Big Shoot-out on Lake Havasu in 1969

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Big Shoot-out on Lake Havasu in 1969

Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 3:58:44 PM | Mark Benson

   Cesare Scotti of Italy won the world's biggest, richest outboard powerboat race from a fine field as an American archrival, Don Pruett, crashed.

   Not yet six years old, Lake Havasu city is one of the youngest communities in Arisona and the United States. It is a go-getting sort of place. With a touching glance back to the past, it has purchased London Bridge, whose 1,005 foot span will be reassembled with "dignity and respect" to link the town and its airport ( and its a damn lie, say Lake Havasuvians, that they thought all along they were getting the Tower Bridge and its more picturesque structure). It is also the site of the world's biggest and richest race for outboard powerboats- an activity more in keeping with the town's up-to-the-minute way of life.

   This Outboard World Championship, which was run for the sixth time last weekend on Lake Havasu, was in essence a shoot-out among the leading engine (Mercury-OMC) and boat manufacturers. Win Havasu, the feeling goes, and the aura of victory will trickle down to the public that has something a little less special in mind than flat-out racing- like fishing, water-skiing, or just noodling around on the water.

   That spirit of competition attracted 114 boats from five counties (USA,Canada, Italy, England, & Austria) for a four- hour endurance run on Saturday and another on Sunday- and for the first time nearly all the leading contenders rode so-called "tunnel" hulls. This is a new wrinkle in boating, a hull with twin sponsons forming a tunnel between them. The hull is partly supported by a cushion of air developing in the tunnel, and as a consequence speeds have risen to all time highs- better than 100 mph for the fastest boats.

   Although he was not to taste the fruits of victory, the fastest man at Lake Havasu was a Texas- born Californian named Don Pruett. Pruett is not completely at home with Chamber of Commerce notions like dignity and respect. After winning the Elsinore 500 on Lake Elisinore, California this year he bit the cork out of a bottle of celebratory champagne and tossed it without a pause. He's as fast with his fists as he is with the bubbly. "I saw Don in a real battle in Galveston I think it was," said Racing Promoter Mel Sikes. "When the bar stools started flying, I just leaned back against the wall and watched. It was beautiful the way Don handled himself."

   "Wild" was the way Mrs. Pruett saw it on Saturday as she observed Don's technique on the one right-hand turn of Havasu's four-mile, boomerang-shaped course. Vagrant gusts of wind disturbed the boats' air cushions, and the shore was ominously close, but Pruett cupped his head in his left hand as he took the turn with the other hand on the wheel.

   For two days brusque winds had lashed the confined waters of Lake Havasu. The redoubtable Italian driver Renato Molinari had flipped his boat during a practice run. Pruett's pal Joe Habay blew- over during Saturday's race and broke his leg. Needless to say, Pruett with three big Mercury stacker engines making healthy sounds on his Ted Jones- designed hull, paid no attention to such trifles and went for the lead. After two hours his "Triple Trouble" made her only pit stop for fuel. At the end of the second hour Pruett still led. But soon he encountered trouble with the lower units of his engine rig and mechanics worked furiously to repair the damage. They did so and Pruett resumed the race. At the end of Day 1 he lay sixth, while up ahead was a three-way tie between Italy's # 33 Cesare Scotti, Texas'  # 90 Johnnie Sanders, and Colorado's # 5 Robert George.

   Scotti, driving a 21-foot Molinari with a pair of Evinrude X-115's, is an extremely experienced man; he was voted the Outstanding Outboarder of 1968 for winning the Florida Gold Coast Marathon and placing second in the Paris Six Hour Race during a consistently fine year. He and other Europeans are noted for steady, disiplined approach to racing. But at Havasu a rare mental lapse cost him a clear-cut lead. Experiencing engine difficulties just before the finishing flare was fired, he stopped a few yards short of the finish line and turned into the pits instead of completing the lap. Had he done so, he would have been credited with 70 laps rather than 69- the number completed by Sanders and George.

   On Sunday, Scotti kept his wits about him at all times and defeated Sanders by a lap to take the $15,000.00 first place at a record average speed (for the 2 days) of 72 1/2 mph. The veteran Bill Sirois of Miami, Florida ended up in third place. Pruett? Poor devil, in his haste to catch the leader he collided with another boat and nearly sank.

Harold Eis goes for Third Havasu Outboard World Championship

Monday, October 19, 2009, 5:07:32 PM | Mark Benson

   If hard work, forethought and careful preparation could always be counted on to breed victory, Harold Eis would have been a cinch to win the third annual World Outboard Championships at Lake Havasu. Defending Champion, Eis, an automobile-parts dealer from Kansas, believes in taking care- particularly of his boat "Salty Cat," a two hulled outboard powered by twin 110-hp Mercury motors.Days before most of his competition had even arrived at Lake Havasu where the championships were to be held, Harold was there spade in hand, digging himself a makeshift dry dock in the hard shale of the lakeshore.

   Eis wanted to win this race. He wanted the four foot trophy offered by the McColloch company, manufacturers of chain-saws and outboard motors, to be the first man to win the race three times, and he wanted the $8,100.00 in cash that would go to the top boat. That is big money in outboarding.

   Unlike hydroplane racing or offshore powerboating, outboarding is a relatively inexpensive sport and the money it offers is usually small. The $25,000.00 overall purse in the Havasu championship makes it the richest of all outboard races, and its awards can be won by engines and hulls that are far cheaper than those contesting inboard honors.

