Russ Schleeh Remembered

Russ Schleeh

Russ Schleeh was the only unlimited driver to make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Russ Schleeh, one of the most distinguished men ever to pilot an Unlimited hydroplane, passed away on May 6, 2012, at his home in Mission Viejo, California. He was 93.

“The Flying Colonel” raced boats between 1955 and 1963. He is the only Unlimited driver to appear on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (in 1957).

 As a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Schleeh test-flew the Boeing XB-47 jet bomber and was involved in many other important projects for the military establishment.

Through his ties with the Boeing Company, Schleeh became acquainted with members of the hydroplane racing community in the Pacific Northwest.

One of these–Ted Jones, the leading designer of Unlimiteds–was especially impressed with Russ and invited him to drive REBEL SUH (U-11), a new Allison-powered hydroplane that Jones co-owned with Kirn Armistead.
 
With no previous experience in racing, Schleeh qualified and made a start in the 1955 APBA Gold Cup on Seattle’s Lake Washington. REBEL SUH unfortunately sank after only running a few laps. But that was enough for Russ to be bitten by the hydro bug. His DNF (Did Not Finish) result in the Gold Cup not withstanding, he would be back. Ted Jones would see to that.
 
In 1956, Jones was putting together a new team for Texas oil millionaire W.T. (“Bill”) Waggoner. He recommended Colonel Schleeh as driver of SHANTY I (U-29), a state of the art marvel, which Jones had designed and Les Staudacher had built.
 
Waggoner was one of those larger-than-life characters with his trademark cowboy hat and those pearl-handled fake six-guns strapped around his considerable girth. Waggoner named SHANTY I after his wife Mary Beth whose nickname was Shanty.

Schleeh and SHANTY I went on to win the 1956 National High Point Championship and won their first three races in a row. These were the Lake Tahoe Mapes Trophy, the Seattle Seafair Regatta, and the Harmsworth International Trophy. Powered by a supercharged Allison engine, SHANTY I established a world record for a 3.75-mile competition lap at 115.979 miles per hour on Lake Washington.

SHANTY I’s victories at Lake Tahoe and in the Harmsworth at Detroit were admittedly won against mediocre opposition. But her Seattle Seafair triumph was one for the ages. Driver Schleeh raised the lap record by 9 miles per hour and the heat and race records by 6 miles per hour. SHANTY I also brought the long-dominant SLO-MO-SHUN IV down to earth at Seattle by decisively beating her in the Final Heat. 

An amusing sidebar of the Seafair triumph was the good luck token with which Schleeh would be forever identified: a plumber’s friend. It all grew out of a misunderstanding.  There was a group of rookie drivers participating in the Seafair Regatta with little or no experience at the Unlimited level. A Seattle newspaperman misquoted a veteran driver as saying to the effect that the rookies “drove like a bunch of plumbers.” The veteran had, in fact, said nothing of the sort. But the misstatement became a part of hydroplane lore.
 
Instead of taking offense, Russ laughed off the whole ridiculous thing. He began carrying a plumber’s friend with him in the SHANTY I cockpit and would triumphantly wave it when returning to the pits after a heat of racing.

Schleeh and SHANTY I had a clear lead in the Final Heat of the season-concluding Sahara Cup on Lake Mead and probably would have won that race as well if a supercharger hadn’t failed and caused the boat to go dead in the water.

Subsequent to the 1956 racing season, SHANTY I and the “Flying Colonel” made an attempt on Lake Washington’s East Channel to break the world mile straightaway record of 178.497, set by SLO-MO-SHUN IV in 1952, but came up short with a clocking of 173.910.

Schleeh credited SHANTY I’s success to the superior hull design by Ted Jones and also to the prowess of Allison engine builder Howard Gidovlenko. 

Russ identified Gidovlenko as the man who successfully adapted the aux-stage Allison, which had been tried in airplanes, for use in race boats. Thanks to Howard’s pioneering concept, it was possible for an Allison to nearly equal the power output of a Rolls-Royce Merlin.  When Gidovlenko passed away in 1998, Schleeh eulogized him as “a great friend, a talented engine builder, and a good man. I will miss him.”

