BY ANDY MUNTZ
The method for getting a hydroplane race underway has been controversial since the very earliest days of the sport. When a gun was fired at the clubhouse of New York’s Columbia Yacht Club at 3:05 p. m . on Thursday, June 23, 1904, the drivers of Standard, Water Lily, and Fiat I met the call to begin the first Gold Cup race. “The Standard almost leaped out of the water as the gun was fired,” reported the New York Times. “She was practically at rest a second before the signal; yet in a twinkling she was going at full speed, throwing the water from her sides in volumes.
The race called for the entrants to proceed 16 miles up the Hudson River, around the stake boat Queen Bess anchored off the long wharf at Piedmont, New Jersey, then back down the river to the finish line that was set where the race had begun. The Fiat I was disabled almost as soon as it started when it ran over a floating log, while Standard cruised to a
comfortable lead. It was six minutes ahead of Water Lily by the halfway point then finished an hour, 37 minutes, and 48 seconds after it had started, completing the course with an average speed of 19.63 mph.
I was asked recently to give a brief history of the sport’s starting procedures at a meeting of drivers, owners, crew chiefs, and board members. It was a prelude to a discussion about possible ways to change rules related to the start.
The history of this issue tells us that during the past three decades, the various people running the sport of unlimited
hydroplane racing have continually seen revisions to the starting procedure as a way to stem the tide of diminishing fan
interest. But the history of the issue also tells us that those changes have so far done little to increase fan interest.
The problem is, too much assuming has been going on—on both sides of the issue. Continued, click here...
An in-depth conversation with champion Billy Schumacher.
Billy Schumacher ranks among the top drivers in unlimited hydroplane racing history. He won the Gold Cup twice and earned the national high-point championship twice. Decades later he won the Gold Cup again as an owner. Schumacher’s involvement in boat racing spans his lifetime. He started as a child in outboards, where he learned how to win. Some of
his most memorable experiences were as a participant in the legendary Sammamish Slough races held northeast of Seattle, where the racers covered the 13-mile distance down the Sammamish River from Redmond on Lake Sammamish to Kenmore on the shores of Lake Washington.
He moved on to limited inboards, driving in a variety of classes. He received his first opportunity to handle an unlimited when he was still a teenager and holds the record as the youngest driver to win the Gold Cup. He took time away from unlimiteds to participate in tunnel outboard marathon races, where he continued his winning ways. He returned to driving unlimiteds then retired from the cockpit in 1976. In 2006, he renewed his involvement with racing by becoming an owner.
Schumacher was born in Seattle in October 1942 and racing boats almost immediately became an integral part of his life, an interest that was inspired by his father’s enthusiasm for water skiing.
The following interview is the first of a four-part series we will continue in the Unlimited NewsJournal during the months ahead. In this segment, conducted by Craig Fjarlie on May 29, 2019, Schumacher recounts the beginning of his career of racing on the water.
pretty excited about that. Then, when I got back to the house, he had a five-horse Mercury sitting there. He said, “This is also yours. It goes on that boat.” I was so happy with that motor that I slept with it for about a week. It was in my bed with me. I never did race the boat for…it was probably at least six months, I think, before the season really started. And during that time, they had a Slough race up the Sammamish Slough.
We lived right on Lake Washington, down on Riviera Place. My father and two of his other water-ski buddies bought what they call a B Runabout. It was a 10-horsepower Mercury that would go on the same boat I was going to run the JU with, a five Mercury. He ran it up the Slough in the race and didn’t make a corner, went up on the bank, and hit a tree. He didn’t get hurt, but the boat did. He was not only embarrassed, but he said, “You know what? I’m gonna leave the boat racing up to you. I’m going to stay with the water skiing.”
A young Billy Schumacher poses with his boat racing trophies in his family’s backyard.
The Standard takes the lead at the start of the first Gold Cup race in 1904.
Taking to heart the start.
In response to controversy that occurred last season, the officials at H1 Unlimited are looking at ways
to change how unlimited hydroplanes start their races.
Gold Cup, therefore, the handicap was instead implemented at the start, which meant that the entrants began at different times. The first to start was the Josephine, the boat with the lowest rating, then the Marcirene II, and so on until the Vingt-et Un II, the scratch boat with the highest rating, started almost an hour later.
