Bill Stead Remembered
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
The decade of the 1950s is considered by many hydroplane historians to be the Golden Age of Unlimited racing's piston era. The competition was keen. The East-West rivalry was at its peak. The Ted Jones-designed hulls defined the state-of-the-art. And the participants were larger than life.
This was the era of the millionaire sportsman variety of owner. Money was no object. And commercial sponsorships, while tolerated, were frowned upon.
One of the 1950s most respected competitors was Bill Stead, the Nevada cattle rancher and World War II flying ace, who won nine races and the 1959 National Championship for Bill Waggoner's MAVERICK team. And in the years following his retirement from competition, Stead served the Unlimited sport in various capacities until his tragic death in a plane crash in 1966.
It took a while for Bill to hit his stride as an Unlimited jockey. But from 1957 onward, no one could take the soft-spoken Stead for granted on the race course.
Bill acquired his first hydroplane in 1951. This was the FURY, which had started life as MISS GOLDEN GATE and had finished second in the 1938 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit with Dan Arena driving. A non-prop- riding three-pointer, the boat was well past its prime when Stead bought it. Quite frankly, FURY wasn't furious and never started in a heat of competition.
It caught fire in a test run at the 1951 Lake Tahoe Yacht Club Championship Regatta and capsized at the 1952 LTYC gathering. Stead suffered serious injuries in the latter mishap. This included driving a shoulder blade through a lung.
Not to be undone by one major setback, Stead purchased Morlan Visel's HURRICANE IV in 1953. The prop-riding three-pointer had been built in 1948.
Stead's first appearance in competition with the "IV" was the 1953 LTYC Championship free-for-all, where he finished third behind Stan Dollar in SHORT SNORTER and Max Collins in FLEUR DU LAC. Later that summer, Stead (co-driving with Visel) finished second to Dollar and SHORT SNORTER in the Mapes Trophy at the Mile High Regatta, also on Lake Tahoe.
Stead attended the 1954 Gold Cup in Seattle but fell short of the 85 mile an hour minimum qualifying speed by one mile an hour. HURRICANE IV was the oldest boat there. Never the best cornering craft, HURRICANE IV was clearly not in the same league as such contemporary competitors as SLO-MO-SHUN IV, SLO-MO-SHUN V, GALE IV, GALE V, MISS U.S., MISS CADILLAC, WHA HOPPEN TOO, or even DORA MY SWEETIE, a step hydroplane.
To owner Stead, the handwriting was clearly on the wall. HURRICANE IV was obsolete. He did send her to one last closed-course event, the 1954 Mile High Regatta.
The "IV" finished an overall second in the Mapes Trophy behind Jack Regas and the Allison-powered SCOOTER, a remodeled former pleasure boat.
Stead had the satisfaction of winning his first heat as an Unlimited driver when he finished first in Heat Three of the Mapes Trophy, ahead of Regas in SCOOTER and Jay Murphy in BREATHLESS.
Throughout its career, HURRICANE IV had steadily improved as a straightaway runner. The boat was now retired from competition, but Stead wanted to see what it could do in a try over the measured mile. He sent the "IV" to Salton Sea, California, in November of 1954 for that purpose.
Stead had a very special ace up his sleeve at Salton Sea. This was in the form of a "hopped-up" Avia Union Allison engine, prepared by Howard Gidovlenko, who had built Allisons for the SLO-MO team.
HURRICANE IV and Bill Stead powered their way into the history books with a two-way average speed of 163.136 miles per hour. At the time, only two other Unlimited hydroplanes had gone faster. These were SLO- MO-SHUN IV, which did 178.497 at Seattle in 1952 with Stan Sayres driving, and SUCH CRUST V, which did 164.290 at Windsor, Ontario, in 1953 with Bill Cantrell at the wheel.
The Salton Sea performance solidified HURRICANE IV's reputation as one of the fastest boats of her day. At a time in history when straightaway records carried as much prestige as closed course victories, this was a major accolade.
For the next three decades, HURRICANE IV gathered dust in a barn at the 160-acre Stead cattle ranch near Reno until her acquisition by the Hydroplane And Raceboat Museum in Seattle.
In the middle-1950s, a widely circulated press account mentioned Stead as the possible driver for a hydroplane called ZEPHYR-FURY (no connection to Stead's FURY), co-owned by Gidovlenko and Indy Car driver Ray Crawford. But this proved false. Bill never drove the boat.