SHANTY I had difficulty handling rough water in 1956–especially at the President’s Cup in Washington, D.C., where she failed to make
the cut for the Final Heat. In order to correct this problem, she was extensively rebuilt for the 1957 season. Component parts were re-located. This proved to be SHANTY I’s undoing. The balance was wrong. From then on, the boat was a shell of its former self.

SHANTY I was no match for the likes of Jack Regas in HAWAII KAI III, Bill Muncey in MISS THRIFTWAY, or Mira Slovak in MISS WAHOO, which happened to be a hull duplicate of SHANTY I.

At the 1957 Seattle Gold Cup, Schleeh reported he had power that he couldn’t use because the boat was so erratic. SHANTY I nevertheless managed to take second-place to MISS THRIFTWAY in a 15-boat field.

A month later, SHANTY I crashed during a test run on the Potomac River at Washington, D.C., and Russ Schleeh almost drowned.
(Earlier in the season, the Colonel had been pitched out of the boat at the Lake Chelan Apple Cup.)

Following the destruction of SHANTY I, Waggoner announced plans for a replacement SHANTY II.  This time, however, he decided to experiment with a radical hull configuration–a boat without sponsons with a ski or “step” on the underside.

SHANTY II was never brought to a race. Waggoner reportedly invested a quarter of a million dollars in the project. The designer,
Ernest Stout, an aeronautical engineer, had never even seen an Unlimited run.

According to Schleeh, SHANTY II rode very erratically in tests and could only do about 90 miles per hour on the straightaway with an Allison engine. 

Following his crash in Washington, D.C., Russ didn’t drive in competition for three years. At the 1960 Seafair Regatta, he took the wheel of the cabover THRIFTWAY TOO. Designed to carry twin Allisons, THRIFTWAY TOO never used more than one. As such, it was under-powered and only sporadically competitive. 

The day ended badly for Schleeh. He ended up going to the hospital to be treated for burns after THRIFTWAY TOO’s engine caught fire during the Final Heat.
 
Later in the season, Russ briefly handled Sam DuPont’s NITROGEN TOO at the wind-shortened Gold Cup on Lake Mead.
 
Over the next two years, Schleeh drove the former MAVERICK, which had been National Champion in 1959 with Bill Stead driving. While undeniably fast, the boat was always a handful to drive with an alarming tendency to “hook” in the turns. Russ drove it in six races–two as MISS RENO in 1961 and four as TAHOE MISS in 1962.
 
He finished third in the 1961 World’s Championship Seafair Regatta but flipped the boat at the 1961 Reno Gold Cup. In 1962, he placed second in the Diamond Cup, didn’t finish the Seattle Gold Cup, was third in the Spirit of Detroit Regatta, and fourth in the Indiana Governor’s Cup.
 
For his final appearance as an Unlimited competitor, Schleeh filled in as interim driver of MISS EXIDE (the former MISS WAHOO) at the 1963 Seafair Regatta where he finished third overall. 

Seafair Heat 1-A was a classic and one of the fastest in history up until that time. Muncey finished first with MISS THRIFTWAY at 112.500 miles per hour for the 15 miles. Then came Ron Musson in MISS BARDAHL and Schleeh in MISS EXIDE in a drag race to the finish line with Musson taking it, 110.474 to 110.429.
 
After retiring from the Air Force, Russ traded his life jacket and helmet for a seat behind the desk of industry. When asked to describe his most exciting moment in hydroplane racing, Schleeh replied, “Probably the greatest thrill of my Unlimited hydroplane experience was my first ride in one of these thundering, spectacular, and beautiful boats. I thoroughly enjoy speed in any form and can honestly say that the thrill of speed is herein realized in its rarest form.”

By Fred Farley  -  H1 Unlimited Historian

 

1 – 96 – 21 Update

After an emergency meeting of the Miss Madison Board of Directors, the team has leased the U-9 hull from Jones Racing and will run the boat as the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto in the Gold Cup. The boat will leave Seattle Tuesday morning for the trip to Detroit.

Jon Zimmerman will drive the replacement Miss Madison while Steve David recovers from cracked ribs.

