My Gypsy Remembered
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
One of the most popular Unlimited hydroplanes of the 1960s was Jim and Yvonne Ranger's copper-toned MY GYPSY from Detroit, Michigan. A product of Joe and Lee Schoenith's Gale Enterprises racing stable, the craft with an Allison engine blazed a competitive trail from coast to coast for three exciting seasons.
Between 1966 and 1968, MY GYPSY entered twenty-eight races and placed in the top three at thirteen of them. She finished first twice, second five times, and third six times with Jim Ranger, Ed O'Halloran, and Tommy "Tucker" Fults as drivers. Moreover, she finished second, fourth, and second in National High Points.
MY GYPSY signaled the end of an era in Unlimited racing. This was at a time when the sport was changing over from an amateur endeavor to a professional pursuit. MY GYPSY's millionaire sportsman variety of owner was one of the last with no commercial sponsor paying the bill.
The team also represented a last glorious stand for the world-famous Dodge automotive family in big-time power boat racing. Yvonne Ranger was the daughter of Delphine Dodge, the first woman to drive in a Gold Cup race (in 1926 and 1933). Yvonne's uncle was Horace Dodge, Jr., whose racing career spanned from the 1920s to the 1950s. He
owned and sometimes drove such stellar racing craft as MISS SYNDICATE, DELPHINE IX, SISTER SYN, and the original MY SWEETIE. In this context, the genesis of the MY GYPSY name is an interesting one. "GYPSY" was Jim Ranger's nickname for his wife Yvonne. "MY" was borrowed from MY SWEETIE.
A successful California show horse rancher, Ranger had never driven a race boat in his life before climbing into the bucket seat of MY GYPSY in the spring of 1966. But Ranger learned quickly and, at season's end, was honored as Rookie of the Year by the APBA Unlimited Racing Commission.
MY GYPSY was the last of the traditional Detroit "riverboats" of the 1950s and 1960s. Designed and built by Fred Dube and Bill Cantrell, MY GYPSY bore a strong resemblance to the 1964 vintage MISS SMIRNOFF and the 1965 GALE'S ROOSTERTAIL, which had also been prepared by Dube and Cantrell. MY GYPSY's trademark was a distinctive ram's head painted on the tail fin, indicative of the Dodge automobile.
If one man is to be singled out as having exerted the greatest influence on MY GYPSY's success, that man unquestionably is the crew chief, Graham Heath. A resident of tiny Madison, Indiana, Heath had ramrodded the first five years of the community-owned MISS MADISON racing team. A poverty budget notwithstanding, Heath had turned MISS M into a competitive presence between 1961 and 1965.
Now Heath was ripe for a new challenge. Suggested for the job by his old friend Cantrell, Heath went to work for the Rangers in January, 1966. When he arrived, there was no shop. There were no engines. There was, in fact, no equipment of any kind--only an empty boat and a promise to be ready for the first race of the season in Tampa, Florida.
With the help of people like Leo Mucutza and Bob Espland, Heath had MY GYPSY race-ready when the starting gun fired in the Suncoast Cup on June 12. The boat finished second and third in her first two competitive heats on an ocean-like Tampa Bay. She tied down an overall seventh in her debut race. But just being there was a moral victory and an eloquent testimonial to her crew chief's organizational skill and mechanical prowess.
MY GYPSY's second appearance was at the President's Cup on the Potomac River at Washington, D.C., a week later. The race would become known as "Black Sunday" in the annals of Unlimited history. Three drivers (Ron Musson of MISS BARDAHL, Don Wilson of MISS BUDWEISER, and Rex Manchester of NOTRE DAME) lost their lives on that tragic day. Ranger managed to keep MY GYPSY out of harm's way and finished an overall eleventh.
Although lightly regarded at the outset of 1966, MY GYPSY just kept rolling along and started making believers out of people. The boat finished first in Heat 3-B of the Gold Cup at Detroit. She did so by outrunning the veteran Fred Alter and MISS DIXI COLA over the finish line by one second. MY GYPSY also finished a surprising fourth overall
in the British Columbia Cup at Kelowna on Okanagan Lake.
After a ninth place performance in the Atomic Cup at the Tri-Cities in Washington, MY GYPSY achieved the winner's circle at Seattle. Pilot Ranger displayed the coolness of a veteran. He won both of his preliminary heats and then settled for a safe second place in the Final Heat to score an upset victory in the Seafair Trophy race on Lake Washington. His 1,100 points surpassed the 1,025 accumulated by National Champion Mira Slovak in TAHOE MISS and the 800 gathered by Bill Brow in MISS BUDWEISER.