Inactive in 1955, Stead answered the call from Texas oil tycoon W.T. Waggoner to take over the wheel of MAVERICK the following year.
MAVERICK was the former REBEL SUH, which had sunk in the 1955 Seattle Gold Cup with Russ Schleeh driving. Designed by Ted Jones and built by Les Staudacher, MAVERICK was teamed with Waggoner's SHANTY I, driven by Schleeh.
Stead's first appearance in the MAVERICK cockpit was at the 1956 Seattle Seafair Regatta on Lake Washington. He failed to qualify due to mechanical difficulties but did manage to squeeze out a single lap of 114 miles per our on the 3.75-mile course. This compared favorably to SHANTY I, the fastest qualifier, which posted a 3-lap average of 115 miles per hour.
Stead and MAVERICK spent most of 1956 in the shadow of SHANTY I, which went on to capture the National High Point Championship. Stead nevertheless managed to finish fourth in the Gold Cup at Detroit and fifth at the President's Cup in Washington, D.C.
The top teams of 1956 included Jack Regas in HAWAII KAI III, Joe Taggart in SLO-MO-SHUN IV, Chuck Thompson in MISS PEPSI, Fred Alter in MISS U.S. I, Don Wilson in MISS U.S. II, Mira Slovak in MISS WAHOO, Bill Cantrell in GALE V, Lee Schoenith in GALE VI, and Bill Muncey in MISS THRIFTWAY.
Muncey and Stead had a great rapport between them. They were two of the most educated men ever to pilot an Unlimited hydroplane. Muncey had two Master's Degrees; Stead attended three universities and continued to enroll in post-graduate classes throughout his adult life.
In 1957, it was MAVERICK--not SHANTY I--that garnered most of the glory in the Waggoner camp. SHANTY I was rebuilt during the off- season but was hindered--not helped--by the modifications. The balance was wrong. SHANTY I driver Schleeh had power he couldn't use in 1957 because the boat rode so erratically.
Of the two Waggoner boats, MAVERICK was clearly faster and rode better.
Stead scored his first victory as an Unlimited driver at the 1957 season-opener on Lake Chelan in eastern Washington. MAVERICK won all three heats of the Apple Cup, which was run over the Gold Cup distance of 90 miles. Slovak and MISS WAHOO placed second.
The Apple Cup win was more or less a fluke in that both HAWAII KAI III and MISS THRIFTWAY ran faster and were distinctly ahead of MAVERICK in Heat Two, until forced out by mechanical difficulties. The KAI went on to be 1957 National Champion and the THRIFTWAY claimed the Gold Cup (at Seattle).
The next stop on the tour at Lake Tahoe was something less than an artistic success for the Waggoner team with neither SHANTY I nor MAVERICK finishing a heat. MISS THRIFTWAY likewise had an off-day and nullified a victory by jumping the gun in the Final Heat and allowing MISS WAHOO to win.
Heading into the Gold Cup, Stead and MAVERICK were highly regarded, their non-performance at Lake Tahoe notwithstanding. They had after all gone the 90-mile distance twice--at Detroit in 1956 and at Chelan in 1957. The boat was also getting faster and ended up with the Gold Cup Fastest Qualifier trophy with a 3-lap/9-mile average of 117.054.
On Gold Cup race day, MISS THRIFTWAY wasn't the fastest boat but was the most reliable Both HAWAII KAI III and MISS WAHOO posted faster heat speeds than MISS THRIFTWAY, but neither the KAI nor the WAHOO was able to complete the 90-mile distance.
MAVERICK ran a faster heat in Heat 1-C than THRIFTWAY and managed to finish all three heats but was slowed by mechanical difficulties in Heat 2-B and dropped from contention.
At day's end, Stead and MAVERICK were third in points. SHANTY I, in her highest finish of the year, took second.
Moving on to the Silver Cup at Detroit, MAVERICK turned the fastest heat of the race in Heat 1-A and decisively beat MISS THRIFTWAY, 108.303 miles per hour to 104.193. Stead unfortunately was unable to capitalize on this fine performance when his boat conked out in Heat 2-B and didn't make the cut for the Final Heat.