Madison crew chief Mike Hanson is very familiar with the boat, having driven it to a Gold Cup victory for Mike and Lorie Jones. Hanson also spent some time working on the boat and motors in the off season in Jones Racing’s Enumclaw, Washington facility. The Madison team’s current boat, which was damaged in a collision with the U-96 on Sunday, has gone to the shop in Madison for repairs.

The U-96 Spirit of Qatar is in the Evansville shop of Ed Cooper undergoing repairs and will be ready for the trip to Detroit in time for the Gold Cup. The U-21, also damaged on Sunday, is also in Cooper’s shop.

Museum Honors Wood & Chenoweth

Racing legends Gar Wood and Dean Chenoweth joined Bill Muncey and Chip Hanauer in the Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum Hall of Champions in ceremonies held at the museum Saturday night.

Garfield Arthur Wood – the immortal “Grey Fox of Grayhaven (Michigan)” – was Unlimited hydroplane racing’s first superstar. In the years prior to World War II, “King Gar” personified power boat competition in the eyes of the world.

He won the APBA Gold Cup four times as an owner and five times as a driver, and captured the Harmsworth International Trophy eight times as a driver and nine times as an owner. Gar was the first to average over 70 miles per hour in a heat of Gold Cup competition (in 1920). He was also the first to average over 100 miles per hour on a straightaway mile (in 1931).

In his five Gold Cup wins, between 1917 and 1921, Wood started 15 heats, finished first 12 times and second three times.In his nine Harmsworth Trophy wins, between 1920 and 1933, Gar was the winning driver every year with the exception of 1931.

Dean Chenoweth drove Unlimited hydroplanes from 1968 until his death in 1982. Like few drivers before or since, Dean could guarantee results. And in so doing, he raised boat driving to the level of an art form. Known primarily for his championship exploits with Bernie Little’s MISS BUDWEISER team, Chenoweth won 25 Unlimited races. He captured the Crown Jewel of APBA competition, the Gold Cup, four times in 1970, 1973, 1980, and 1981. Dean also won four National High Point Championships and, in 1980, set a world lap speed record of 138.249 miles per hour on the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities, Washington.

Pictured left to right:   HARM Executive Director David Williams, Hall of Champions Driver Chip Hanauer, Bud crew member John Rhineberger, crew member Dixon Smith, crew member John Bianci, Bud Crew Chief and Dean’s brother-in-law Jeff Neff, designer-builder Ron Jones, Bud Crew Chief Dave Culley, HARM BOD President Eric Mann.