   Although many of the boats at Havasu bore about as much relationship to Junior's little runabout as Ben Hur's racing chariot did to the surrey with the fringe on top, outboard racing still enjoys an identification with the man (or woman) who owns a boat and motor for weekend fun. As a result, the fields in outboard races tend to be larger than those in other boating events. There were more than 120 crews at Havasu, for instance, eager to contest Harold for his cup and all the cash that goes with it.

   Most of the 120 arrived only a day or so before the race began, and all, except Harold meekly established their pits where they were told. Eis was different. Eis wins races and he knows the most important factor in a two-day marathon (two hours on Saturday, four on Sunday) is preparation- and preparation for the worst. As he saw it, if he needed to change one of his engines in a hurry he could speed up the process by digging a canal and burying his trailer in the canal's bed to form a sort of do- it- yourself drydock. Then if he should have trouble, he could simply run his boat onto the trailer, pull off the bad engine, replace it with one of the two spares he always carries in his truck and get going in minutes. Eis originally wanted to establish his pits right below race headquarters at the Nautical Inn, within easy reach of a power line for his lights and tools. But the spot he wanted lay outside the bounds of the official pit area, and after some futile give-and -take with an adamant official who said he must pit where everyone else pitted.Eis capitulated and went to work on his private harbour.

  All afternoon he and his Nebraskan crewman, Mike Hynek, toiled in the ice cold Colorado River water. They filled sand bags to support the trailer's wheels and built a levee. At dusk on Wednesday evening, they were still at it. Mrs. Eis, who doubles as Harolds pitt boss, tried to get him out of the water. " You're gonna catch pneumonia wading around out there," she cried "I hope not" replied Harold more interested in the race than a little lung trouble. By the time Eis, still miraculously free of pneumonia, had finished his digging, some of the other drivers had begun to arrive from three countries and more than a score of states.

   There was Jan Schoonover from Lima, Ohio, another driver with 110 hp Merc's on his boat. Schoonover's boat, which looks like a Batmobile, holds his class world record of 96 mph. Obviously, it could do 100 mph on any of the straights on Havasu's four-mile-long, boomerang-shaped course. Other drivers out to wreck Eis's winning streak was Joe Stevens Sr. from Manteca, California, the winner of 19 out of 20 races; Floyd Murton from Hot Springs, Arkansa, with a record 11 wins in seven race meets; Lou Cooley a radio traffic reporter from Station KXOK, St. Louis, who gives his radio audience a running account of the race while driving his boat and tall John Merritt, a gas- station operator from Westchester, California, who would drive the biggest boat in the race and had arrived at Havasu fresh from a victory in the grueling Salton Sea 500-mile marathon.

   The man Eis feared the most of all, however, was Bill Hill Jr. from Cullman, Alabama driving a Power Cat with not two but three Mercs. "From what I've seen so far" said Eis, who spent all day Thursday trying to bait his competitors into pick-up races that would burn up their engines before the marathon began, "Bill's my favourite to win."

   McColloch Properties Inc.likes to think of its Lake Havasu City as a kind of lakeside Palm Springs. By Friday night it looked more like Coney Island overrun by a mechanics convention. On the shore a blaring carnival whirled and swooped in a miasma of cotton candy and canned music. Overlaying it were the sounds of portable generators cranking out power for trailer dwellers, and the tortured howl of someone testing their outboard engine!

   On Saturday morning the weather continued cool,dry, and clear. As 2pm approached, the pit area was ripe with speculation; who would be in front after the first days two hour run? Eis with his Mercs? One of the big three engined boats like Bill Hill's or the yellow Raysoncraft driven by Don Harper of Norwalk, California? One of the outnumbered Evinrudes sponsored by Doc Jones of Pheonix and driven by such veterans as Ted May of Long Beach, California? No one was more interested in the answer than Harold. The race began with a roar at 2 sharp. Everyone was there, everyone but Harold. "I think he's playing it cool" blarred the P.A. announcer. "He's hanging back to run in clear water." And that is precisely what Eis had in mind. But his pit boss, Mrs. Eis, stopwatch in hand, deep in a set of hip boots, was worried that he might have delayed his start too long. As a ribbon of boats was chasing each other around the four-mile course, Eis began to move up on the leaders. His times dropped from 5 minutes 20 seconds on the eighth lap to 4 minutes 37 seconds on the 16th. But way out front, seemingly beyond reach as the days deadline at 4 o'clock neared, were Ted May running second in # T-2 and Bill Hill running smoothly in first place in that Power Cat that Eis feared so much.

   At the end of the first days racing, the Race Committee, for reasons only to themselves, announced that May was leading, then changed its mind after a long meeting and announced that the leader wasn't May at all, but Hill. Hill spent Saturday evening repairing the wear and tear his first day lead had inflicted on his sleek hull and three big Mercs. Deep in their pits, Harold Eis and company meditated on what had to be done on Sunday to beat Hill, May, and the rest. Harold had been robbed of one lap by by a group of myopic scorers and was three laps behind the leader. Two laps he figured he could make up- but three? He didn't know. The final four hours would tell the most when speedy pit stops could make the difference. While the competition slept, Eis and family practiced filling his tanks until they got the time down to just over a minute.

   On Sunday morning, luck seemed to be with Harold. He made a picture-perfect start, right next to the pace boat and flying. In the first hour, he had made up almost every lap he had owed the leaders. Then trouble struck. He blew an engine. Travelling at upwards of 75 mph, with only one good engine, he could stay with the boats up front- but couldn't pass them. He had no choice but to come into the pits and change the sick port engine if he wanted to win. No one else in the whole race was prepared for a quick change of an engine the way Eis was. His face whipcord tight, Eis drove his boat onto the trailer in the harbour he had so diligently built. With the bow line secured to the winch, he hopped out of the boats drivers seat and, still wearing his lifejacket but without a helmet, leaped into the truck hitched to the trailer and jerked his sick boat clear of the water. Hardly 10 minutes later a new engine had replaced the old and Eis was back on the water. The only words he had said during the whole operation were "No, the wrench with the yellow handle." "If I had to change an engine like that it'd take me a week" said an awestruck bystander.

