the war, competition was suspended, to be resumed in 1946. Guy Lombardo purchased My Sin, rechristened it Tempo VI and won the Gold Cup in Detroit. This race had the largest fleet in the long history of the event, with 17 craft crossing the line for the initial heat. By this time the 732-cubic-inch piston displacement limit had been lifted to permit unlimited craft to compete in the Gold Cup.

Walter and Roy Dossin's Miss Pepsi V took the honors in a rugged race on New York City's Jamaica Bay in 1947, with Danny Foster piloting the craft. The following year in Detroit what was considered the roughest race in Gold Cup history was won by Albin Fallon's Miss Great Lakes, with Foster again at the controls. Fifteen craft started this event, matching the 1926 run for the second-highest number of starters, but the wind-whipped water caused most of the boats to drop out. Detroit's most recent victory came the following year when on extremely smooth waters Bill Cantrell piloted Gregory and Schoenherr's My Sweetie to victory.

Coming east from Seattle for the 1950 race, Stanley S. Sayres and his Slo-Mo-Shun IV swept the Detroit River clean, winning all possible points to begin a series of victories for Sayres that are unprecedented in Gold Cup history. The "IV" gave way to its stablemate in 1951 when Sayres' Slo-Mo-Shun V stood off the Detroit challenging fleet. But the "IV" came back strong in both 1952 and '53 to show her rooster tail to all comers in both events and keep the Gold Cup in Seattle. The "V" did the honors for Sayres last year. No other man has ever won five consecutive Gold Cup races and only El Lagarto and My Sin-Tempo VI have won as many races as has the "IV." Gar Wood won four titles, but not consecutively.

Our thanks to National Association of Engine & Boat Manufacturers, and H. A. Bruno & Associates, Inc., New York for historical data.


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