Photo by Ed Clark

National Championship Drivers: 1946-2011

1946-Guy Lombardo/TEMPO VI (1)
1947-Danny Foster/MISS PEPS V (3)
1948-Dan Arena/SUCH CRUST (2)
1949-Bill Cantrell/MY SWEETIE (4)
1950-Danny Foster/SUCH CRUST & DELPHINE X (2)
1951-Chuck Thompson/MISS PEPSI (4)
1952-Chuck Thompson/MISS PEPSI (3)
1953-Lee Schoenith/GALE II (1)
1954-Lee Schoenith/GALE V (4)
1955-Lee Schoenith/GALE V (1)
1956-Russ Schleeh/SHANTY I (3)
1957-Jack Regas/HAWAII KAI III (5)
1958-Mira Slovak/MISS BARDAHL & MISS BURIEN (3)
1959-Bill Stead/MAVERICK (5)
1960-Bill Muncey/MISS THRIFTWAY (4)
1961-Bill Muncey/MISS CENTURY 21(4)
1962-Bill Muncey/MISS CENTURY 21 (5)
1963-Bill Cantrell/GALE V (0)
1964-Ron Musson/MISS BARDAHL (4)
1965-Ron Musson/MISS BARDAHL (4)
1966-Mira Slovak/TAHOE MISS (4)
1967-Billy Schumacher/MISS BARDAHL (6)
1968-Billy Schumacher/MISS BARDAHL (4)
1969-Bill Sterett, Sr./MISS BUDWEISER (4)
1970-Dean Chenoweth/MISS BUDWEISER (4)
1971-Dean Chenoweth/MISS BUDWEISER (2)
1972-Bill Muncey/ATLAS VAN LINES (6)
1973-Mickey Remund/PAY ‘n PAK (4)
1974-George Henley/PAY ‘n PAK (7)
1975-Billy Schumacher/WEISFIELD’S (2)
1976-Bill Muncey/ATLAS VAN LINES (5)
1977-Mickey Remund/MISS BUDWEISER (3)
1978-Bill Muncey/ATLAS VAN LINES (6)
1979-Bill Muncey/ATLAS VAN LINES (7)
1980-Dean Chenoweth/MISS BUDWEISER (5)
1981-Dean Chenoweth/MISS BUDWEISER (6)
1982-Chip Hanauer/ATLAS VAN LINES (5)
1983-Chip Hanauer/ATLAS VAN LINES (3)
1984-Jim Kropfeld/MISS BUDWEISER (6)
1985-Chip Hanauer/MILLER AMERICAN (5)
1986-Jim Kropfeld/MISS BUDWEISER (3)
1987-Jim Kropfeld/MISS BUDWEISER (5)
1988-Tom D’Eath/MISS BUDWEISER (4)
1989-Chip Hanauer/MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS (3)
1990-Chip Hanauer/MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS (6)
1991-Mark Tate/WINSTON EAGLE & OH BOY! OBERTO (3)
1992-Chip Hanauer/MISS BUDWEISER (7)
1993-Chip Hanauer/MISS BUDWEISER (7)
1994-Mark Tate/SMOKIN’ JOE’S (2)
1995-Mark Tate/SMOKIN’ JOE’S (4)
1996-Dave Villwock/PICO AMERICAN DREAM (6)
1997-Mark Tate/CLOSE CALL (1)
1998-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (8)
1999-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (8)
2000-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (6)
2001-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (1)
2002-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (3)
2003-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (2)
2004-Dave Villwock/MISS BUDWEISER (5)
2005-Steve David/OH BOY! OBERTO-MISS MADISON (1)
2006-Steve David/OH BOY! OBERTO-MISS MADISON (0)
2007-Dave Villwock/ELLSTROM ELAM PLUS (4)
2008-Steve David/OH BOY! OBERTO-MISS MADISON (1)
2009-Steve David/OH BOY! OBERTO-MISS MADISON (1)
2010-Steve David/OH BOY! OBERTO-MISS MADISON (3)

 


The race wins, indicated in parentheses, are for major races.

A “major race” is defined as one scheduled for a minimum of two heats with at least four Unlimiteds making a legal start. This excludes from consideration the numerous one-heat free-for-alls of the 1940s and ’50s and those multi-class events with less than the required four Unlimited entries making a legal start.

Between 1946 and 1957, boats from the Limited classes were sometimes allowed to “step up” to the Unlimited level for the purpose of filling out the field.

Except in unusual instances, secondary races run in conjunction with the main event at a particular regatta are not included. The only exceptions to the four-boat starting field requirement are the Harmsworth International races of 1956, 1959, and 1961, which featured an unorthodox method of selecting eligible entries.

2009 – A Season To Remember

Mike Webster battles Brian PerkinsThe 2009 H1 Unlimited tour will long be remembered. And with good reason.

The fans witnessed some of the finest competition in the long history of the sport. There was plenty of deck-to-deck action. And no one team dominated for very long.

The season-long battle for the National High Point Championship was simply unbelievable and wasn’t decided until the last lap of the last heat of the last race of the year. And for the first time in modern times, Unlimited hydroplane racing became a truly international endeavor. In November of 2009, a fleet of ten Unlimiteds journeyed from North America to the Middle East to compete for the Oryx Cup/UIM World Championship in Doha, Qatar.

The Unlimiteds first appearance on the world stage could not have been more impressive. The competition was superb and unforgettable. The 2009 Doha race is the perfect calling card for a sport that is certain to expand beyond its North American roots in the years ahead.

A total of twelve teams, fourteen hulls, and fourteen drivers saw competitive action during 2009.

When the roostertails subsided after the last race of the season at Doha, OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON (U-1) from southern Indiana had first-place in National High Points for the second year in a row. This entitled the OBERTO team to carry the coveted U-1 designation once again in 2010.