   But it was all for nothing. After one more lap poor Harold was back in the pits with a broken steering gear. "We're all through" he said. "No we're not" insisted Helen, bravely setting to work on jury rigging the steering. But Harold was right. With the steering gear repaired in helter skelter style, he started out again, only to find more trouble. On Lake Havasu it seemed that all the luck that accompanied his careful preparations in years of racing had suddenly deserted him and when the race ended, he was in 20th place. His only comfort was that Hill and May, both plagued with engine trouble, finished 24th and 60th respectively.

   In contrast, Harper's big # 106 made only a single pit stop as it cruised along at an average of 59 mph to win the Third Annual Championship. "It was like going for a ride in a Cadillac on a Sunday afternoon," said relief driver Dutch Blaser.


1975 Parker Enduro- 700 Miles in 7 Hours

Monday, September 07, 2009, 3:04:36 PM | Mark Benson

   For Italian Renato Molinari and American Bob Herring, Mercury Marine race team drivers, March 2nd, 1975, was a perfect day. With excellent weather conditions, the team set out to do what no other racing duo had done in the thirteen year  history of the Parker 9 Hour Enduro...lead from the first lap to the finish. No boat that had ever led the first lap had ever ended up winning the race!

   Fifty-four laps and 702 miles after the 9 a.m. starting gun of the energy conservation two hour shortened race, Molinari and Herring posted a record average speed of 100.285 mph in their T-3 Mercury Outboard V6 powered tunnel hull. The winning hull was built by co-driver Molinari and his father, as were twenty percent of the 65 boats entered in the race.

   Mercury team captain Gary Garbrecht and his elite pit crew's stratagy was to run only enough gasoline for one hour at a time before refueling. Keeping the gas load down and changing drivers on schedule (both drivers hardly weigh more than 135 pounds apiece) the team ran off and hid from the competition.

   Constant radio communications were maintained between the drivers and the pits of the Mercury camp. At the start, word came back that Herring was far in the lead over defending Parker Champion Billy Seebold, co-driver of the other Team Mercury tunnel. Seebold was instructed to lay back and wait for development. However the Seebold/Van Der Velden magic failed to last as the # 190 boat struck an object in the water requiring a fast 3 minute -12 second pit stop. Things continued to go wrong for the 1974 champs as a blown powerhead finally put a halt to their racing day.

   Molinari and Herring led for the first 8 laps, relinquishing the front spot to Richard Berg's 350 cubic inch Chevy powered Molinari KT tunnel inboard when they pitted for the first time. Berg's KT kept the lead from the 9th lap to the 23rd, averaging speeds at times upwards of 100.77 mph and that doesn't include pit stops, so the actual cruising speed is higher! After losing the lead back to the charging Mercury team, Berg's inboard/outboard tunnel continued til the 40th lap when it suffered a broken timing chain. Mercury's T-3 entry crossed the finish line the winner with Renato Molinari in the driver's seat at the 4 p.m. curfew.

   OMC had a couple of their V6 outboard powered rigs at Parker (no rotaries) but discovered soft gears while testing prior to the race and were forced to run old gear ratios. Johnnie Sanders and Tommy Posey lasted for 38 laps (494 miles). OMC's other team, Jimbo McConnell and Barry Woods made it through the entire race, finishing one lap behind the Mercury winner. Another OMC driver, Tm Briggs of Lake Forest, Illinois, lost almost half an hour when he stopped  to help A. Cordosa of Brasil who had flipped his KT and landed unconscious in the water with facial injuries. I was saddened to learn of the death of Tim Briggs during an auto accident in Colorado.

   In the Grand National class, Brian Ewald of Villa Park, California was the winner, finishing 16th overall and first in Division IV by completing 38 laps at 70.57 mph. This class included the hot GN's as well as all other flatbottom vee-driven boats.

   Division II for S and U outboards was won by Ron Hill and Fred Hauenstein Jr. The pair finished 3rd overall in their V-4 Evinrude powered Scotticraft tunnel.

   The Colorado based team of Joe and Bob Sober drove their Johnson powered Schulse to first place honors in Division III as well as finishing 10th overall. They averaged a respectable 79.86 mph.

   Jim Brock won Division V for jet boats in a Chevy powered Sleek Craft with Berkley pump, completing 30 laps of the 13 mile course averaging 55.71 mph.

   For awhile it seemed it would be the year for the inboard KT tunnels to upset the outboarders. Heavy hitters like KT # 23 Bill Olney; IT # 79 Richard Berg; IT # 80 Art Williams; IT # 107 Lou Brunette and Jack Rex; KT # 177 Rudy Ramos (Havasu OWC winner); and APBA President, Bob Nordskog, Ted May, and Pat Murphy with KT # 4 and KT # 6 presented a tough field. The eventual KT winner was Art Williams in a 350 Chevy powered Moly that averaged 89.14 miles for 48 laps or 624 miles. There was some confution for the KT's however since some boats showed up wearing an IT designation. Since the 7 hour Enduro was being run under 1974 APBA rules, the KT prefix was the correct one.

