The Miss Bardahl Story - Part 1
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
Any examination of Unlimited racing in the fifties and sixties must necessarily include discussion of Ole Bardahl's MISS BARDAHL, one of the most popular-and most successful-hydroplanes of all time.
A fixture on the Unlimited scene from 1957 to 1969, the Ballard, Washington-based team won 27 races (including five Gold Cups) and six National High Point Championships and was the first to run a lap in competition at 117 miles per hour on a 3-mile course (in 1965).
MISS BARDAHL first appeared at a time of transition in power boat racing. The old amateur tradition was giving way to the professional era. Commercial sponsorships were becoming the rule rather than the exception.
MISS BARDAHL and MISS THRIFTWAY were among the first to successfully represent a major sponsor on a national scale. They proved that the public would indeed support boats with product names rather than nicknames. They established a precedent that holds true to this day.
Unlimited hydroplane competition has seen a number of racing dynasties over the years. These include the Slo-mo-shun boats, the Miss Thriftway, the Pay 'n Pak, the Atlas Van Lines, and the Miss Budweiser.
All of these teams defined the state of the art in Unlimited racing at one time or another. They represented Thunderboating at its best.
The same can be said of the Miss Bardahl, which won more races (24) in the decade of the sixties than any other team. Between 1957 and 1969, Miss Bardahl accounted for 27 race victories, five Gold Cups, six National Championships, and was the first to average 116 miles per hour in a heat of competition (in 1965).
The primary force behind the Miss Bardahl's success was Ole Bardahl, the Norwegian immigrant, who settled in Seattle, Washington's Ballard community, built a business empire, and put together one of the most competitive teams in Unlimited history.
Bardahl had achieved success in Indianapolis auto racing before joining the Thunderboat ranks. Ole saw his Unlimited hydroplane as the perfect vehicle to promote his world-famous Bardahl Additive Oil.
Bardahl tested the Unlimited waters in 1957 by sponsoring one of the lower echelon teams at selected races. The first Miss Bardahl (U-4) had been built as a hobby in owner Norm Christiansen's backyard in 1956 and had originally been named Tempest. At 27 feet 4 inches in length, she was one of the smallest Unlimiteds of all time.
The Bardahl/Christiansen combination proved surprisingly competitive. With Norm Evans driving, the Allison-powered U-4 finished fourth in the Mapes Trophy at Tahoe City, California, and in the Sahara Cup at Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nicknamed the "Green Dragon," Miss Bardahl raised many eyebrows when she led the highly regarded Mira Slovak and Miss Wahoo for four laps in Heat 1-A of the 1957 APBA Gold Cup on Seattle's Lake Washington.
Now bitten by the hydro bug, Bardahl became his own owner in 1958. He ordered a new Unlimited hull from designer Ted Jones, whose previous success stories included Slo-mo-shun IV, Miss Thriftway, Hawaii Kaii III, Shanty I, and Miss Wahoo.
The new Miss Bardahl (U-40) was built by Ron Jones, Ted's son. This was the younger Jones's first attempt at constructing an Unlimited. Ron would play an increasingly prominent role with the Miss Bardahl team in the years to come.
Christened on Lake Chelan, Miss Bardahl won the Apple Cup on that eastern Washington lake on May 11, 1958. With Evans driving, the U-40 defeated Fred Alter and Miss U.S. I in the winner-take-all Final Heat, 101.618 miles per hour to 99.298.
Later in the season, the "Green Dragon" took first place in the National Sweepstakes at Buffalo, New York, and the Rogers Memorial Trophy at Washington, D.C., with Mira Slovak in the cockpit.
At season's end, Miss Bardahl was National High Point Champion. She had finished first three times, second twice, and third three times. The U-40 outpointed second-place Miss U.S. I, 2075 points to 2069, the closest finish in Unlimited history.