The community-owned craft and driver Steve David had 7970 accumulated points, compared to 7735 for MISS E-LAM PLUS (U-16), 7564 for FORMULABOATS.COM (U-5), 6689 for GRAHAM TRUCKING (U-7), 5253 for MISS PETERS & MAY (U-37), 4584 for OUR GANG RACING (U-17), 4521 for LELAND UNLIMITED (U-100), 4193 for ALBERT LEE APPLIANCE (U-48), 3926 for MASTER TIRE (U-3), 2201 for MISTER HOME LOAN (U-25), 1789 for MATRIX SYSTEM AUTOMOTIVE FINISHES (U-22), and 421 for JONES RACING (U-9). 

The road to the High Point Championship was a rocky one for OH BOY! OBERTO. Mechanical gremlins at Seattle, a flip at Doha, and a couple of penalty calls at Madison and Evansville took their toll. But the team hung tough, scored a victory at the Tri-Cities, and concluded the season with a 235-point edge over second-place MISS E-LAM PLUS.

Owned by the Ellstrom family of Seattle, the E-LAM team likewise had its share of untimely bad luck. Despite winning three races during the season, their boat suffered significant engine problems at the Tri-Cities and Doha and crashed at Evansville.

Ted Porter’s two boats, the FORMULABOATS.COM and the GRAHAM TRUCKING, claimed victory at the last two races of 2009 and finished third and fourth respectively in National Points. They might have placed higher if not for a couple of unfortunate crashes. (The GRAHAM went over at the Tri-Cities and the FORMULA did likewise at Doha.) Thankfully, drivers Jeff Bernard and J. Michael Kelly escaped serious injury.

The most frightening mishap of 2009 occurred at Madison where Jean Theoret almost drowned when the U-37 flipped upside down during a preliminary heat. Theoret was tangled in his 5-point harness system until rescuers could pull him free. Jean spent the next few weeks in recovery but returned to competition at Seattle and went on to place fourth at Doha with new sponsor PETERS & MAY USA, the well known global marine logistics firm.

Heading into the 2009 campaign, the OH BOY! OBERTO faced an uphill struggle. Arch-rivals MISS E-LAM PLUS and driver Dave Villwock, the 2007 High Point winners, had participated in only two races in 2008, but were back for the full tour in 2009.

***

Madison, IN
Indiana Governor’s Cup
(1) U-16 MISS E-LAM PLUS, Dave Villwock
(2) U-7 GRAHAM TRUCKING, J. Michael Kelly
(3) U-1 OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON, Steve David

Villwock and the U-16 made the most of their return to full-time participation in Unlimited racing with a victory in the 59th annual Indiana Governor’s Cup on the Ohio River. MISS E-LAM PLUS led out of the first turn in the winner-take-all Final Heat and throughout.  E-LAM averaged 138.054 miles per hour for the 12.5 miles, compared to 136.515 for GRAHAM TRUCKING.

Jimmy King and the Allison-powered MISS CHRYSLER JEEP (U-3) was drawing close to second-place GRAHAM TRUCKING but conked out one buoy marker short of the finish line. OH BOY! OBERTO started in sixth-place but worked up to take third.

Following the first race of the season, OBERTO’s chances to repeat as National Champion were problematic. MISS E-LAM PLUS was back and strong as ever. Moreover, the U-16 had been the fastest qualifier at Madison, had won all four of its heats, and already possessed 1700 season points, compared to 1130 for OH BOY! OBERTO.

***

Detroit, MI
APBA Gold Cup
(1) U-16 MISS E-LAM PLUS, Dave Villwock
(2) U-1 OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON, Steve David
(3) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard

The 100th contest for the APBA Gold Cup was certainly unique. 

The centennial running of boat racing’s Crown Jewel was scheduled for 2008 but had to be postponed a year after the completion of only two sets of preliminary heats on account of inclement weather.

For 2009, the Gold Cup featured a return to the concept of “fighting for lanes” before the start, but without violations for being “off-plane.”

Dave Villwock and MISS E-LAM PLUS observed the letter of the rule precisely in the Final Heat. They quite literally crawled around the Detroit River race course, mostly off-plane, and made a perfectly timed start in lane-one.

MISS E-LAM PLUS led from wire-to wire and averaged 141.239, compared to 138.270 for second-place OH BOY! OBERTO. E-LAM’s lead over OBERTO varied from one to two roostertail lengths throughout the five laps. FORMULABOATS.COM and GRAHAM TRUCKING see-sawed for third and fourth with FORMULA taking it, 136.266 to 136.200.