1969 Havasu Outboard World Championships,

Sunday, September 06, 2009, 7:15:12 PM | Mark Benson

  Italians, not particularly well known for winning anything the last thousand years , give or take a few hundred years, are dominating the outboard racing world. In fact, an Italian driver, Cesare Scotti, won the Outboard World Championships at Lake Havasu City,  in an Italian boat, a Molinari, powered by twin Evinrude X-115 motors. Evinrudes had won since the Italians, but this was the first OMC breakthrough at Havasu where Black Power (Mercury) had dominated for the previous five years. One pit wit pointed out that the Italians are well known for running fast and that he figured the 33-year old Scotti was a naval reservist getting ready for World War III. The hawk faced Scotti, second behind Kenny Kitson in the 1968 Outboard World Championships, clearly was the class of the 1969 race. Cesare is a product of the rough and tumble European outboard circuit and would have been difficult to beat even if he didn't have speed on the rest of the field. The 120-pound Scotti cut off more people on the course than have been chopped from California's inflated welfare rolls. There were rumblings from all over the pits that his Roman nose stood a good chance of being realigned. Scotti apologised. However, several drivers were wondering late Sunday if the interpreter was unskilled labour, claiming that Scotti was still chopping them in the final four hours of driving.

   There was a lot of conversation, but no protests were filed during the post race time limit. Perhaps some felt they couldn't prove the accusation and one, Bobby Massey, hadn't been towed off the course in time to file. This writer saw Scotti slam the door on six drivers on Saturday but none on Sunday.

   It was quite a weekend for OMC.Not only was Scotti using Evinrudes, the second place finisher, Johnnie Sanders of Albilene, Texas, piloted a Glastron/Molinari with a pair of Johnsons. To round out OMC and Molinari's super good fortune, Jimbo McConnell of Victorville, California was the first single engine to finish, good for sixth overall, in a Glastron/Molinari with an Evinrude. Add to that, Ralph Evinrude, head of OMC, was named Powerboat's "Man of the Year." Evinrude, who contributed $20,000.00 to the 1969 purse of $50,000.00, and big Bob McCulloch, grand puba of Lake Havasu city, announced at the trophy presentations that each were kicking in another $5,000.00 and that the purse for the 1970 championships would be $60,000.00 That definately makes it the biggest purse in boat racing history. Would you believe maybe $20,000.00 for first place? That was an aweful lot of money back in the day. Scotti collected $15,000.00 for his victory. We figure that should be 42 pounds of lira. Sanders, who outlasted the best at Berlin, was rewarded with $7,000.00 for his second place finish.

   Others in the Top 10 were: (3rd) Bill Sirois, Miami, Florida Molinari, two Mercury stackers: (4th) Dick Sherrer, Seal Beach, California, Glastron/Molinari, twin Mercury stackers: (5th) Harold Eis, Topeka, Kansas, Eis Super Cat, twin Mercury Super BP's: (6th) Jimbo McConnell, Glastron Molinari, single Evinrude X-115: (7th) Lou Brunette, Ojai, California, Ron Jones, triple Mercury stackers: (8th) Mike Quayle, Huron, Ohio, Molinari, single Mercury stacker: (9th) Jerry Craig, Baytown, Texas, Glastron/Molinari single Johnson: (10th) Robert George, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Fellercraft, triple Mercury stackers.

   Big don Pruett took off as though he planned on repeating his sensational Elsinore 500 victory, taking the lead on the third lap and improving his position. While Pruett, the Electric Indian, was widening his lead the pack was forming behind him with Fred Hauenstein Jr. of Sunnyvale California: Bill Petty of Wapakoneta, Ohio, Kitson, Scotti, Joe Habay of Ypsilanti, Michigan: Jim Hurtubise of North Tonawanda,NY, and Robert George all setting their sights on the three Mercury stackers on his transom.

   Hurtubise, driving the Pepsi Special, was the first to go out when the Indy car drivers boat hit something in the water and sank. The hard driving Habay was next and he'll have a limp for quite awhile to remind him of his first blow-over since 1965, fracturing his right ankle when he crashed. About this time Pruett went into the pits briefly and Petty surged into the lead. Back out on the course, Pruett again moved out front, Petty held second, and Scotti was third. With Pruett and then Petty into the pits for lower unit repairs, Scotti took over the lead on the 37th lap of the 4 mile course and stayed there for the remainder of Day 1 as slim Johnnie Sanders tried frantically to catch the shadow.

   The end of four hours of racing found Scotti, Sanders, And George with 69 laps. Except for a monumental goof Scotti would have had a one lap lead. You might say Scotti triumphed dispite his pit crew and scorer. He was leading but having fuel problems Saturday. He limped into the pits at the end of the first day but had he travelled another 200 yards, crossing the finish line he would have been credited with another lap and had a clean cut lead. Sunday he came out of the pack in the spectacular modified Lemans start, quickly rushing into a lead he never gave up. Not only had Cesare's scorer missed recording him coming out of the pits on Saturday, it was found later Sunday that there were two page 70's in his score book, both had been recorded, and the relief scorer also missed him coming out of the pits that day. Not only did he have to beat everybody on the course, he had bumbling friends screwing things up on the beach.

   Pruett, probably the champion lower unit breaker of all time, returned to the course late, making up a lot of laps but his bid, which was destined to fall short, came to an abrupt end when he collided with another boat.

  Several entries were really screaming in the late going but although the hard charging Sanders (Johnson) and Sirois (Mercury) stayed close they couldn't catch the Italian in his dual Evinrude X-115 Molinari. Scotti shattered all the Havasu records, most of which were held by Kenny Kitson. These included a new distance mark of 584 miles in the eight hours, erasing Kitsons record of 512. Scotti's average speed was 73 miles per hour as compared to Kitson's 64 of the previous year. Scotti averaged 77 mph on Sunday and 80 mph during the final hour to shut the door. Only 45 of the 111 starters were running at the end of eight hours of racing.