Miss Bardahl wasn't the fastest boat on the 1958 Thunder Tour. But she was durable with 25 finishes in 27 heats started. The Bardahl scored more National Points in eleven races than Miss U.S. I did in twelve.
For 1959, Bardahl further upgraded his program. He switched from Allison to Rolls-Royce Merlin power. Jack Regas was named driver and George McKernan became crew chief. Regas had won six races in a row with the recently retired Hawaii Kai III. McKernan had previously worked for the Slo-mo and Hawaii Kai teams and had won three of the last five races of 1958 as crew chief of Miss U.S. I.
Miss Bardahl probably would have won the 1959 Apple Cup if high winds hadn't forced cancellation of the Final Heat. The victory went instead to Chuck Hickling and the Miss Pay 'n Save on the basis of total accumulated points. The "Green Dragon" nevertheless turned the fastest 15-mile heat (107.526) and 3-mile lap (112.266) of the race.
Regas and Miss Bardahl won the first two heats of the Detroit Memorial Regatta in fine fashion but failed to finish the finale. The BARDAHL team at least had the satisfaction of defeating the overall winners, Bob Hayward and Miss Supertest III, by a wide margin in Heat 2-B.
The Miss Bardahl's promising season was tragically derailed at the Diamond Cup in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Regas and the U-40 waged a brilliant side-by-side battle with Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway in Heat 1-A, with Muncey winning it, 104.895 to 104.813. Regas was running third in Heat 2-A when he encountered the wake of another boat and was knocked unconscious.
Jack suffered a skull fracture and was hospitalized in critical condition. He languished in a coma for nearly a month. Ole Bardahl was grief-stricken and announced his retirement from racing.
While Regas was fighting for his life in a local hospital, the 1959 Seattle Gold Cup was run without an entry from the Miss Bardahl team.
Jack eventually recovered and even showed up as a spectator at the Reno Regatta in late-season. But he did not drive in competition again for eight years.
Bardahl reconsidered his retirement and the U-40 returned to action, six weeks after the accident, with Bill Brow in the cockpit. Brow, ironically, had also been injured-but only slightly-at Coeur d'Alene when he flipped the Miss Burien, which was the former Miss Bardahl (U-4).
The reactivated U-40 posted some high finishes but was simply not the contender that she had been with Regas. Prior to joining the Miss Bardahl team, Brow had only driven in five Unlimited events. Bill's glory days with the Miss Exide and the Miss Budweiser were still a few years in the future.
Miss Bardahl managed a third in the Indiana Governor's Cup and a fourth in the Buffalo Regatta with Brow. Crew chief McKernan took the wheel for the season-concluding Lake Mead Cup and finished fourth.
Despite all of the hard luck, the winless "Dragon" wound up second in National Points to the Maverick, driven by Bill Stead. Miss Thriftway finished third.
1960 was another disappointing year for the Miss Bardahl, which won no races and ended up fourth in National Points.
Ole Bardahl gambled on a rookie driver, Jim McGuire, who performed quite poorly and was discharged after three races. Brow returned to finish the season and managed a fourth at Washington, D.C., a third at Madison, Indiana, and a second at Reno. But the three-year-old U-40 was obviously inferior to the National Champion Miss Thriftway. The "Nifty Thrifty" had come into her own in 1960, after a disappointing 1959, and was clearly the one to beat.
Heading into 1961, Miss Bardahl was dismissed as an "also-ran." In the words of one critic, "The 'Green Dragon' appears to have lost her fire." Indeed, the boat's strong showing at the first three races of 1959 seemed light years away.
But not to worry, good times were right around the corner for the crestfallen U-40.
Mr. Bardahl decided not to enter the first two races (at Detroit and Coeur d'Alene) of 1961. This was unusual. And he chose not to name a driver for his team until just a few days prior to the World's Championship Seafair Regatta in Seattle.