It was at the Silver Cup that the Edgar Kaiser-owned HAWAII KAI III finally got it all together and scored the first of her five consecutive wins in late-season. 1957. From then on, Regas and the KAI could seemingly do no wrong. They rewrote the record book en route to victory in the Silver Cup, the President's Cup, the Rogers Memorial, the Indiana Governor's Cup, and the Sahara Cup, while the rest of the field wallowed in their wake.
SHANTY I was destroyed in a test run at Washington, D.C., and Russ Schleeh was injured. MISS THRIFTWAY and Bill Muncey likewise crashed a week later in Heat Two at Madison, Indiana, after setting a world 15-mile heat record of 112.312 in Heat One.
MAVERICK likewise had a troubled late-season. Stead didn't make the Final Heat of the President's Cup or the Sahara Cup and was an undistinguished fourth in the Rogers Memorial.
The 1957 campaign was clearly not a vintage year for the Bill Waggoner team. MAVERICK placed fifth in National High Points, behind HAWAII KAI III, WILDROOT CHARLIE, MISS WAHOO, and MISS THRIFTWAY.
For 1958, the Waggoner crewmembers concentrated their efforts on MAVERICK and never again brought more than one boat to a race.
The off-season saw the retirement at least temporarily of the HAWAII KAI III and MISS WAHOO teams. A new MISS THRIFTWAY was in the works as was a new MISS BARDAHL and a new GALE V.
MAVERICK switched yacht clubs in 1958. Owner Waggoner had a falling out with the Seattle Yacht Club over possession and display of the Harmsworth International Trophy, won in 1956 by SHANTY I. Waggoner then transferred his affiliation to the Lake Mead Yacht Club of Las Vegas. This meant that if MAVERICK were to win the Gold Cup, the race would be run not on Lake Washington but on Lake Mead. This was a major blow to the Seattle Unlimited hydroplane fleet, which had dominated the racing action so completely in 1956 and 1957.
When Bill Stead settled into the MAVERICK cockpit at the Apple Cup, he found some additional much-needed miles per hour. The crew, headed by crew chief Ricky Iglesias and lead engine mechanic Bill Newman, had put together an aux-stage Allison that was quite literally the equivalent of a Rolls-Royce Merlin, according to Ron Jones, Sr.
Thanks to Waggoner's millions, the crew had the luxury of testing every single day if need be to fine-tune their Allison engine program.
The 1958 season was the first full year of the new APBA Unlimited Racing Commission, which was to govern the sport for decades to come. Most races that year consisted of two 15-mile preliminary heats and a 30-mile winner-take-all Final Heat. The Gold Cup continued its "total points" format with three heats of 30 miles each.
The new MISS BARDAHL from Seattle won the 1958 lid-lifter at Lake Chelan with Norm Evans driving. The Detroit-based MISS U.S. I was a close second in the Final Heat with Fred Alter in the cockpit, followed by a distant-running MISS SPOKANE with rookie Dallas Sartz.
MAVERICK had an uneven day at Chelan. Stead was physically second to Brien Wygle and THRIFTWAY TOO during Heat 1-B but was disqualified for hitting a buoy. And in the Final Heat, mechanical gremlins accounted for a distant fourth-place.
Stead nevertheless posted the fastest heat of the 1958 Apple Cup with a 107.313 clocking in Heat 2-A, proving that the aux-stage Allison had what it took to be competitive.
The next two races belonged to MAVERICK (U-12) and validated the Waggoner camp's claim as a formidable Gold Cup threat. Stead powered his way to victory in the inaugural Diamond Cup at Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and the Mapes Trophy on Lake Tahoe.
MAVERICK led from the first turn onward in the Final Heat of the Diamond Cup. Second-place Brien Wygle in THRIFTWAY TOO trailed by fifteen seconds at the finish line.
Mira Slovak and MISS BARDAHL went all out after Stead and MAVERICK in the finale at Lake Tahoe but were unable to do so and spun out twice in the attempt.
MAVERICK demonstrated a distinct speed advantage over the likes of MISS THRIFTWAY, MISS BARDAHL, MISS U.S. I, MISS SUPERTEST II, GALE V, and the rest. Bill Stead was at the top of his form. Seattle's possession of the Gold Cup was clearly in jeopardy as race day August 10 neared.
Then came Manna from Heaven. Just two days before the July 31 deadline for filing Gold Cup entries, Edgar Kaiser announced that he would pull the "Pink Lady" HAWAII KAI III out of mothballs for one last try at the Gold Cup, the Crown Jewel of power boat racing.
