Officials of the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series and the Grand Prix West Hydroplane Series recently announced that they have entered into a “Memorandum of Agreement” which will lead to increased participation and exposure for the GPW series at H1 Unlimited events.
H1 Unlimited Historian Fred Farley takes a look back at the colorful history of Grand Prix Racing.
GRAND PRIX: IN THE BEGINNING
By Fred Farley
Grand Prix Class hydroplane racing has long been considered the epitome of automotive-powered inboard racing. The sight and sound of these magnificent boats with their souped-up V-8 engines at full song is an experience like no other in motorsports.
Grand Prix boats began making their presence felt on the Canadian Boating Federation (CBF) circuit in the 1960s. There was a considerable fleet of them in and around Valleyfield, Quebec. The GPs were an outgrowth of the old 7-Litre Class that rose to prominence in the late 1940s.
Nicknamed “The Big Iron,” these boats were a minimum of 20 feet in length with engines of up to 500 cubic inches in piston displacement. Many were supercharged, and any kind of fuel was permitted.
An early star of Canadian Grand Prix racing was the legendary Art Asbury. Driving Aubert Brillant’s Chrysler-hemi-powered CANADIANA GRAND PRIX, Asbury set a UIM world straightaway record of 153.746 miles per hour in 1965 at Beloeil, Quebec.
The American Power Boat Association (APBA) first took notice of the Grand Prix phenomenon in 1974. The GPs made their United States debut on the narrow Scioto River at Columbus, Ohio. The original winner of a non-Canadian GP race was Larry Lauterbach, driving John Stauffer’s EDELWEISS, designed and built by Larry’s father Henry Lauterbach of Portsmouth, Virginia.
Lauterbach hulls dominated the first few years of Grand Prix racing in the United States. In addition to EDELWEISS, such notable Lauterbach entries included the likes of LAUTERBACH SPECIAL, GOLDEN NUGGET, DEEPWATER SPECIAL, BOOMERANG, ADVANCE UNITED, HEAVY HAULER, and EL CONDOR.
No one ever complained about the quality of workmanship on a Lauterbach hull! These boats were built strong to last long! And they loved horsepower! These were conventional hulls with the driver sitting behind–rather than ahead of–the engine well.
At a time when the sport in general was changing over to cabover–or forward-cockpit–hulls, popularized by Ron Jones, Sr., the old-style Lauterbach hulls remained surprisingly competitive.
Some of the biggest names in boat racing associated with Grand Prix racing in the early days. Many of these made reputations for themselves in Unlimited hydroplanes as well. These included Larry Lauterbach, Chip Hanauer, Tom D’Eath, Jim Kropfeld, Howie Benns, John Prevost, Ron Snyder, and Terry Turner.
The class received its first major league shot in the arm in 1977 in Detroit, where they performed before an audience of a quarter million. The Spirit Of Detroit Association (SODA) invited the GPs to be the co-feature together with the Unlimiteds. This race came about largely through the efforts of SODA board member John Love. Love had attended several Canadian Grand Prix races with his friend Tom D’Eath and was impressed with the competitiveness of the Grand Prix Class.
Love soon became GP Chairman for APBA. Nicknamed “The Boy Commissioner,” John did much to smooth out the differences between the APBA and CBF factions of Grand Prix. No longer was conflicting race dates assigned to the detriment of all. More teams from both countries began patronizing each others races.
Terry Turner won the first Detroit GP race with LAUTERBACH SPECIAL. It was the first time that the Unlimited Class and the Grand Prix Class had ever occupied the same pit area with each other. It would not be the last. Turner defeated such formidable challengers as Stover Hire in MOONSHOT, New Zealand Champion Peter Knight in GONE HEAVY, “crown/clown prince” Jules LeBoeuf in BOOMERANG, and Bill Hodge in LONG GONE.