Many fans expected Bardahl to offer the ride to his son-in-law Rex Manchester, pilot of Miss Spokane, who had recently married Ole's daughter, Evelyn Bardahl Manchester. Rex did in fact handle the Miss Bardahl in a pre-season test run. But the "Baron of Ballard" offered the job instead to the man who would transform the team and restore it to prominence-Ron Musson.
Regarded by many hydroplane historians as the all-time greatest Unlimited driver, Musson had stepped up to the Thunderboat ranks in 1959 and achieved almost immediate success. A graduate of the highly competitive Mid-West Limited Inboard wars, Ron had already won a couple of races with Joe Mascari's aging Hawaii Kai III. But his single most significant performance to date in the Unlimited Class had to be his victory in the 1960 Silver Cup at Detroit with Sam DuPont's Nitrogen Too.
Using a substantially stock Allison engine, Musson defeated the Merlin-powered Miss Thriftway in two heats out of three. And in the final go-around, Ron flat out-drove the favored Bill Muncey, 103.707 to 102.525.
For the first time since Jack Regas, Bardahl had hired a driver of near-perfect qualifications.
Musson's debut with the "Green Dragon" could not have been more impressive. The Akron, Ohio, resident showed every other major contender the short way around the 3-mile course at Seattle: Miss Century 21 (nee Miss Thriftway), Miss Reno (ex Maverick), Miss Spokane, Miss Seattle Too, Miss U.S. I, and Gale V.
The boat that everyone had written off as a "has-been" had come back to life and won the World's Championship. After posting a pair of dramatic victories in Heats One and Two, Miss Bardahl ran a conservative fourth in the finale to win the race on points.
For the balance of 1961, Musson and the U-40 finished in the top three at all but one of their races. Their one victory after Seattle was the death-shortened Silver Cup, which was halted after the fatality of Miss Supertest II pilot Bob Hayward in Heat 2-A.
Despite her late-season start, Miss Bardahl finished second to Miss Century 21 in National High Points. But the four-year-old "Dragon" had reached the end of the Thunderboat trail. It was time to order a new hull from Ted Jones.
Musson confidently predicted that the 1962 Miss Bardahl would be "one hell of a boat." And he was correct. The new U-40 became the epitome of the all-conquering Jones design. The third Miss Bardahl would be to the sixties what Hawaii Kai III had been to the fifties.
The fledgling "Green Dragon" did experience some new-boatitis. She spent her first season in the shadow of Miss Century 21, which won five races-and 15 heats-in a row during 1962.
Miss Bardahl finished second in National Points and won the Harrah's Tahoe Trophy, which was the only race that year in which Miss Century 21 failed to finish.
During the 1962-63 off-season, Ron Jones, who had built the 1958 Miss Bardahl, was called in to do some fine-tuning on the sponsons of the 1962 hull. This resulted in some additional miles per hour for the boat.
At the outset of 1963, Miss Bardahl shaped up as a formidable threat for national honors. Musson drove her to victory in the first race of the season at Guntersville, Alabama. The win would have been more significant if Miss Century 21 (now renamed Miss Thriftway again) had been present. But the Associated Grocers team had not tested during the off-season and would not debut until the second race, which was for the Gold Cup, in Detroit.
The inevitable showdown between the defending champion Muncey and the challenger Musson was as dramatic as it was shocking. Miss Bardahl ruled the waves and would not be denied. Ron reeled off three first-place finishes in the preliminary heats and took a safe second to Bill Cantrell and Gale V in the Final.
After six years of trying, Ole Bardahl had finally won his first Gold Cup. He would win four more in the next five seasons. This was the start of the Miss Bardahl's glory years.
As for Miss Thriftway, she finished a dismal sixth in the 1963 Gold Cup. Bill Muncey drove what was arguably the sloppiest race of his career.
Bill won the first heat without too much difficulty. Then he was watered down at the start of Heat 2-A, which was won by Miss Bardahl. And it was all down hill for Muncey from there. Miss Thriftway ran fifth, fourth, and fifth and finished behind boats that she had dominated the year before. The persimmon-and-white U-60 was unrecognizable as the shining superstar that had won a record seven races in a row during 1961 and 1962.