Although clearly the fastest boat of 1957, the KAI had never gone the 90-mile distance with her Rolls-Royce Merlin set-up. Moreover, driver Jack Regas lacked the sharpening of a recent race competition.
When asked about the Kaiser boat's last-minute entry in the race, Bill Stead confidently replied, "I don't expect much from the KAI."
On the first day of qualifying, Stead turned a record 3-mile lap of 120.267 and a record 3-lap/9-mile average of 119.956. This indicated that MAVERICK was apparently 3 miles per hour faster than the previous year. This was considered significant since the best that HAWAII KAI III would do was a single lap of 119 before going dead in the water.
Race day dawned bright and warm. The water was calm and ideal for competition. HAWAII KAI III and MAVERICK found themselves drawn into Heat 1-A.
The KAI crossed the starting line first, just ahead of MISS BARDAHL, with MAVERICK a close third. Stead powered past Slovak and took off after Regas. MAVERICK tried but could not keep up with HAWAII KAI III. Regas ran the first five laps of this ten-lap heat at approximately 112.8 miles per hour (compared to the world mark of 112.312 for the 15-mile distance, set by the first MISS THRIFTWAY at Madison in 1957). Jack then backed off to a more conservative pace for laps six through ten, as per instructions from his crew, and took the checkered flag 22 seconds ahead of MAVERICK for an average of 108.734.
No one could deny that the "Pink Lady" was back and stronger than ever. Her historic performance of 112.8 for the first five laps of Heat 1-A would stand unchallenged until 1964.
MAVERICK led at the start of Heat 2-B and through the first turn. As they entered the first backstretch, Jack Regas made his bid and thundered past Bill Stead to take over first place. MAVERICK fought gamely but couldn't catch HAWAII KAI III. Regas maintained a lead varying from 100 yards to a quarter of a mile with Stead charging after him, many times airborne, in the KAI's wake. Then, on the final backstretch, MAVERICK slowed so that the "Pink Lady's" winning margin was stretched to a full mile.
The Las Vegas challenger had been decisively beaten. Stead now trailed Regas, 600 points to 800, and by almost a minute in total elapsed time. (In those days, bonus points were awarded to the boat with the fastest heat and the fastest race.) The MAVERICK driver sheepishly conceded, "I had forgotten how fast the KAI could go."
As the shadows lengthened on that storied Gold Cup afternoon, the seven finalists took to the water for the last time. But one of them never left the dock. MAVERICK had broken a spline coupling in its twin-stage Allison engine, and the crew couldn't replace it in time. There would be no victory celebration for the Bill Waggoner camp on this day.
HAWAII KAI III exited the first turn of the Final Heat in first-place and went on to win, hands down. Seattle's Gold Cup was safe for another year! It was a bitter pill for Stead and Waggoner who were now zero for three in Gold Cup competition.
But the MAVERICK team's performance two weeks later at Detroit helped to take some of the edge off of the disappointment experienced at Seattle. They triumphed in one of the most hotly contested races in Unlimited history.
When the definitive volume on 1950s Unlimited hydroplane racing is eventually written, mention must necessarily be made of the 1958 Silver Cup, which contained a tidal wave of drama. Bill Cantrell and GALE V finished second to Bill Stead and MAVERICK on that memorable day.
For ten heart-stopping laps around the squash-shaped 3-mile course, Stead and Cantrell ran head-to-head and gave it everything they had in the Final Heat. They showed what Unlimited racing is all about. At the finish line, it was MAVERICK at 105.481 and GALE V at 105.229. The fastest lap of the contest was by Cantrell at 109.290.
Stead finished with a 100-foot margin over Cantrell. The two boats were never more than 200 yards apart throughout the 30 miles. MAVERICK was faster on the straightaway than GALE V, but Cantrell pushed Stead into the turns at such high speeds that MAVERICK almost spun out several times.
Stead and MAVERICK now had three wins in five races in 1958 and were the National High Point leaders with the Silver Cup as their high water mark.
Surprisingly, the rest of the season proved anti-climactic.
The Buffalo Launch Club Regatta over the Labor Day weekend was a disaster. Mechanical difficulties reduced MAVERICK to a poor fourth in Heat One and prevented the boat from starting in the next two.
