Miss Madison - The Gold Cup Champion - Part 1
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
No one who attended the fabulous 1971 APBA Gold Cup Regatta in Madison,Indiana, will ever forget it. That was when MISS MADISON, the world’s only community-owned and sponsored Unlimited hydroplane, confounded the oddsmakers, winning the race of races before the hometown crowd.
The MISS MADISON’S richly sentimental triumph on that memorable July 4 was an historic one on several counts. Not since the 1965 Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, had the sun-bleached MISS M scored a victory. It was pilot Jim McCormick’s first win ever in the Unlimited Class. The MISS MADISON was built in 1959 and first entered competition in 1960, thereby making her the only Unlimited hydroplane ever to win a Gold Cup eleven years after its competitive debut. Not since mandatory qualifications began in 1949 had a Gold Cup winner placed lower than fourth on the qualifying speed ladder. (MISS M was seventh.)
The 1971 event also marked the first and only time that a community-owned boat has ever won the Gold Cup. Not since 1966 had the American Power Boat Association’s Crown Jewel been won by a boat with Allison--rather than Rolls-Royce--aircraft power. The MISS MADISON of 1971 also represented the end of an era. (She was the last Unlimited hydroplane with the old-style rear cockpit/forward engine/ shovel-nosed bow configuration to ever achieve victory.)
The hull that became the Gold Cup-winning MISS M was designed and built by Les Staudacher of Kawkawlin, Michigan. Staudacher had previously constructed such successful contenders as MISS PEPSI, GALE V, TEMPO VII, MISS THRIFTWAY, and HAWAII KAI III. The future MISS MADISON measured 30 feet in length with a 12-foot beam. Made of marine plywood and aluminum, she tipped the scales at close to 7000 lb. in racing trim.
The craft made its competitive debut at the 1960 Detroit Memorial Regatta on the Detroit River. She was called NITROGEN TOO at that time and owned by Industrialist Samuel F. DuPont of Wilmington, Delaware. The TOO was a teammate of DuPont’s original NITROGEN, another Allison-powered Staudacher creation, constructed in 1957.
Driven primarily by Ron Musson of Akron, Ohio, the NITROGEN TOO performed no better than average in the early part of the 1960 campaign, running well behind the speedier boats of that era. Still, she performed well enough for a nomination to the United States Harmsworth Challenge Team along with her sister ship and with Joe Schoenith’s GALE V. In the Harmsworth International Race on the Bay of Quinte at Picton, Ontario, NITROGEN TOO led the first lap of the Second Heat, posting a speed of 123 miles per hour on the 5-mile oval course. This was only 3 mph under the world record set by the Canadian defender and eventual Harmsworth winner, MISS SUPERTEST III.
At the 1960 Silver Cup in Detroit, NITROGEN TOO won a surprising and impressive victory, beating the favored MISS THRIFTWAY and averaging 101.919 miles an hour for the 45-mile distance. Leadfoot Ron Musson would not be denied, leading MISS THRIFTWAY pilot Bill Muncey all the way in the Final Championship Heat. The DuPont team’s triumph was all the more remarkable, considering that MISS THRIFTWAY used the more-powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. NITROGEN TOO, on the other hand, ran a basically stock Allison power source.
At season’s end, NITROGEN and NITROGEN TOO had tied down second and third positions in the 1960 National Points chase behind MISS THRIFTWAY in a field of 29 boats. In addition to her Silver Cup achievement, the TOO had taken second place in the Madison Regatta and third in the Buffalo Launch Club event.
In 1961, Sam DuPont withdrew from competition and donated the older NITROGEN to the city of Madison, Indiana. The name was changed to MISS MADISON, Graham Heath of Madison became the Crew Chief of an all-volunteer crew, and Marion Cooper of Louisville, Kentucky, signed on as the driver.
The original MISS M took a fifth in its first race, the 1961 Detroit Memorial. Later in the season, the team scored a hard fought victory in the second division Seattle Trophy Race at the Seafair World’s Championship Regatta on Lake Washington. The following year, Cooper and Heath and company took fourth in the Spirit of Detroit Trophy and third in the Indiana Governor’s Cup.
In 1963, the first MISS MADISON ended its career where it had begun--in Detroit. During trials for the Gold Cup Race, MISS M was completely destroyed and pilot Morlan Visel was seriously injured.
Not to worry, the city of Madison was not about to lose its floating chamber of commerce for very long. The Ohio River townspeople already had another hull, the NITROGEN TOO, waiting in the wings, which had likewise been acquired from Mr. DuPont.
The “new” MISS MADISON, which was to become a racing legend, made its initial appearance in competition at the 1963 Madison Regatta. She placed fifth in the Indiana Govemor’s Cup, driven by George “Buddy” Byers of Columbus, Ohio, a champion 7-Litre Class pilot.