   Two time Havasu OWC champ harold Eis of Kansas, who really gets his cat going after the field thins out, went from 9th to 5th place in the final hour

   Renato Molinari of Italy, another pre-race favorite, destroyed his Molinari in Friday practice. Last year he got all the way to the start before sinking. A siseable crowd (20,000 estimated), exceptional weather, few serious injuries, record speeds, and a bigger purse for next year. Hey, that Havasu race is something else!

1972 Havasu Outboard World Championships

Friday, September 04, 2009, 6:21:51 PM | Mark Benson

   You have to wonder if Johnnie Sanders and his wife knew something that nobody else did.They put money down on a new house before they left Denver for Lake Havasu City and the Pepsi Cola Outboard World Championships at the booming community. He and Melinda said that the $18,000.00 first place money collected at Havasu would go a long way in paying off the new home. Johnnie's confidence must have been tested a few times, at least on the five occasions that other boats were leading the record-setting race. And the Outboard World Championship trophy has a new home, at least for a year. For it will be decorating the Johnson (OMC) lobby after residing at Mercury for so long that the black-shrouded troops were starting to look at it as a permanent possession.

   Second, 36 seconds behind the veteran Sanders, was a 26 year old Bert Serra of Detroit, a first timer at Havasu and a virtual unknown at this level of competition. In fact Serra, who has been racing only two years, passed Sanders a couple of times in the late stages of the race. Had he won, he would have made a lot of writers get off their fat behinds and go to work.

   Billy Schumacher of Beverly Hills, who had been quite successful in Unlimited Hydoplane racing, really charged the last day to end up third and shut up some big mouths which had talked about him being in the race only for promotional purposes. The practice days were hardly conducive to move any Eastern visitors to go out and purchase Lake Havasu City property. It was cold. It was windy. The most prominent things at Lake Havasu, outside of London Bridge, were the huge black flags which threatened to blow off their staffs.

   Alaska's racing team was wiped out on Wednesday when Jim Tracy of Anchorage, flipped his Delcraft-Merc before they could find the black flag. On Thursday, which just happened to be Thanksgiving Day, the troops left Havasu's black flags to go down river to Parker to practice in a more protected area.

   Two time Outboard World Champ, Harold Eis Of Topeka, Kansas wiped out his new tunnel. Russ Romer of San Francisco, an inboarder who is trying to go straight, crumpled Rich Marshall's new toy. Well, that's enough about the sheltered area.

   Friday dawned so calm that the coots were leaving wakes on the lake. Then the wind picked up. Not bad, just picked up. Jim Chapman of Albuquerque, Jeff wilson of Minneapolis, Mike Schnell of Stockton, and George Rodrigues of Lima, Peru blew their boats over. Wilson & Schnell suffered serious injuries. Wilson had a ruptured spleen removed the night before the race and Schnell was flown to Phoenix with back injuries.

   There were 102 starters on Saturday, 61 of which were still running four hours later. The Mercury factory people called a strategy meeting about an hour into the race, trying to find a quick way out of town since Johnson and Evinrude were completely dominating the race at that point.

   Fast improving Barry Woods of Vancouver, Washington, who made believers of some sceptics in Europe last fall, screamed into the early lead and set an unbelievable pace in the rough conditions. Woods' Scotticraft- Evinrude led thru the half-hour mark with Bob Witt (Johnson), Tommy Posey (Johnson), Mike Wallace (Evinrude), James Beard (Johnson), and Bill Wiles (Evinrude) following in that order.

   Seventh was "who's he" Bert Serra with the first Black Power. Serra wasn't exactly a household name by the time the race was over, but a hell of a lot of drivers were talking about him.

   Woods' engine puked shortly after that and Witt, the pride of Baytown, Texas, took over the lead. Where were the big Mercury guns?

   Renato Molinari of Italy, Reggie Fountain of Tarboro, North Carolina, and Bob Herring Of Oshkosh, Wisconsin all were early flips. Don Pruett of St. Petersburg, Florida worked his way up to 10th before his engine crapped out. Billy Seebold's boat did a complete loop and landed right side up, but him and the boat were never the same for the rest of Day 1. Witt kept the lead until 2:45 into the race when he had to go into the pits to tighten his engine. He came back out onto the course but his boat was not the same for the rest of the day. Sanders moved into first when Witt took his unscheduled pit stop with Englishman Clive Curtis, driving in the place of James Beard, taking over second.

   Third was Serra, with Cees Van Der Velden of Holland fourth and Bill Wiles of Kansa City close behind. Then Curtis performed the 13th blowover of the day, suffering a dislocated shoulder, and the others moved up a notch. Van Der Velden, who didn't get into the top 10 until the third hour Saturday, ended up being the halfway leader. At that point he led Sanders by 38 seconds after taking the lead four laps before the gun sounded to end the four hours of racing on Day 1. Cees (pronounced Case) was driving a Mercury- Molinari combination.

   On lap # 84 with Van Der Velden and Sanders, starting even on Sunday, was Ted May, the ancient mariner from Fountain Valley, California. Serra had 83 laps to his credit and Wiles, Earl Bents of Johns Island, South Carolina, Miami's Gary Peacock, Schumacher and Rich McKinley of Wildwood, Illinois, were all two laps behind.

   Van Der Velden, who has the reputation of being the best rough water driver in Europe, turned in a good exibition of just that on Saturday. He couldn't get his engine started until nearly 3 minutes after the start and dropped to 90th, spotting the best drivers in the world nearly a four-mile lap. The 31 year old Van Der Velden, who hails from Boxtel, Holland, wasted no time Sunday in taking over the undisputed lead again. With three hours of racing left, Cees was pacing the 79 starters with May about three minutes behind and Serra another minute to the rear.