Owner Bill Waggoner pulled the plug on the balance of the Eastern tour. "Hull problems" were cited as the reason for MAVERICK skipping the President's Cup and the Indiana Governor's Cup. Waggoner chose instead to concentrate on the season-concluding Sahara Cup on Lake Mead, the team's home race course.
Bill Stead and MAVERICK appeared to have their act together in decisively winning Heat 1-A of the Sahara Cup, setting a course record of 107.655 for the 15-mile distance.
According to Stead, "I went hard for about a lap. I was going maybe 160 top speed, but only about 145 or 150 in the backstretch. I had to run fast because the engine is set up that way. The boat ran perfectly." . Such was not the case in Heat 2-B where MAVERICK suddenly lost power in the first turn and had to return to the pits.
"We thought it was the blower, so we changed it for the Final. It turned out to be the fuel pump – first time it's ever happened to us."
The fuel pump exploded and sprayed burning gasoline over the engine. Stead extinguished the flames before they spread to the hull but saw the National Championship slip through his grasp.
MAVERICK could have taken the National Points title with a victory in the Final Heat. The championship went instead to Mira Slovak and MISS BARDAHL, which finished second at Lake Mead to Don Wilson and MISS U.S. I.
As a dejected Bill Waggoner sadly pointed out, "That's the racing game."
In summary, the 1958 campaign proved a mixed blessing for the MAVERICK team. Chelan, Seattle, Buffalo, and Las Vegas were disappointments. But Coeur d'Alene, Lake Tahoe, and the classic duel with GALE V at Detroit were brilliant.
After nearly a decade in the sport, Bill Stead was starting to think about retirement. The team had the very capable Russ Schleeh waiting in the wings as a possible successor. But two important accolades were eluding Stead. He still hadn't won the Gold Cup or the National Championship.
A new boat was ordered from Ted Jones for 1959. This was the MAVERICK (U-00), which proved to be the winningest hull in the history of the Waggoner team. SHANTY I had won three races; MAVERICK (U-12) won four. But the U-00 would also be the flightiest of the group. While undeniably fast, she had an alarming tendency to "hook" in the turns, which was almost her undoing in the 1959 Gold Cup.
A new MISS THRIFTWAY, also designed by Jones in 1959, likewise experienced handling problems during its first season. But while MISS THRIFTWAY's unfavorable riding characteristics were eventually corrected (in 1960), MAVERICK's problems never were. (She flipped at Reno in 1961 as MISS RENO and at Detroit in 1964 as MISS BUDWEISER.)
Bill Stead indicated that he would have preferred the steady U-12 to the erratic U-00, which spun out half a dozen times during the 1959 season.
For a time, the Waggoner camp considered running two boats in 1959. The U-12 would be "Maverick I" and the U-00 would be "Maverick II". Stead would drive the U-00; Schleeh would handle the U-12. But this plan was abandoned when the U-12 caught fire and burned to the waterline in a pre-season test run on Lake Mead with Stead driving. One of Unlimited racing's fastest boats now belonged to history.
A new supercharger, recently installed, had exploded while the boat was doing about 150 miles per hour. Gasoline spewed over Stead before catching fire. Bill suffered severe burns on both arms but was reported to be in "pretty fair" condition at Boulder City Hospital.
"I've had thirty or forty engines blow on me," Stead later recalled. "But that was the granddaddy of them all." He waited until the boat slowed down sufficiently before bailing out, preferring burns to broken bones.
The launching ceremony on Lake Washington a few months later of the new U-00 was nevertheless festive. A fully recovered Stead enthused, "This is my first ride in a new boat. I've driven lots of boats. But it was always somebody else's baby first."
The APBA race format for 1959 saw a return to "total points" races with three heats of 15 miles each. The Final Heat "winner take all" format was abandoned and wouldn't return until the 1970s. The Gold Cup distance remained at 90 miles.
The Apple Cup at Lake Chelan was the first test for the new MAVERICK, which turned the fastest qualifying speed at 117.640 miles per hour. In the race, Stead took a distant third in Heat 1-A behind Muncey in MISS THRIFTWAY and Wilson in MISS U.S. I.
MAVERICK was leading in Heat 2-A when the boat hooked in a turn on the third lap and hydrauliced a hole in the starboard side. At the time of the mishap, Stead had a clear lead over longshot Chuck Hickling and MISS PAY `n SAVE, which went on to win the race.