The craft had a big year in ‘64. She gave an extremely consistent performance that allowed her to finish second in the National Point Standings. And although she didn’t win a race, MISS M ran better than in her initial season as NITROGEN TOO. She was runner-up in the Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, and the Dakota Cup at New Town, North Dakota. MISS MADISON also took third place in the Diamond Cup at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the Seafair Trophy at Seattle, and the President’s Cup at Washington, D.C.
And everywhere she competed, MISS M served as the best ambassador of good will that the tiny Mid-Western town had ever had. Indeed, the city of Madison became a household word from coast to coast, thanks to the fast-moving U-6, her intrepid driver Buddy Byers, and her masterful Crew Chief Graham Heath.
In 1965, the MISS MADISON racing team posted its first major victory with a 102.746 mile an hour come-from-behind triumph at the Dixie Cup. MISS M entered the Final Heat on Guntersville Lake with two second place finishes in the preliminary action. Sprinting toward the starting line, Byers realized that he and the other drivers were too early and in danger of “jumping the gun.” Buddy eased off on the throttle and wisely resisted the impulse to follow when the rest of the field thundered past him. Sure enough, front runners MISS U.S. 5, NOTRE DAME, and TAHOE MISS all crossed prematurely and incurred a one-lap penalty. Byers backpedaled to a legal start, cruised to an easy victory, and wound up with 1000 accumulated points, 73 more than the second place finisher MARINER TOO, driven by Warner Gardner.
For the balance of the 1965 campaign, MISS MADISON generally failed to show the consistency or the speed of the previous year. Exceptions to this summary included the U-6’s l06 mile an hour heat at the Seattle Gold Cup and her second place overall finish in the San Diego Cup.
Jim McCormick of Owensboro, Kentucky, made his Unlimited Class debut as driver of the community-owned entry in 1966, replacing Buddy Byers who had signed on to drive Bill Harrah’s TAHOE MISS. By this time, Graham Heath had also left the team to accept the position of Crew Chief for Jim Ranger’s new Detroit-based MY GYPSY organization.
The reorganized MISS MADISON team had a mediocre year at best in 1966 and had difficulty qualifying for Final Heats. Their highest finishes were a third at the Tampa Suncoast Cup and a fourth at the Madison Regatta.
Following a reduced schedule of races in 1967-68 with Ed O’Halloran of Detroit, Michigan, as driver, the craft improved on its 1966 performance but was simply not the contender she had been under the helmsmanship of Buddy Byers. The highest finish during the O’Halloran years was a second place in the 1967 Suncoast Cup on Tampa Bay.
In 1969, the now experienced Jim McCormick returned to the cockpit. But even with the change in drivers, the boat’s performance did not improve. A third at the hometown Madison Regatta was the team’s highest finish. Indeed, the glory days of 1964-65 seemed light years away.
MISS MADISON almost missed the 1970 campaign entirely on account of being involved in a highway accident in Georgia while enroute to the first race of the season in Tampa, Florida. Pulled off the circuit, the stricken craft underwent repairs by original builder Les Staudacher. In retrospect, the mishap was probably a blessing. Staudacher used the occasion to go through the entire hull and fix several things in addition to the highway accident damage that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
The end result was an improved contender when MISS M returned to action a month later. Had the National Championship been determined that year solely on the results of the five races that the MISS MADISON did enter, discounting the three that she missed, the team would have finished fourth instead of sixth.
MISS M defeated the highly regarded Tommy “Tucker” Fults and PAY ‘n PAK’S 'LIL BUZZARD in Heat 1-B at Madison, which was a surprise. The U-6 also showed a lot of class--and a definite increase in speed -- when she and McCormick trounced the favored Bill Muncey and MYR SHEET METAL in both Heats 1-C and 3-A of the season-concluding San Diego Gold Cup.
At year’s end, MISS MADISON was running the best of her long career and giving the better-than-average performance that was expected of her. She could make the front runners work for it and could run with them on occasion. But the general consensus at the outset of 1971 was that only a newer hull and more power would put the U-6 team in the winner’s circle. Nevertheless, the MISS MADISON organization decided to stay with their eleven--going on twelve--year old craft for one more season.
The 1971 campaign started with a new race, the Champion Spark Plug Regatta, on Biscayne Bay at Miami Marine Stadium. MISS M was leading in both of her preliminary heats but was forced to drop back on account of a fuel mixture problem in section 1-A and a faulty supercharger in 2-B. Not to be denied a spot in the finale, the volunteer crew members proved their mettle by performing a complete engine change in less than thirty minutes. Pilot McCormick then proceeded to take second spot in both the Third Heat and the overall standings behind Dean Chenoweth and the MISS BUDWEISER.
