Jerry Schoenith knows hydroplanes.
For many years after, he mingled with fans and boat crews alike as a night club manager at the famous Roostertail Restaurant, perched on the edge of the Detroit River race course. In 1980, he served as executive secretary of the Unlimited Racing Commission and a few years later owned and campaigned his own boat, the Miss Renault. Throughout his colorful life, Schoenith has had a front row seat to the people and events that have shaped the sport. Today, at age 75, he is still passionate about hydroplane racing and is overflowing with ideas he hopes will inject some excitement back into the sport.
Born into one of Detroit’s most prominent
boat racing families, Schoenith drove
unlimiteds for his father in the 1960s.
To the fans watching unlimiteds along the shore at many race sites, and to many who listen on radio, the voice of the unlimiteds is Brad Luce. Few announcers can describe the excitement of a deck-to-deck battle around the buoys like he can. But, the job of being the voice on the Public Address system and on the radio involves more than just describing race action. Luce explains:
“That would probably have been the Gale IV,” Jerry remembers. “Lee drove past the Gold Cup course [in Detroit], and crossed the freighter line at the Canadian border to our cottage in Windsor, Ontario. I didn’t even like crossing the freighter line in a regular ski boat!”
a good running boat.
You hadn’t seen the four-seater up to this time?
No. Never heard of it. It was a big surprise.
How did the boat handle, and what did you think seeing four seats?
Well, it was a big cockpit, plus you weren’t sitting in the middle. All of a sudden you’re over on the side, which, to this day, never really did hurt It. It doesn’t make any difference if you sit in the middle or over on the side. The boat ran real well.
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by Steve Nelson
Schoenith’s father, Joe Schoenith, owned a successful electrical business, the W.D. Gale Company of Detroit between 1950 and 1975. He and his wife, Mildred, raised three sons. Lee was born first, followed years later by twin brothers Tom and Jerry. “Lee was 15 years older and he acted more like a father,” says Jerry. “We were more afraid of him than we were of
by Brad Luce
The fraternity of hydroplane announcers and broadcasters is a small one. And, over the years, I have had the good fortune of working with the very best within that fraternity, from Jim Hendrick to Jeff Ayler, and everyone in between. No two announcers are alike, and I have learned from each of them.
Over time, and like all sports broadcasters, each of us developed our own broadcast style. That individual style, however, is most often associated with our play-by-play call of the boats on the water.
That’s what people hear most. But, more often than
not, the announcing of the racing on the water is
UNJ: You came back the following year as driver
of Bernie Little’s Tempo.
Schroeder: One night the phone rang right at supper time. It was Lee [Schoenith]. He said, “There’s a fellow down in Guntersville going to call you as soon as I hang up. He wants to know if you want to drive his boat. I told him you could do it for him.” So, after Lee hung up, the phone rang, and it was Bernie. You know Bernie. He didn’t ask if I could do it or would I do it. He just told me to be there. “I’ll take care of everything; you be there.” Well, that’s Bernie.
He was the same then as he is today.
Oh, yeah. Same thing. I got there (Detroit) and the boat was in the water. He told me to give it a
run. I thought the boat ran real well. In fact, it was
FROM THE UNJ VAULT:
A talk with Bob Schroeder.
In last month’s issue of the Unlimited NewsJournal we learned about the first years of Bob Schroeder’s unlimited driving career. His first ride came in 1957 aboard the Wildroot Charlie, a race team hailing from his hometown of Buffalo, New York. Next, he drove the Miss Buffalo and in 1961 was behind the wheel of the gigantic Gale VII. Midway through the 1962 season, however, team owner Joe Schoenith decided it was time for a change in the driver’s seat.
Schroeder held no hard feelings, though. He realized he needed to spend more time making a living and being with his children. But, his passion for boat racing was strong and his time away from the sport wouldn’t last long.
What follows is part two of an interview that was conducted by a young Craig Fjarlie while in Madison, Indiana,
during the summer of 1979. The Unlimited NewsJournal originally published the interview in three parts,
in the December 1979 issue and in the January and February 1980 issues.
only a small part of the announcer’s overall responsibilities. There are many others. Some of which are perhaps more important than the on-the-water race coverage.
While specific roles and obligations can vary from venue to venue, the announcers are cognizant of certain core responsibilities to the race sites, the fans, the teams, sponsors, and H1 Unlimited. Over the years, I have been afforded plenty of latitude how to approach and cover an individual race weekend. I approach each event by reminding myself of these core responsibilities.
The MOST important people at an H1 event are the fans. I have always felt this way. Without them, we don’t race.
Joe bought his first hydroplane in 1949 and competed the following year, hoping to win races and promote his company in the process. It was the first of 26 racing seasons for the Schoenith family, resulting in 27 race wins and four national championships.
It was natural for Joe Schoenith to race boats. He loved to water ski and, after World War II, he built a summer cottage on the shores of Lake St. Clair in Ontario, Canada. The cottage was about eight minutes
by boat from Detroit. Jerry remembers one time in the early 1950s that his brother Lee made a much faster trip, aboard one of the family’s brand new hydroplanes.
Calling the boat races.