***

Tri-Cities, WA
Columbia Cup
(1) U-1 OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON, Steve David
(2) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard
(3) U-37 HOSS MORTGAGE INVESTORS, J.W. Myers

The third stop on the 2009 Unlimited tour emerged as a repeat triumph for the OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON team and driver Steve David. They captured their second straight Tri-Cities Columbia Cup at Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, Washington, on the Columbia River.

The OBERTO won all four of its heat races and moved past Dave Villwock and MISS E-LAM PLUS to take over the lead in National High Points with three down and three events remaining on the 2009 calendar.

Five of the seven finalists were closely bunched at the start of the Final Heat. OH BOY! OBERTO, HOSS MORTGAGE INVESTORS (U-37) with relief driver J.W. Myers, and FORMULABOATS.COM exited the first turn together. OBERTO led at the end of lap-one with FORMULA and HOSS MORTGAGE both within OBERTO’s roostertail length.

OBERTO’s lead varied from one to two roostertails for laps two through five. FORMULA and HOSS MORTGAGE ran head-to-head all five laps with FORMULA taking it for second-place. OBERTO averaged 145.431 for the 12.5-mile distance, compared to 142.946 for FORMULA and 142.570 for HOSS MORTGAGE.

***

Seattle, WA
Chevrolet Cup
(1) U-16 MISS E-LAM PLUS, Dave Villwock
(2) U-3 GRAND VIEW ON THE LAKE, Jimmy King
(3) U-37 HOSS MORTGAGE INVESTORS, J.W. Myers & Jean Theoret

The Tri-Cities race had been a triumph for OH BOY! OBERTO and an “off-day” for MISS E-LAM PLUS. Their fortunes were reversed the following week at the Chevrolet Cup on Lake Washington.

After three sets of preliminary heats, MISS E-LAM PLUS had 1025 accumulated points for two firsts and a third; OH BOY! OBERTO had one first and two seconds and 1000 points. For the finale, the E-LAM team chose starting lane-one; OBERTO took lane-two.

MISS  E-LAM PLUS led out of the first turn, followed closely by OH BOY! OBERTO. The OBERTO launched off a roller in the upper turn on lap-two and almost capsized.

E-LAM pulled to a commanding lead on lap-three while OBERTO maintained a steady second-place for four and a half laps. OBERTO then slowed way down on the fifth and final backstretch and faded from second to sixth-place, losing valuable National Points in the process.

Jimmy King and GRAND VIEW ON THE LAKE (U-3) took over second-place and averaged 133.072 to Dave Villwock’s 137.532. This was the U-3 team’s highest race finish in quite some time after a frustrating recent series of Allison engine failures.

Jean Theoret made a welcome return to competition at Seattle and took second-place with HOSS MORTGAGE INVESTORS in preliminary Heat 1-A after a see-saw battle with first-place Jeff Bernard in FORMULABOATS.COM.

Theoret nevertheless decided that he wasn’t sufficiently recovered from his Madison accident to continue. He relinquished the wheel for the remaining three heats to his back-up driver, J.W. Myers, who went on to take third-place overall.

***

Evansville, IN
Thunder On The Ohio
(1) U-5 FORMULABOATS.COM, Jeff Bernard
(2) U-7 GRAHAM TRUCKING, J. Michael Kelly
(3) U-1 OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON, Steve David

The two top-ranked teams–OH BOY! OBERTO and MISS E-LAM PLUS–had all kinds of problems at “Thunder On the Ohio” in Evansville.

Drivers Steve David and Dave Villwock staged a sensational duel for the lead in preliminary Heat 1-A. Running on the outside, the E-LAM attempted to overtake the OBERTO in the final turn. David’s boat bounced and inadvertently came down in Villwock’s path. E-LAM encountered OBERTO’s roostertail and blew over, landing upside down.

Villwock escaped serious injury but his boat was through for the day. David was disqualified and lost valuable points. OH BOY! OBERTO continued in the race but–because of the point loss–was ultimately assigned to lane-six for the Final Heat.