   Sanders had trouble starting on Sunday and was assessed a one lap penalty for cutting across the course after the white flag was dropped. He wasn't the only one to get hit by a one lap penalty. Renato Molinari, back in action in Peacock's boat, was hit for starting his engine three seconds early. Seebold was slapped a penalty for the same reason as Sanders.

   A little over a half-hour later there were some changes. Van Der Velden flipped while trying to avoid a boat that cut in front of him. May was in the traffic behind him and the somersaulting boat knocked a hole in the bow of May's boat. It had looked as though it might be May's turn to win the big one. But after that he had to stop every three of four laps to bail water and he dropped back to a commendable 10th place finish.

   With two hours left, Sanders had the lead with Serra second, May third and fading fast, Schumacher fourth and Wiles 5th. Serra took the lead for two short spans in the last hour, but Johnnie caught the frantic signals from his pit crew and poured it on to win going away. Seebold, driving Duane Berghauer's boat on Sunday was credited with 92 laps in the comparatively smooth water. Sanders, Schumacher, Cesare Scotti and Molinari all traversed 91 laps of the 4 mile course in four hours on Sunday.

   Sanders victory was the first for Johnson in the OWC. Evinrude turned the trick with Scotti with duals on a Molinari in 1969. Mercury won the other seven. Molinari hulls had won the three previous races. Sanders piloted a Scotticraft. Just in case you are interested, Sanders drove a direct drive 1-to-1 ratio lower unit both days. The two day gate (no charge) was estimated at 70,000. Sanders' average speed in the 1st single engines only race was 86.5 mph, four miles per hour faster than champion Bill sirois had clocked the year before with twin Mercury Twisters. Sanders' best previous OWC finish was second behind Scotti in 1969.

1971 Havasu Outboard World Championships

Friday, September 04, 2009, 2:52:30 PM | Mark Benson

   Bill Sirois ( that's spelled Cirrhosis as far as OMC is concerned) made a laugher of the competition in the 1971 Havasu Outboard World Championship, setting records in both speed and distance- winning easily.

   "I couldn't have caught him. There was no way short of trouble with his boat that would have given me the race" said 2nd place Reggie Fountain from Tarboro, North Carolina. Little Reggie, who had a great year in 1971, was over 12 miles behind Sirois when the Lake Havasu City classic finished.

   It was a very big win for the Mercury Factory. It was the new "Twister" engine that gave the Mercury crew seven of the first 10 places, including the first single. The easy- going Sirois, who calls Fort Lauderdale home, led the Merc charge as he successfully defended the championship he won in 1970 and hung up distance marks of 660 miles and an average speed of 82 1/2 miles per hour. Sirois' old marks were 640 miles and a speed of 79 miles per hour. The difference had to be in the Twister engines for Sirois was driving the same 20ft wooden Molinari hull that Jim Merten drove to second place at last years Havasu Championships. Although Sirois is one of the best drivers in the world, he isn't that many miles better than Merten, so it must have been the engines.

   Third place was annexed by Harold Eis of Topeka, Kansas. Harold, who won the first two Havasu races and is a contender in every race he enters, was the first non-factory finisher. The first three finishers were duals. OMC didn't enter any multiple engine crafts. The singles furnished the excitement after it got to the point that everyone realised that the only way the sandy-haired Sirois could lose was to break down.

   Tough little Renato Molinari of Lake Como, Italy ended up taking first single and fourth overall. Bob Herring of Sheboygen, Wisconsin, started the second day for Molinari, Renato driving the last two and a half hours. Early single action was something like this. Herring took the lead early, in fact pacing the entire race. He stayed out front until he had to beach the boat with a hole in the bottom. Then Molinari moved to the front, holding the top spot until he pitted on the 54th lap. Mike Downard, another Merc factory driver, then set the pace.

   Little Mike, the winner of the Paris 6 Hour, took the lead on the second day of racing, but beached his boat in front of the judges' stand on the 104th lap when his engine caught fire!

   Bill Seebold, another Merc factory man and many times  a National Champion in both OPC and alky outboard racing took the single lead, but had to give it up in the pits.

   Mike Wallace of Venice, California, winner of last years Powerboat Marathon of Champions and a long time dominant force in inbord marathon racing, put his Evinrude powered Schulse boat in front. About this time is when the crowd of 40,000 started blowing their minds.

   Berlin 6 Hour winner Jimbo McConnell, who now gets his mail in Wonder Lake, Illinois, when not working at the OMC factory was really flying his Scotticraft/Evinrude rig at this point and moved past Wallace on the 138th lap. Nine laps later Jimbo barrel rolled the Scotticraft twice. Thrown out, he swam back to the upright boat and climbed aboard. He had to dig part of the fibreglass cowling out of the flywheel before he could start again.

   Wallace was back in the lead. But could he hold off the relentless Molinari who already had lapped him twice to make up some of his first day deficit. It didn't appear that Molinari had a chance for he had to pit. His crew fueled him in 15 seconds. It had been planned that Herring would replace Molinari at that stop, but Mercury strategy makers called that off for fear that some time might be lost in making the driver switch. Molinari went back on the course and caught Wallace with three laps to go and won the singles division by a mere 24 seconds. A one lap penalty assessed Wallace at the start of the race on Saturday had cost him first single engine honors. Herring and Molinari picked up three laps on the field on Sunday, even lapping the first three finishing dual engine boats.