MISS MADISON continued in the Champion Regatta a resurgence that had begun in the last race of 1970. No longer was the U-6 thought of as a slightly better-than-average boat that was merely along for the ride. The MISS M was now regarded as a viable contender. However, the team was still short on money and horsepower, and most people still refused to take the community-owned boat seriously.
Moving on to the President’s Cup contest on the Potomac River, MISS MADISON won her first two heats convincingly. She defeated the likes of Billy Schumacher in PRIDE OF PAY ‘n PAK, Leif Borgersen in HALLMARK HOMES, and Billy Sterett, Jr., in NOTRE DAME, each of which had a millionaire owner and used the more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.
Prior to the finale, MISS M and Jim McCormick were not an illogical choice to win the race, based upon their strong showing in the preliminary action. Charging into the first turn of the Championship Heat, however, the U-6 was hosed down by the roostertails of HALLMARK HOMES and the eventual winner, ATLAS VAN LINES I, handled by Bill Muncey. McCormick managed to restart and take a disappointing fourth behind HALLMARK, ATLAS I and MISS BUDWEISER, although he managed to overtake and outrun PRIDE OF PAY ‘n PAK by a wide margin.
The MISS MADISON team won the overall second place President’s Cup trophy for 1971 and had the satisfaction of running both the fastest 15-mile heat and the swiftest 45-mile race of the contest. But driver McCormick was bitterly discouraged. He had missed victory by a scant 31 points and was beginning to wonder if winning a race wasn’t perhaps an impossible dream.
In the Kentucky Governor’s Cup at Owensboro, MISS M did not improve on her two previous performances, taking an overall third behind ATLAS VAN LINES I and PRIDE OF PAY ‘n PAK. The U-6 challenged MISS BUDWEISER for the lead in Heat Two, but otherwise her performance was undistinguished.
At the Horace E. Dodge Cup in Detroit, MISS MADISON ran head-to-head with Terry Sterett and ATLAS VAN LINES II (the former MYR SHEET METAL) in the First Heat, despite rough water. On the last lap, Sterett moved ahead of McCormick and maintained this advantage to win by three boat lengths.
In the Second Heat, MISS M broke down and recorded her first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the year. Consequently, the U-6 was ineligible for the finale. Still, MISS MADISON was running the best of her almost ended career.
The Thunderboat trail now led to Madison, Indiana, which was steeped in a competitive tradition that dated back to 1911. As things developed, the city’s 60th boat racing anniversary story would have amazed a fiction writer. No publisher would have accepted a make-believe script on the race.
For the first time since 1951, the Indiana Governor’s Cup shared the spotlight with the APBA Gold Cup, power boating’s Crown Jewel, which had never before been run in so small a town as Madison. Due to a technicality and a misunderstanding, the $30,000 bid for the race by the sponsoring Madison Regatta, Inc., was the only one submitted in time to the Gold Cup Contest Board.
For ten years, the volunteer MISS MADISON mechanical crew had tried to win the hometown race without success. They faced an uphill fight in 1971, and they knew it. In the first four races of the season, MISS BUDWEISER and ATLAS VAN LINES I had both scored two solid victories apiece. ATLAS VAN LINES II, a five-race winner in 1969-70, was likewise a formidable contender. (Having been her team’s number one entry during the three previous years, the II’s performance had suffered little in her secondary role with Terry Sterett in the cockpit.)
Also not to be overlooked in the pre-race figuring at the Madison Gold Cup were the HALLMARK HOMES, the NOTRE DAME, and the PRIDE OF PAY ‘n PAK.
HALLMARK was having a difficult season but nevertheless had championship credentials, being the former 1967-68 Gold Cup and National High Point-winning MISS BARDAHL.
NOTRE DAME, a virtual copy of the HALLMARK HOMES, had a reputation as being a fast competitive boat, although she had never won a race.
PAY ‘n PAK was likewise having an uneven 1971 campaign. The PAK sported a radical new design. She was wider, flatter, less box-shaped, had a pickle-forked bow configuration, and had performed admirably on occasion. The craft had experienced a disastrous 1970 season, but there were a few who staunchly believed that if PRIDE OF PAY ‘n PAK ever had the “bugs” ironed out of her, she would revolutionize the sport, and render obsolete all of the top contenders of the previous twenty years.
Several days before the race, Jim McCormick placed a crucial telephone call to Reno, Nevada. He requested and obtained the services of two of the finest Allison engine specialists in the sport--Harry Volpi and Everett Adams of the defunct HARRAH’S CLUB racing team--who flew to Madison and worked in the pits alongside U-6 regulars Tony Steinhardt, Bob Humphrey, Dave Stewart, Keith Hand, and Russ Willey. Volpi and Adams are credited with perfecting the MISS MADISON’S water-alcohol injection system.