Miss Bardahl posted the fastest heat of the day at 109.489. This compared to 105.561 for Gale V, 104.814 for Chuck Thompson and Tahoe Miss, and 102.428 for Miss Thriftway. After a depressingly one-sided 1962 season, competition had returned to the Unlimited Class.
The "Green Dragon" also established a Gold Cup lap record of 114.649 on the 3-mile course at Detroit. Miss Thriftway crew chief Leo VandenBerg had clearly done his winter homework well, as the U-40 was now the fastest boat in the fleet.
But Miss Thriftway wasn't ready for the bone yard yet. She returned to her winning form at the Diamond Cup. Muncey won all three of his heats and effectively dimmed the memory of his embarrassing performance at Detroit. Miss Bardahl experienced mechanical difficulty and scored zero points. But for the rest of her career, the third "Green Dragon" would never again fail to complete a heat. Between Seattle of 1963 and San Diego of 1965, Miss Bardahl went the distance in a record 57 consecutive heats.
The 1963 Seafair Regatta represented a turning point in the rivalry between Miss Thriftway and Miss Bardahl, although the trophy was actually won by Tahoe Miss.
A few days prior to the race, Associated Grocers of Washington State announced that the August 11 classic on Lake Washington would be Miss Thriftway's last, after nine years of participation. Representative owner Willard Rhodes and driver Muncey were determined to go out a winner. And they nearly pulled it off.
In Heat 1-A, Miss Thriftway defeated Miss Bardahl, 112.500 to 110.474. Then a heavy storm system set in and threatened cancellation of the remaining heats. Had the storm front prevailed a while longer, Miss Thriftway would have been declared the winner on the basis of one completed heat. Unfortunately for the Thriftway team, the storm system passed, the sky cleared, and the race was run to its conclusion.
In Heat 2-B, the about-to-be-retired U-60 was decisively beaten by Miss Bardahl before going dead in the water. Miss Thriftway ended her brilliant career at the end of a tow rope, and the torch was passed to a new racing dynasty.
Bill Muncey's reign as the sport's most prominent driver was over, at least for the time being. Ron Musson now occupied the Unlimited throne.
Musson finished the day in a point tie with Thompson and the Tahoe Miss. And even though Miss Bardahl won the Final Heat, the victory went to Thompson on the basis of faster total elapsed time for the 45-mile race.
Miss Bardahl went on to claim the 1963 National High Point Championship over second-place Gale V and third-place Tahoe Miss. It was Ole Bardahl's first championship since 1958. Even a mid-season change of drivers did not derail the team's competitive momentum. Musson fractured some ribs in a test run at Madison, Indiana, and had to relinquish the wheel for the last three races of the season to Don Wilson, who ordinarily drove the Miss U.S. boats.
Wilson was especially good at communicating with the crew. Chief VandenBerg very much appreciated the opportunity of working with Don.
But no matter who was driving her, Miss Bardahl kept right on winning and annexed a second straight Harrah's Tahoe Trophy on the last day of the season at Stateline, Nevada.
The 1964 campaign produced some outstanding competition for the fans. A couple of other boats were faster than Miss Bardahl, but the "Green Dragon" won another High Point Championship on the basis of being more consistent. Musson won four out of nine races, which included another Gold Cup at Detroit.
On two occasions-at Detroit and Seattle-during 1964, the "Gray Ghost" Tahoe Miss ran impressively in the preliminary heats but just plain "blew it" in the Final.
At Detroit, a mechanical problem developed just before the one-minute gun that the crew was unable to correct. At Seattle, driver Thompson unwisely charged for the lead and was watered down by Miss Exide, when he could have run a conservative second and won the race on points.
At both Detroit and Seattle, the beneficiary of the Tahoe Miss team's errors was the Miss Bardahl.