Stead fared better at the Detroit Memorial Regatta where he and MAVERICK ended up an overall third with heat finishes of third, second, and second. The team was no match, however, for the winning MISS SUPERTEST III, driven by Bob Hayward.
The new Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered SUPERTEST had "contender" stamped all over it, blessed with remarkable speed and superior handling characteristics. Indeed, much would be heard from the Canadian MISS SUPERTEST III at the Harmsworth International Regatta, scheduled for later in the summer of 1959.
The Diamond Cup race at Coeur d"Alene proved to be one of the more traumatic in Unlimited history with a long list of driver injuries and damage to boats.
Jack Regas suffered critical injuries when MISS BARDAHL slammed into the roostertail of another boat during Heat 2-A. He would remain in a coma for weeks.
In addition to Regas, Bill Brow of MISS BURIEN (which was destroyed) and Chuck Hickling of MISS PAY `n SAVE also sustained injuries and required hospitalization. Norm Evans was pitched out of MISS SPOKANE and suffered facial cuts.
Stead and MAVERICK managed to steer clear of the carnage and posted heat finishes of first, first, and second; Muncey and MISS THRIFTWAY ran first, second, and first. Both boats accumulated 1100 points.
As per Unlimited rules, the tie in points was broken by overall average speed for the entire race. MAVERICK was determined to be 1.8 seconds faster than MISS THRIFTWAY and was thus declared the winner. This marked Bill Stead's fifth victory as a driver and Bill Waggoner's eighth as an owner.
Waggoner unfortunately wasn't able to celebrate in person with his team. A series of physical ailments necessitated his being airlifted back to Texas during race week at Coeur d'Alene. He learned of MAVERICK's subsequent triumphs while confined to a hospital bed.
Waggoner's worsening health situation dictated his retirement from racing at the end of 1959, although he didn't die until 1962.
The 1959 Gold Cup in Seattle went down in history for being as keenly competitive as it was controversial.
The late 1950s signaled a last stand for the amateur sportsman tradition of racing. The Gold Cup's location was still determined by the yacht club of the winning boat, thereby giving the local fans a personal stake in the outcome of the race.
The Seattle Yacht Club had won the Gold Cup in eight of the previous nine years. The 1959 SYC defense team comprised MISS THRIFTWAY, THRIFTWAY TOO, WAHOO, MISS PAY `n SAVE, and MISS SEATTLE. All except MISS PAY `n SAVE--a Les Staudacher hull--were designed by Ted Jones.
The Seattle-based MISS BARDAHL was conspicuously absent from the starting line-up. Owner Ole Bardahl had temporarily retired from racing in the wake of the accident at Coeur d'Alene to Regas.
Drawn into Heat 1-A, MAVERICK had to contend with MISS THRIFTWAY, WAHOO, MISS SPOKANE, and NITROGEN. The THRIFTWAY seemed to be running well. Then the photo recorder, a device for measuring engine performance, exploded. Almost instantly, Muncey found himself wrapped up in yards and yards of photographic recording tape. This interfered with his concentration and cost him precious seconds in the moments just prior to the start of the heat.
Muncey managed to salvage a third-place behind Slovak in WAHOO and Stead in MAVERICK. But MISS THRIFTWAY was already at a disadvantage in respect to total elapsed time.
Unlike 1-A, Heat 2-A went according to plan with THRIFTWAY winning it decisively over MISS SPOKANE. Heat 2-B went to MAVERICK and Stead who turned the day's fastest 30-mile heat at 106.287, compared to Muncey's 105.820.
Although nearly equal in accumulated points, MAVERICK possessed a considerable elapsed time edge over MISS THRIFTWAY at the outset of Heat Three.
In the final showdown, Muncey and Stead ran close together with Stead electing to run conservatively, being content to maintain his elapsed time edge for all three heats combined. Then, abruptly, MAVERICK spun out in the lower (south) turn of the seventh lap and missed a buoy.
Stead circled back to correct his error, while MISS THRIFTWAY rocketed away and moved up on the front-running Mira Slovak in WAHOO. Slovak, not having scored in the Second Heat, had no chance of winning and "opened the door" on lap-nine for Muncey, voluntarily relinquishing the lead to his fellow SYC defender.
MISS THRIFTWAY took the checkered flag with WAHOO close behind. MISS SPOKANE followed and MAVERICK crossed the finish line fourth. Stead had an 8.3-second advantage over THRIFTWAY for the 90 miles, but had fallen behind Muncey on total points, 1269 to 1325.