The Evansville-based MASTER TIRE (U-3) led out of the first turn of the finale and brought the hometown crowd to its feet. Driver Jimmy King was driving the race of his life! The two Ted Porter-owned boats– FORMULABOATS.COM and GRAHAM TRUCKING–went all out but couldn’t catch the front-running U-3, the only piston-powered boat in the fleet.

Then, another heartbreak for the Ed Cooper team! The U-3 lost a propeller and went dead in the water after two and three-quarter laps.

This left the FORMULA and the GRAHAM to fight it out for the victory with FORMULA and Jeff Bernard taking it, 140.395 miles per hour to 139.854. OH BOY! OBERTO checked in third at 138.092.

With the North American phase of the 2009 H1 Unlimited tour now concluded, three teams were “in the hunt” for the Season High Point Championship, which would be decided across the Atlantic Ocean in Doha, Qatar. These were OH BOY! OBERTO, FORMULABOATS.COM, and MISS E-LAM PLUS. Only 780 points separated the three front-runners.

***

Doha, Qatar
Oryx Cup/UIM World Championship
(1) U-7 GRAHAM TRUCKING, J. Michael Kelly
(2) U-1 OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON, Steve David
(3) U-16 MISS E-LAM PLUS, Dave Villwock

After the first three sets of preliminary heats on the Arabian Gulf, Steve David and OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON seemed to be in a good position to repeat as Season High Point Champion. The OBERTO had a first and two seconds in the preliminary action and possessed a comfortable lead in National Points. 

That lead evaporated, however, to almost nothing when the OBERTO flipped and received no points in preliminary Heat 4-A. The flip also relegated the OBERTO to a most unfavorable position on the race course for the Final Heat in lane-5.

While the OBERTO team thrashed repairs, Heat 4-B got underway. The outcome would prove crucial in the race for High Points. Both MISS E-LAM PLUS and FORMULABOATS.COM jumped the gun! And both had to run a penalty lap to be scored, while Jean Theoret and MISS PETERS & MAY (U-37) inherited the 400 first-place heat points. 

When it came time for the Final Heat of the season, just 156 points separated the OBERTO, the FORMULA, and the E-LAM. This had never happened before when as little as 156 National Points separated three boats at the outset of the last heat of the season.  At various times, two boats had gone down to the wire with a narrow points margin between them, but never three.

The starting gun for the Final Heat fired and MISS E-LAM PLUS led out of the first turn, followed closely by FORMULABOATS.COM with OH BOY! OBERTO trailing. Then, moments later, Jeff Bernard became airborne and did a barrel-roll, stopping the heat before the completion of lap-1. Bernard escaped serious injury and managed to extricate himself from the cockpit, but his boat had sustained major damage.

As things developed, the FORMULA wasn’t the only casualty in the first running of the Final Heat. Nate Brown’s OUR GANG RACING (U-17) had encountered a roostertail of salt water and couldn’t restart. The E-LAM likewise got some salt water but an engine change could not be made.

The withdrawal of the FORMULA and the OUR GANG meant that OH BOY! OBERTO could move over from lane-5 to lane-3 with MISS E-LAM PLUS in lane-1 and GRAHAM TRUCKING in lane-2. In order to retain the High Point Championship, the OBERTO would have to finish at least second in the re-run of the Final Heat.

On the restart, Villwock and the U-16 moved to a commanding lead and an apparent victory that would give him the Oryx Cup and the Series Team Championship, while David and the OBERTO trailed Kelly and the GRAHAM TRUCKING in third-place.

It appeared as though OH BOY! OBERTO was going to lose the championship on account of one position on the race course!

Then, on the final lap of the season, everything changed again. The E-LAM’s turbine engine succumbed to salt water and slowed, allowing the U-7 to pass him for the lead and the win for the GRAHAM TRUCKING sponsorship.  David also passed Villwock to take second in the Oryx Cup and secure the 2009 H1 Unlimited Series Championship for team OBERTO.

It was the first win in the Unlimited Class for J. Michael Kelly who had qualified as an Unlimited driver in 2004.

A jubilant Steve David proclaimed, “U-1 was our goal. This race and the season was about back-to-back U-1. We wanted to put an exclamation point on what this team could do running head-to-head against the U-16 all year long.”