For 1965, Ole Bardahl ordered a radically designed cabover hull from the drawing board of Ron Jones. Ron's father Ted had retired from Unlimited racing. And the younger Jones had a concept for a forward-cockpit boat that had worked very well in the smaller classes. Ron was anxious to try the new design in the Unlimited ranks. And Bardahl was willing to give it a try.
But when the gearbox didn't arrive in time to start the 1965 season, Bardahl brought the 1962 hull back for a final curtain call.
"My tired, weary old boat," as Musson described her, didn't run at Guntersville. And she was ill-prepared for Coeur d'Alene, where the "Green Dragon" finished third behind Brow in Miss Exide and Manchester in Notre Dame.
But at Seattle, Miss Bardahl was her old competitive self again and won a third consecutive Gold Cup. This hadn't happened since George Reis made it three-in-a-row in 1933-34-35 with El Lagarto.
Between El Lagarto and Miss Bardahl, only My Sin / Tempo VI (in 1939-41-46) and Slo-mo-shun IV (in 1950-52-53) had three victories in the race of races.
The only boat to win more than three Gold Cups is the Atlas Van Lines / Miller American, which won four in a row, starting in 1984, with Chip Hanauer as driver.
Following her Gold Cup triumph, Miss Bardahl won three races and Tahoe Miss won two. Musson had apparently won at Madison but was penalized an extra lap after a disputed call.
At the final race of the year in San Diego, the Miss Bardahl crew pulled out all of the stops. Ron held nothing back and set long-standing world records for the 3-mile, 15-mile, and 45-mile distances with speeds of 117.130, 116.079, and 115.056 respectively on the salt waters of Mission Bay.
In the words of hydroplane historian David Greene, "It became clear that no boat in history could run at the same competitive speed as the Miss Bardahl. She raised the heat record almost four miles per hour faster than any other boat had ever recorded.
"In addition, the Bardahl ran up fourteen victories during her career, which was the top for any boat that had ever competed for the Gold Cup" up until that time.
Following the greatest race of her career, the third Miss Bardahl entered retirement and vanished forever from the Unlimited scene. She never ran in competition again. Although for a time, the Bardahl people considered the possibility of campaigning two "Green Dragons." (The new boat would be the U-40 with Musson as driver, while the 1962 hull would be the U-1 with young Billy Schumacher in the cockpit.)
But as the 1966 season neared, Leo VandenBerg and his crew focused all of their energies on the cabover hull, while the defending National Champion remained in mothballs.
During spring testing, Miss Bardahl the fourth experienced difficulty in that she carried too much weight in the rear end. But the crew shifted some of the weight forward to help alleviate this problem.
The boat appeared at the season-opener in Tampa, Florida, and created quite a sensation. Not since Thriftway Too, which last raced in 1960, had an Unlimited hydroplane seated its driver ahead of the engine.
But unlike Thriftway Too, Miss Bardahl was wider and flatter and less box-shaped to allow for more effective cornering. The design had worked well for Tiger Too, a Ron Jones-designed 225 Class hull, in 1961. But the concept had yet to be proven in the Unlimited Class. And there was a lot of prejudice against cabover hulls at the time.
Miss Bardahl's debut had to be delayed a week because of a gearbox that kept overheating. But the advance word on the new boat was favorable. According to VandenBerg, the Bardahl ran quite well in tests and could corner at over 100. (This was at a time when most Unlimiteds could do 175 or more on the straightaway but were unable to exceed 90 in the turns.)
This was good news for designer Ron Jones.. His fervent hope was for the 1966 Miss Bardahl to be a trendsetter in the tradition of Slo-mo-shun IV, which his father had introduced so successfully in 1950.
At the ill-fated 1966 President's Cup, Miss Bardahl, running in competition for the first time, dominated the field in Heat 1-C. Musson crossed the finish line 33 seconds ahead of second-place Don Wilson in Miss Budweiser, the former Miss Exide.