   While Jimbo was trying to pick the teeth of his flywheel, Dick Sherrer of Seal Beach, California also passed him. Sherrer, a one time winner of Powerboat's Marathon of Champions, brought his Molinari/Mercury across the line  as 6th overall and third single. Jimbo finally got things going to take 7th place for OMC. Molinari, Wallace, and Sherrer were all on the same lap, the 155th.

   So, the singles really aren't competitive against the bigger duals at this stage of the game. They are getting close. But, Sirois, who cooled it on the second day in turning three less laps than on Saturday, was another 10 laps or 40 miles ahead after 8 hours of racing. And, you'd better believe that everone of the top finishing singles were on the hairy edge.

   Rounding out the top 10 were veteran Hiram (Mickey) Mueck of La Port, Texas in a Glastron Molinari powered by dual Mercurys. Ron Brown of Fort Collins, Colorado obviously in good health after his serious injuries of last season was 9th. Powerboat Mag owner, Bob Nordskog in a single Johnson powered Schulse was 10th.

Johnnie Sanders- OMC Factory Driver

Sunday, August 16, 2009, 1:01:59 PM | Mark Benson

   Stanford, Texas has never had much to brag about, even for Texans. It is a small farming community, 30 miles north of Abilene, identical to hundreds of others in the state. That has all been changed now. It is Johnnie Sanders' home town. The Outboard World Champion, who showed up in Stanford 36 years ago, didn't show up in a boat race until 1959. By then he was living in Dallas.

   " I read about a 35 mile, outboard marathon in the local paper" says Johnnie, "and I decided to have a shot at it. It was pretty disorganised by todays standards, but was a lot of fun" I was running a 35-hp Gale on a fiberglass ski boat. I think the biggest engine in the race was a 45-hp Merc. It was a real wildcat operation with no sanction, no helmets, ski-belts for life-jackets and so on. I was running way back in about 6th place when I broke my boat. I didn't finish, but I got the bug. I've been racing ever since."

   He sure has. With his pal Tommy Posey (and sometimes against him), he has logged wins at such immpressive places as Paris, Berlin, and Parker Enduro. At one time he held 7 or 8 NOA(National Outboard Assossiasion) competitive and straightaway records. Now, of course, he owns the big daddy- The Havasu Outboard World Championship. However, it has not all been wine and roses. "1972 was not as good a year as I have had. I went to a couple of local races and won them but, on the marathon curcuit, that old rascal Possey slapped it to me pretty good. We had some engine problems, but I finally got them ironed out"

   Now a resident of sky-high Denver, Johnnie works for sales and service for his papa-in-law, Mac McCune, whose MaCune Racing Team is a familiar sight at most major races. At Havasu, he raced under the banner of the Johnson Factory Team, which is the best deal they have made for some time. "The Scotti-craft is a factory boat, but I rigged it myself. It's about as stable of a boat as I have driven and it doesn't give you any false indications. I runs a lot like a Molinari and will warn you if it's on its way over. As a matter of fact, I got pretty high at Havasu, but it came down all right. In the corners it can get a little high on the sides sometime, but it usually straightens right out. In a tough marathon like Havasu or Parker, you expect to get a little loose and give yourself a scare or two. On Saturday,( Day 1at Havasu) I was mainly concerned with finishing in the same lap as the leader. That way, I would start even with him on Sunday. The water was just too rough on Saturday to let it all hang out. I was hoping for good water on Sunday and we got it. The bad start (on Sunday) was my fault. I flooded the motor and had to crank it out. I really thought we had had it. Then, when it got going, I was half way across the lake before I remembered that I was supposed to turn right if the white flag was down(late start rule). So I lost a lap there.I decided that I had better get on it, so I ran it flat out for the next 2 hours. I didn't find out I was ahead of him (Bert Serra) until my last pit stop. After that, I cooled it a bit to conserve the motor. I guess I cooled it a bit too much because, with about 5 minutes left, he got within 15 or 20 seconds of me.They gave me a go sign from the pits and I floored it again."

   Johnnie, who rates Tommy Posey, Jimbo McConnel and Billy Seebold as America's top single engine drivers, suggests that aspiring racers should begin in a smaller class such as Sports E (75hp). Although it is more expensive that way, he says, experience gained by working up slowly is the best insurance. His pet peeve is driver who get overconfident. "Most of the drivers on the circuit are really top notch but, once in a while, someone forms a bad habit. For instance, going into a turn without looking behind them. They don't really intend to shut the door on anyone, but that is just what happens. It is a dangerous situation for both boats and really unneccessary. It is a simple thing to do, to look before you turn". Racing is extremely demanding, more than non-racers realise. It means long hours of testing, making adjustments, and testing again. It is hundreds or even thousands of miles of slow trailering, nights without sleep, and empty wallets. All to often the reward is exhaust-inflamed tonsils, a broken boat or worse. Sanders made 6 trips to the Havasu World Outboard Championships before his breakthrough win in 1972! Although his score is better than most, he has had his share of defeats and injuries. What keeps him going in the lean years?

    "Stubborn, I guess. Really, it's the one-on-one aspect of competition I like.Beating another driver who is closely matched to you is something worthwhile. It gives you a chance to prove something to yourself, too.Like pushing harder than you really want to, mastering yourself. It's a challenge and some people just have to accept a challenge. Me, I love it!"                                              


The Havasu Story

Monday, July 20, 2009, 10:19:05 PM | Mark Benson

   The world's richest Outboard race began innocently enough on a Thanksgiving weekend in 1959. At first it seemed like any other well run marathon event. It was sanctioned by the Western Outboard Association & sponsored by industrialist Robert P. McCulloch. The course began & ended at McCulloch's Site 6 test center on Lake Havasu. The initial race was won by Jack Ward. Successive races were won by Ivan DeBusk in 1960, Jack Oxley in 1961 & George Todd in 1962. Bob McCulloch decided that the Outboard World Championships was ready to be unveiled.