***

In summary, the 2009 H1 Unlimited tour proved historic on a number of counts.

For the first time in their history, the Unlimiteds ventured beyond the environs of the United States, Canada, or Mexico.

OH BOY! OBERTO repeated as High Point Champion. This marked the first time that a non-MISS BUDWEISER entry has won back-to-back season titles since ATLAS VAN LINES in 1982-83.

OBERTO driver Steve David claimed his fourth High Point Driver Championship since 2005.

Dave Villwock claimed his seventh APBA Gold Cup. Only the retired Chip Hanauer (who has eleven) and the late Bill Muncey (who has eight) have more.

Villwock’s three race wins in 2009 brought his total in the Unlimited Class to 59. Only Muncey (who has 62) and Hanauer (who has 61) have more.

And despite a troubled economy, the H1 Unlimited fraternity lived up to its pledge to race sponsors by delivering full fields of boats. At race after race, no fewer than ten and as many as twelve teams showed up to do competitive battle in “Water Racing’s Greatest Show.”

That trend can and will continue into 2010, much to the joy of the real winners in Unlimited racing, the fans.

By Fred Farley  -  H1 Unlimited Historian

Miss Madison: A 50 Year Timeline

City of Madison, IN

By Fred Farley

The community-owned MISS MADISON from Madison, Indiana, is the oldest continuously active team in Unlimited hydroplane history. The city has had a boat in competition every year from 1961 to 2010–a total of 50 seasons.

By comparison, the late Bernie Little’s MISS BUDWEISER team started in 1963 and retired after 2004.

In 2010, the OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON (U-1) achieved its third straight National High Point Championship with Steve David driving. This entitles the MISS M to wear the coveted U-1 label again in 2011.

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The Gar Wood Story

Gar WoodBy Fred Farley – H1 Unlimited Historian

Garfield Arthur Wood – the immortal “Grey Fox of Grayhaven (Michigan)” – was Unlimited hydroplane racing’s first superstar. In the years prior to World War II, “King Gar” personified power boat competition in the eyes of the world.

He won the APBA Gold Cup four times as an owner and five times as a driver, and captured the Harmsworth International Trophy eight times as a driver and nine times as an owner. Gar was the first to average over 70 miles per hour in a heat of Gold Cup competition (in 1920). He was also the first to average over 100 miles per hour on a straightaway mile (in 1931).

In his five Gold Cup wins, between 1917 and 1921, Wood started 15 heats, finished first 12 times and second three times.

In his nine Harmsworth Trophy wins, between 1920 and 1933, Gar was the winning driver every year with the exception of 1931. His brother George Wood, driver of MISS AMERICA VIII, was declared the winner that time.

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The Dean Chenoweth Story

Dean ChenowethBy Fred Farley – H1 Unlimited Historian

Dean Chenoweth drove Unlimited hydroplanes from 1968 until his death in 1982. Like few drivers before or since, Dean could guarantee results. And in so doing, he raised boat driving to the level of an art form.

Known primarily for his championship exploits with Bernie Little’s MISS BUDWEISER team, Chenoweth won 25 Unlimited races. He captured the Crown Jewel of APBA competition, the Gold Cup, four times in 1970, 1973, 1980, and 1981. Dean also won four National High Point Championships and, in 1980, set a world lap speed record of 138.249 miles per hour on the Columbia River at the Tri-Cities, Washington.

The Xenia, Ohio, native began his racing career in outboards in 1951 and was a three-time National Champion in the “clamp-on” category with more than 70 race victories. Moving up to the Limited ranks, Chenoweth won the 145 Cubic Inch Class Inboard Nationals in 1965 with CHUCK’S JOY and was 7-Litre Class High Point Champion in 1968 with SAYONARA II.

Dean’s first Unlimited Class ride was with Joe and Lee Schoenith’s “bat-wing” SMIRNOFF. Designed by Dick Brantsner and “Wild Bill” Cantrell, SMIRNOFF was built at a time when “heavier was better” in terms of safety philosophy. An earlier SMIRNOFF hydroplane had crashed in 1966 and the driver (Chuck Thompson) was fatally injured. The 1968 hull weighed 8000 pounds, at a time when most Unlimiteds weighed around 6000 pounds.

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