Some members of the Miss Bardahl crew had feared that the 8000-pound craft would be hard on engines. But that wasn't the case in Heat 1-C. On the contrary, Miss Bardahl handled the Potomac River with ease, an instant contender, just as Tiger Too had been. The U-40 posted the fastest heat (101.218) and 2-1/2-mile lap (102.975) of the entire race. The much-maligned cabover concept of Ron Jones all of a sudden had credibility.
But then, in Heat 2-B, disaster struck. Miss Bardahl was battling Manchester in Notre Dame for the lead. At the end of lap one, Ron and Rex were running head to head. Then, according to Jones, the "Green Dragon's" propeller sheared off. The boat became airborne, took a nose dive, and disintegrated right in front of the Judges' Stand. When the spray cleared, Miss Bardahl had broken cleanly in two, just behind the cockpit.
Ron Musson was found floating face down in the water. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Jones blamed the propeller for the crash, although Miss Bardahl crew member Dixon Smith speculated that the boat may possibly have struck a log. There was no way to tell what had really happened, although everyone seemed to have a different opinion about it. But there could be no doubt of the end result. The sport had lost its most prominent personality. And the boat that had debuted so promisingly was a shattered wreck.
It was a day that came to be known as "Black Sunday." Three hours later, during the running of the Final Heat, Notre Dame and Miss Budweiser crashed into each other. Drivers Manchester and Wilson were likewise stricken from the list of the living.
The loss of Musson, Manchester, and Wilson shook the boat racing world to its foundation. The impact would have been similar if Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Dan Gurney had been lost in a single afternoon.
The Miss Bardahl's crash served to re-enforce the myth about cabover hulls being unduly hazardous. Ron Jones kept insisting that the accident that took Ron Musson's life had nothing to do with the fact that the boat was a cabover-but it was associated with a cabover. And that made the concept difficult to sell for many years to come.
Ole Bardahl chose to withdraw from further participation in 1966, following the deaths of his driver, relief driver, and son-in-law. After much soul searching, Bardahl announced that his team would return in 1967 with a new hull that would be driven by Billy Schumacher, Musson's handpicked successor.
The fifth and final Miss Bardahl was designed and built by Ed Karelsen of Seattle. Karelsen had been responsible for the short-lived original Miss Exide of 1963, which fell apart in its second race. Karelsen had a winning reputation in the Limited ranks and was anxious to vindicate himself in the Unlimited Class.
The new Miss Bardahl was a low-profile conventional hull with the driver seated behind the engine. The boat nevertheless incorporated some of the characteristics of a cabover hull. This included extra non-trip area to help in cornering.
When Ron Musson died, the team's trademark green color scheme died with him. Painted yellow with black lettering, the former "Green Dragon" was now the "Blonde Bombshell."
Leo VandenBerg had retired from the Miss Bardahl team. His young assistant, Jerry Zuvich, was now crew chief. The crew, including driver Schumacher, were all young men in their twenties. The press quickly labeled them the "teenybopper crew."
Schumacher had an excellent competitive record in the smaller classes. He had won with everything from JU outboards to 7-Litre inboards.
Billy qualified as an Unlimited driver in 1961. He had handled such perennial tailenders as Cutie Radio, Miss Tool Crib, and $ BILL and achieved mediocre results. He was the only person other than Musson to drive the cabover Miss Bardahl in a test run.
Beginning in 1961, Evelyn Bardahl Manchester, Rex's widow, played a more visible role in the day-to-day operation of the team. But there was never any doubt that Ole Bardahl was still the man in charge who expected results.
And he got them. The 1967 season witnessed one of the great comebacks in racing history.
Miss Bardahl won six out of eight races and finished second once. She scored a clear cut victory in the APBA Gold Cup at Seattle and won the National High Point Championship hands down.
Up until that time, no Unlimited hydroplane had ever won six High Point races in the same season. (Hawaii Kai III in 1957, Maverick in 1959, and Miss Century 21 in 1962 had each won five races.)