The Seattle Yacht Club team's strategy had apparently worked. Bill Muncey and MISS THRIFTWAY had seemingly pulled it off.
But that didn't happen.
Third-place MISS SPOKANE, it was later determined, had jumped the gun and had to be assessed a one-lap penalty. This dropped the Norm Evans- chauffeured craft to fifth and moved Bill Stead from fourth-place to third.
In the corrected order of finish, MAVERICK and MISS THRIFTWAY ended in a tied in points, which paved the way for a replay of their 1959 Diamond Cup scenario. In both instances, Muncey had outrun his rival from Las Vegas in the Final Heat only to lose the overall race on total elapsed time. This was before the days when the winner of the Final Heat was automatically the winner of the race in an Unlimited event.
MISS SPOKANE's blunder cost Seattle the Gold Cup, which was whisked off to Las Vegas for 1960.
A jubilant Bill Stead exclaimed, "I can't thank Norm Evans enough!"
Ironically, MAVERICK owner Bill Waggoner had represented Seattle during 1956 and 1957.
As it was, Evans made a mistake. But it was Muncey, the Seattle Yacht Club, and the entire Pacific Northwest that wound up having to pay for it--with the Gold Cup.
With back-to-back victories at Coeur d'Alene and Seattle, Stead and MAVERICK were the logical choice for the role of U.S. Defender of the Harmsworth Trophy against MISS SUPERTEST III at Detroit, three weeks later.
The British International ("Harmsworth") Trophy is technically a race between nations rather than individual boats. Since 1920, the United States had been undefeated in Harmsworth competition, which consisted of a best-two-out-of-three-heat format.
MISS SUPERTEST III, the Canadian challenger, was considered by many to be the most formidable threat to U.S. retention of the Harmsworth since MISS ENGLAND II, driven by Kaye Don, in 1931.
Owner/designer J. Gordon Thompson had built the "III" for the express purpose of winning the bronze plaque traditionally emblematic of the speedboat championship of the world. It was Bill Stead's job to disappoint him.
The 1959 Harmsworth Regatta was the longest race in Unlimited history, consisting of three heats of fifteen laps each on a 3-mile course, run on consecutive days.
Reporter Harry LeDuc of THE DETROIT NEWS asked Stead if he considered the Detroit course to be more difficult than the others. He replied, "I wouldn't say more difficult, but it is different. It's the only course with a wide turn at one end and a very narrow turn at the other end. Anyplace else, the turns are the same. But it makes no difference. It's the same course for both boats."
The first Harmsworth heat, on August 25, was run on choppy water. MAVERICK started on the inside and a hundred yards ahead of MISS SUPERTEST III. At the end of lap-one, Stead led Bob Hayward by 400 yards. At the end of lap-eleven, MAVERICK led SUPERTEST by seventeen seconds.
On the next circuit, Stead's supercharger driveshaft broke and his top speed immediately dropped about 25 miles per hour. Hayward closed the gap between them and passed Stead in the first turn of lap-13. MISS SUPERTEST III went on to win, 94.085 miles per hour to 91.733 for the 45 miles.
Bill Muncey, who was covering the race for a Seattle radio station, praised the Canadian's driving strategy: "I think Hayward drove the most perfectly paced race I've ever seen. He drove just fast enough, considering the international implications of the race, to push MAVERICK without extending his own boat."
The second Harmsworth heat, on August 26, saw MAVERICK again start on the inside, a half boat length ahead of MISS SUPERTEST III. Hayward was slightly ahead in the first turn near the Belle Isle Bridge but encountered a rough spot and momentarily lost control of his boat. Stead led out of the first turn and went on to win by five seconds, 102.988 miles per hour to 101.746. MAVERICK had better acceleration but Hayward stayed in contention by hitting the turns faster and driving them harder.
For the final 45-mile moment of truth, the SUPERTEST crew, headed by Vic Leghorn, installed a smaller propeller, which gave the Canadian challenger an acceleration rate that was every bit the equal of MAVERICK's.
Unlike the two previous days, the Detroit River was dead calm like a mill pond.