“The new method of starting the boats proved a great success,” reported Motor Boat Magazine. “…the spectators were kept at fever heat for an hour at the start. This left only about an hour of interregnum before the first boat loomed into sight.”
It didn’t take long for creative minds to take advantage of this method, though. In 1906, Herbert Leighton built the Chip II, which was much smaller than the others but featured a unique engine that was built specifically to take full advantage of the rating system. Though it had three cylinders, only two counted into the formula because the third didn’t provide power to the propeller shaft. It instead pumped compressed air into the other two cylinders—a crude supercharger. What’s more, the two power cylinders had a bore of only four inches and a stroke of a whopping 10 inches to help earn for itself the lowest rating possible.
While the engine was rated at only 16.75 horsepower, it actually produced at least twice that amount. Consequently, as
the lowest-rated boat in the field, the Chip II was the first to start the Gold Cup that year, yet was fast enough so that the other higher rated (and supposedly more powerful) boats were unable to catch it.
That spelled the end of the handicapping system. From that point on, the sport used a flying start, where the drivers made a run for the starting line as the final seconds wound down to the time of the start, making sure they didn’t cross the
starting line before the clock struck zero and be assessed a penalty for jumping the gun. With a few exceptions, this was the way unlimited hydroplane races were started for the next more than 80 years.
Then, in 1991, there was a dramatic change. Continued, click here...
Schumacher competing in the 1955 Sammamish Slough race.
The Standard had crossed the finish line 23 minutes before Water Lily but that didn’t necessarily mean it was the winner. Because
the various boats were so different in size and
in the engines that they used, the sport had
adopted a complicated rating system to assign the boats a handicap. The area of each boat’s pistons, the stroke, the number of cylinders, the mean water-line length, and other factors were entered into a formula that
said 17 minutes were to be shaved from Water Lily’s finishing time.
While the boat’s handicap still wasn’t sufficient to beat Standard, the possibility of the eventual winner crossing the finish line second caused the sport’s officials to rethink the way they were doing things. At the second
In preparation for those discussions, a meeting was held on the day of the sport’s annual awards banquet in November where drivers, owners, crew chiefs, and H1 board members got together to share their ideas on how to make the starts better and more understandable for fans. I was invited to begin the meeting with a brief history of how the starting procedure has changed over the years. What follows is an account of the summary that I provided them.
From the staff at the UNLIMITED NewsJournal, we wish you a happy and Prosperous New Year
Chris, Andy, Lon, Bob, Karen, Craig, Allen, Dick, Dan, & Bob
I was actually really happy with that. Well, the boat wasn’t the same after it was rebuilt. It was and it wasn’t. I mean, it was really a big enough boat for that 10-horsepower motor, a little too big for the five, really. It wasn’t that fast. So, Benson had another boat being built, that he was having built for his son Don. My father walked in and saw it. Ed Karelsen was building it. This was at Benson’s shop on Lake City Way. He sold outboards and boats there. Anyway, dad bought that boat. It kind of upset Don because it was being built for him, but he got another one shortly afterwards. It just turned out that, unfortunately for Don, this happened to be a really good boat.
I didn’t think it was gonna be as good as it was. It had a warp in the bottom which wasn’t normal. I think it taught Ed a few lessons on building runabouts. What it turned out to be was concave in the bottom. When it got up to a higher speed it rode on, I would call it a “U” shape on the bottom. So, it was very little drag, and the boat was fast. I’m not sure that Jim and Don even know that. We did. Continued, click here...
UNJ: What was your first involvement
Schumacher: I got started at a pretty young age, 1948, when I started running around in water-ski boats. It all started from puttzin’ around with my father and his group’s water-ski boats and canoes and anything else they had that would float. I was interested in it. When he asked me if I wanted a race boat I agreed, naturally, and he bought one that could be converted to a larger class also. He bought me that boat. It was on top of a car—it was yellow and red—from Al Benson; Don Benson and Jim Benson’s dad.
Then he bought a five-horsepower Mercury from Al Molson, and I was so happy with all of that. It was Christmas. He said, “You have to walk down the street and look on top of Benson’s car.” So, I walked down and there that yellow boat was. I was