The Seafair race was quite a commendable showing for a team that, nine months earlier, had existed only on paper.
MY GYPSY didn't make the Final Heat in the next race at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. She then bounced back with a third place at Madison, a third at San Diego, and a second at Sacramento to conclude the season. This proved that the boat's victory in Seattle was no flash in the pan.
Most fans expected the team's upward competitive momentum to continue into 1967. And for a time, it did. MY GYPSY finished second to MISS CHRYSLER CREW in the Detroit World Championship and took third in the Madison Regatta. She was also the High Point leader after the first month of the season. But something was missing from the boat's performance. She did not distinguish herself at the Tri-Cities and scored no points at Seattle.
Then, abruptly, Jim Ranger retired himself from the driver's seat. The truth was that Ranger had not enjoyed racing since Brow's fatal accident with MISS BUDWEISER at the 1967 Suncoast Cup. Relief pilot O'Halloran, who had started the year with MISS MADISON, took over MY GYPSY's vacant cockpit for the last three races of the season.
O'Halloran's best performance was a third place at Kelowna, where he won both of his preliminary heats decisively, but was trounced in the Final Heat by Mike Thomas in MISS BUDWEISER and Billy Schumacher in MISS BARDAHL.
Heading into the 1968 campaign, MY GYPSY was again regarded as being not much more than an average boat, strictly an "also ran." But that impression was soon to change.
New driver Fults took the racing world by storm in 1968. A champion drag car and drag boat competitor, this young man was not afraid to race. Although lacking in closed course experience, Fults learned the ropes rapidly and finished in the top three at six out of ten events en route to being named Rookie of the Year.
For a boat using a supercharged Allison set-up, MY GYPSY was remarkably formidable against the like of MISS BARDAHL and HARRAH'S CLUB, which used the more powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin and Rolls-Royce Griffon.
Fults and MY GYPSY took second-place honors at Seattle, Coeur d'Alene, and Washington D.C., and finished third at Guntersville, Alabama, and Madison, Wisconsin.
The team scored the second victory in its three-year career in the San Diego Cup on Mission Bay. MY GYPSY combined speed with consistency when the faster boats eliminated themselves with mechanical difficulties.
Fults reeled off a pair of preliminary heat wins and settled for third in the finale. This gave him 1,025 points, compared to 800 for Schumacher in MISS BARDAHL, 769 for Bob Miller in ATLAS VAN LINES, 700 for Dean Chenoweth in SMIRNOFF, and 625 for Jim McCormick in HARRAH'S CLUB.
After establishing themselves as a force with which to be reckoned in Unlimited racing, the Ranger family chose to retire from competition. This was indeed a momentous decision for a boat with near-excellent consistency and considerably better-than-average speed.
Not for many years was the famous craft put back into the water. Eventually acquired by Heath and his partner Cantrell, she was brought out a few times between 1979 and 1983 to fill out the field. She ran under various names, including MISS KENTUCKIANA PAVING, LOUIE'S ON THE LAKE, and DOBSON THE MOVER. She was even a back-up MISS BUDWEISER. But to her fans, she was always and forever, the one and only, MY GYPSY.
Although obsolete, she did not embarrass herself when running against the more modern hull designs. She was still one of the most reliable boats in the fleet for drivers Jon Peddie and Ron Snyder. She finished third at Detroit in 1979 and 1980, El Dorado, Kansas, in 1980, and Madison, in 1982. She ran fourth at Madison in 1980, Evansville, Indiana, in 1982, and Houston, Texas, in 1982.
For 1983, builder Jon Staudacher thought that he could help the boat's performance by replacing the classic "shovel-nose" bow with a "picklefork" configuration. The idea may have looked good on paper. But in actual practice, something went horribly wrong.
The first time back in the water, while running at slow speed on the Detroit River, the forward section of the hull disintegrated. It was as if a bomb had gone off in the bow. MY GYPSY slipped beneath the waves a mangled wreck. Driver Peddie suffered facial cuts, but was otherwise unscathed.
The boat's career had now come full cycle. Seventeen years earlier, in 1966, MY GYPSY had been put in the water at Detroit for her very first test run. In Heath's words, on that sad day in 1983, "She was born here and she died here."
MY GYPSY is gone but not forgotten. Her memory will remain in the hearts of her many fans.