Schumacher and company turned the fastest heat of the year at 107.784 on a 2-1/2-mile course at San Diego. The team also ran the fastest 2-1/2-mile competition lap of the year at 110.150 at San Diego.
Miss Bardahl demonstrated a lot of class at the Tri-Cities (Washington) Atomic Cup. In the Final Heat, the automotive-powered Miss Chrysler Crew and driver Bill Sterett were the early leaders. But Schumacher finally overtook Sterett and went on to claim the victory, 104.448 to 102.583.
The single most memorable performance by the Miss Bardahl in 1967 had to be her second-place finish at Kelowna, British Columbia. Schumacher and Miss Budweiser driver Mike Thomas ran side-by-side for five of the six laps in the British Columbia Cup Final Heat. Thomas won the race but only after a titanic struggle. The Budweiser / Bardahl battle of 1967 foreshadowed the many great Pay 'n Pak / Miss Budweiser duels of the 1970s.
The Miss Bardahl team had rebounded from the ultimate downer. And they had done so in championship fashion. Ron Musson would have been proud.
Another Gold Cup and National Championship followed in 1968 for the Bardahl/Schumacher/Zuvich combination. It was a very competitive season with no one boat winning the majority of races. But in the end, it was still the Miss Bardahl that prevailed.
For what would prove to be his final year of full-time participation, Ole Bardahl opted for the racing number U-1, which was indicative of his team's status as defending National Champion.
The color scheme was changed again, this time to a gaudy combination of yellow and black checkerboards. The new paint scheme was eye-catching to say the least, a masterpiece. The "Blonde Bombshell" was now the "Checkerboard Comet."
As the 1968 season got underway, Miss Bardahl found herself being seriously challenged by Warner Gardner and Miss Eagle Electric. On opening day, at Guntersville, Schumacher and Bardahl were fairly and squarely beaten by Gardner and the "Screaming Eagle," which won all three heats. Ironically, Miss Eagle Electric was the former "also-ran" $ Bill that Schumacher had driven during 1963 and 1964.
In 1968, Miss Bardahl was strangely inconsistent in regard to her performance in Final Heats. At Guntersville, the Tri-Cities, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., she failed to finish. At Guntersville, Madison (Indiana), and the Tri-Cities, Schumacher made particularly bad starts in the last heat of the day.
At the President's Cup, Billy accused My Gypsy driver Tommy Fults of illegally "cutting him off" in the Final Heat. But no official action was taken against Fults.
Still, when she was running right, Miss Bardahl was clearly the dominant boat. Only one team, the Harrah's Club with driver Jim McCormick, was able to defeat the "Checkerboard Comet" three times in heat competition. This happened twice at Seattle and once at Phoenix, Arizona.
Heading into the Gold Cup at Detroit in early September, the Miss Bardahl and the Miss Eagle Electric had both won three races. Bardahl had the Wisconsin Cup, the Indiana Governor's Cup, and the Diamond Cup, while Eagle had the Dixie Cup, the Atomic Cup, and the President's Cup.
The fans looked forward to a classic confrontation between Schumacher and Gardner on the historic Detroit River. But the 1968 Gold Cup emerged as one of the more tragic chapters in Thunderboat history.
Miss Eagle Electric, which had finally come alive after so many years of mediocrity, disintegrated on the backstretch of the third lap of the Final Heat. She was leading Miss Bardahl and challenging Miss Budweiser. Then, the Eagle became airborne and cartwheeled itself to pieces in the vicinity of the Detroit Yacht Club. Warner Gardner suffered fatal injuries.
In the space of three seasons, six of racing's finest had been lost while driving Unlimited hydroplanes: Ron Musson, Rex Manchester, Don Wilson, Chuck Thompson, Bill Brow, and now Gardner. It has been speculated that the many deaths may have been one of the factors that prompted Ole Bardahl to announce his retirement from Unlimited racing a few months later.