   1964- The inaugural classic was staged as a six-hour enduro over a six-mile boomerang course, following a two hour pleasure craft preliminary on Saturday, which was won by Dick Sharp of Seattle, Wash. On Sunday, Harold Eis of Topeka, Kansas won the first official OWC in a Stylecraft catamaran with twin Mercury power. His average speed was 58 mph. The race, sanctioned by the National Outboard Association, drew 72 entries & only 30 of them finished.

   1965- The lanky Kansan, now known as the "Eis Man", returned to Havasu to repeat his win. The race was shortened to a five-mile boomerang course. There were more than 100 starters representing five NOA classes. Eis survived a blown motor & a collision with another boat to take home $6,100.00 of the $25,000.00 purse.

   1966- In a field sprinkled with foreign stars, attracted by the increasing purse & prestige, a couple of Californians galloped off with the winners $8,100.00 share. Don Harper & Dutch Blaser, driving a triple-Mercury Raysoncraft, equalled Eis' 1964 lap & speed records, this time on a four-mile course. The most significant event was the performance of Deiter Schulse of Attnang, Austria. His single engined "Hydro Cat" finished 13th overall & 1st single. This was a look of things to come. He was voted the outstanding rookie of the year & Americans got their first look at a tunnel hull.

   1967- The purse had jumped to $27,500.00 & classes were reduced to 3: singles, twins, & multiples. A triple-Merc/Raysoncraft won it again, this time with an all star crew. Bill Cooper, a famous in-board driver, Mike Reagan- son of California's governor at the time & Rudy Ramos- builder of the winning hull, teamed up to take the win. Ron Hill won the twin- engine class in an Evinrude/Glastron & the team of Jimbo McConnell & Ted May took the single engine class in a Johnson powered Hydro-Cat.

   1968- A record 138 drivers battled for the $10,300.00 winners share of the $30,000.00 purse. Kenny Kitson's world-record-holding,Mercury powered twin-hulled Switsercraft wing held off the fantastic tunnel hulls to win it, running 512 miles at an average speed of 64 mph. Ralph Evinrude, chairman of the board of Outboard Marine Corporation, astounded the crowd by announcing he would make a personal contribution of $20,000.00 to the 1969 purse.This brought the total to $50,000.00 & firmly established the Havasu OWC as the premier boat race.

   1969- Italy's Cesare Scotti, driving a Molinari tunnel hull powered by twin Evinrudes, captured the $15,000.00 first place money. In so doing, he set a new distance record of 584 miles & a speed record of 73 mph average.This marked the 1st time in the races history that an OMC equipped boat had won it all!

   1970- Last year's championship race offered more than $60,000.00 in the purse. Smarting from their 1969 loss, the Mercury team boats sewed up the 1st four spots & brought in the 1st single engine winner. The winning boat was a twin-Merc powered Molinari called "Up up & Away" driven by Bill Sirois of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Once again, all records were shattered as he turned in 160 laps (640 miles) at an average speed of 80 mph. His share of the purse was almost $20,000.00! That was a lot of money in those days.

   1971- Last years champion, Bill Sirois, piloting the same reverse-S Molinari as the year before but this time powered by dual Mercury Twister I cowbells, did the trick again logging 164 laps (660 miles) with an average speed of 82 1/2 mph to defeat the other 98 entries & take the trophy & cash. To be continued


Videos- Havasu 1969 & 1971 Outboard World Championships

Sunday, July 19, 2009, 7:07:18 PM | Mark Benson

   Today I have been working on the research for the production of videos of Havasu 1969 & 1971 Outboard World Championships. We (Nick Springate & Mark Benson) have posted pictures of the participants in those races. Interesting things I found out today are that Bill Munsey (famous Unlimited Hydroplane Driver) co-drove with # 154 Rudy Ramos in the 1971 race. In the 1969 race, Gerry Wallin of Everett Wash.(World Outboard Speed Record holder at 131 mph) co-drove with # 511 Dick Sharp of Seattle Wash. A couple of guys on Scream & Fly are restoring Dick Sharp's single Glasron Molinari.Boatracer Rick Adams of Seattle Wash. is restoring Dave Potter's # 226 Molinari he found under a tarp in an airport hanger in Everett Wash. Bill Munsey was killed in a hydroplane crash & Gerry Wallin is no longer with us due to complications when he blew over his OMC powered hydro at a reputed speed of 150 mph in the early '70's. The current World Outboard Speed Record of 186 mph is currently held by Bob Wartinger of Seattle Wash. in an OMC V-8 on a Karlsen hydro. The 1st in line 6 cylinder to break 100 mph happened in a slough off Lake Washington in Seattle in a Ron Jones hydro with a Mercury. So, the Pacific Northwest has a proud history of producing world class raceboat drivers over the years. Bill Sirois won the Havasu Outboard World Championships in 1970 & 1971. He was 2nd place in 1969 behind winner Caesar Scotti from Italy driving a Scotti-craft powered by dual Evinrudes. When Bill Sirois won Havasu in 1970 his boat was called "Up Up and Away" & was powered by a Mercury Stacker.  When he won Havasu in 1971, he used the same boat but,it was powered by a Mercury Twister. That same boat was converted to a KT (V-8 Inboard-Outboard Stern-drive) & was quite successfull when multiple outboards were phased out in 1972. That boat was a reverse-S Molinari & was one hell of a good design.
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