But that didn't prevent Billy Schumacher from driving the race of his life and claiming his second-and the team's fifth-Gold Cup on that memorable day in the Motor City.
In the re-run of the Final Heat at Detroit, Schumacher and Miss Bardahl staged one of the most electrifying duels in boat racing history. The challenger was Bill Sterett and the new Miss Budweiser, another Karelsen hull and a virtual clone of the Bardahl.
Viewers of ABC-TV's "Wide World Of Sports" watched in disbelief as Schumacher and Sterett battled for the lead. They went all out, running deck-to-deck and only a few inches apart on the always-formidable Detroit River. Lap after lap, the incredible competition continued. First it was Bardahl in the lead, then Budweiser, and then Bardahl again, back and forth.
One slip on the part of either driver and the result most certainly would have been catastrophic for both men. They were that close.
Even after three decades, a videotape replay of the race can be unnerving. The sight of Miss Bardahl and Miss Budweiser literally sharing the same roostertail is downright chilling, this being in the days before safety canopies and reinforced cockpits.
Be that as it may, it was a day of triumph for Miss Bardahl and a day of frustration for Miss Budweiser, which faded from contention with a mechanical problem late in the race. Miss Bardahl the fifth had scored her tenth victory in two years. The 1968 Gold Cup was the 27th and final win for Ole Bardahl who would very soon be calling it a career.
"Billy the Schu" and Miss Bardahl appeared in two more races together after the Gold Cup. They conked out in the first heat and won the next two at San Diego, but lost the race on points to My Gypsy.
Miss Bardahl finished second and was decisively beaten by Miss Budweiser in the Arizona Governor's Cup at Lake Pleasant. Bernie Little's "Beer Wagon" had been plagued with the "bugs" of newness for much of 1968, but was now clearly in the same speed range as Miss Bardahl.
The Karelsen Budweiser shaped up as Miss Bardahl's heir apparent. Miss Budweiser indeed went on to claim the National High Point Championship shield for 1969-70-71. She also won the next two Gold Cup races.
Miss Bardahl concluded 1968 with a total of 9300 points, compared to 6988 for My Gypsy, 6600 for Miss Eagle Electric, and 6551 for Miss Budweiser. In all, a memorable campaign.
It would be well to consider 1968 as the end of the Miss Bardahl saga. But two final curtain calls followed in late-season 1969.
In deference to his hard-working crew, Mr. Bardahl allowed Jerry Zuvich and the gang to "unretire" the checkerboard U-1 for Seattle and San Diego. Billy Schumacher, unfortunately, was no longer available to drive. He was replaced by veteran Fred Alter who had had a dismal 1968 season with Parco's O-Ring Miss.
Miss Bardahl was still quite fast and scored two heat victories at Seattle. But "Fearless Fred" managed to blow quite a few Rolls engines, both in qualification and in competition. The Bardahl team placed third in the Seafair Regatta and a very disappointing sixth in the San Diego Gold Cup. It was a sad farewell indeed for one of racing's most celebrated dynasties.
At the end of 1969, Ole Bardahl made his retirement official by selling the boat to Bernie Little (who needed a back-up hull) and the engines to Laird Pierce (for use in a new Parco's O-Ring Miss).
The last Miss Bardahl competed as Miss Budweiser II and Miss U.S. in 1970. Her career ended in 1971 when she crashed to the bottom of the Ohio River at Madison, Indiana, as Hallmark Homes.
Ole Bardahl's team was one of the very first in Unlimited history to represent a corporate sponsor on a truly national scale. Miss Bardahl's tremendous popularity proved that the public would indeed support boats that were intended more for advertising than as a rich man's hobby.
The success of Miss Bardahl and other commercially sponsored hydroplanes of yesteryear helped to transform Unlimited racing from an amateur endeavor to the professional status that it enjoys today.
NOTE: David Greene, the Associate Unlimited Historian, contributed to this article.