The third Harmsworth heat, on August 27, witnessed a perfect start by MISS SUPERTEST III with MAVERICK trailing a hundred yards back. Hayward led by three seconds at the end of lap-one and by five seconds after lap-two, which was the fastest of the race at 109.334. In the hairpin second turn of lap-three, Stead slid across Hayward's wake. MAVERICK hooked and went into a quarter-spin. By the time Stead was back up to speed, MISS SUPERTEST III had a half-mile lead.
Stead continued, his engine laboring, some sixteen seconds off the leader's pace, until the early part of lap-12 when MAVERICK went dead in the water with a blown supercharger. With Stead out of the race, Hayward immediately reduced speed but still finished the 45 miles at an average of 104.098.
"We just didn't have it out there today, " Stead admitted. "MISS SUPERTEST surprised me with her speed. It certainly ran real well."
For the first time in 39 years, the Harmsworth Trophy had a non-U.S. winner. The string of victories that had started with Gar Wood's MISS AMERICA I in 1920 was at an end. Recent champions had included SKIP-A- LONG in 1949, SLO-MO-SHUN IV in 1950, and SHANTY I in 1956.
A dejected Bill Stead acknowledged, "I'll be remembered as the guy who lost the Harmsworth."
Two days later, however, the MAVERICK driver was back in his familiar first-place with a victory in the Silver Cup, a race that the SUPERTEST team chose not to enter.
In winning his second straight O.J. Mulford Silver Cup, Stead dominated Heats 1-A and 2-B and settled for a safe second in the Final Heat behind Don Wilson in MISS U.S. I.
Only MISS U.S. I and GALE V were running in the MAVERICK's speed range that day. No one else ran heats at over 100 miles per hour.
The same script was followed a week later at the Buffalo Launch Club Regatta. Stead decisively won his first two heats on the Niagara River and cruised to a leisurely second-place in the finale behind the sport's "Cinderella Man" Bob Gilliam, driver of the workhorse KOLroy.
MAVERICK now had four consecutive victories on the APBA circuit in 1959, which compared to HAWAII KAI III's five straight wins in 1957. By contrast, MISS THRIFTWAY, the other new Ted Jones hull, was having a miserable second-half-of the-season and had scored no points at the Silver Cup.
The Washington, D.C., race course for the President's Cup had never been kind to the Waggoner boats. It was there in 1957 that SHANTY I had come to grief. That tradition of misfortune held true in 1959 when MAVERICK flipped upside down during Heat 1-A. Bill Stead, fortunately, escaped injury and rode on the boat's underside back to the pits. Of the ten races entered in 1959, this was the only one in which the team scored zero points.
As fast as she was, MAVERICK (U-00) was still a problem boat.
Stead and Waggoner had nevertheless clinched the National High Point Championship. They skipped the next race on the calendar--the Indiana Governor's Cup--on account of Stead having to go Europe on a business trip.
By this time, Stead had pretty much decided upon retirement as a driver. But there were still two more starting guns--both in the state of Nevada--to be answered.
Charles Mapes, sponsor of the Mapes Trophy, transferred his event from Lake Tahoe to Lake Pyramid, near Reno, in 1959 and billed it as the Reno Regatta. The race site was located within the Paiute Indian Reservation.
The Reno Regatta was a last-minute addition to the 1959 Unlimited schedule with the APBA sanction being granted only six weeks before the race. Because of the lateness of the sanction application, the race did not count for National Points but nevertheless attracted a full field of eleven boats.
Bill Stead helped to organize the Reno Regatta. Being the hometown driver, he showed his neighbors how to win a boat race by finishing first in all three heats on Lake Pyramid. He also posted the fastest 15-mile heat (108.695) and the fastest 45-mile race (107.411).
Norm Evans was a distant second to MAVERICK in the Final Heat and in the overall standings with Sam DuPont's NITROGEN. Third-place overall went to HAWAII KAI III, driven by an Unlimited newcomer named Ron Musson, who turned the fastest 3-mile lap of the race at 112.033.
Then it was on to Las Vegas for the Lake Mead Cup, formerly the Sahara Cup. This was the race site that was in line to host the APBA Gold Cup in 1960 on the strength of MAVERICK's 1959 Gold Cup win in Seattle.
In truth, the Las Vegas committee received bad reviews for its handling of the 1959 Lake Mead Cup. There were those in the sport who questioned the committee's ability to stage a major event such as the Gold Cup. The well-known 1960 result on Lake Mead was a declaration of "No Contest" for the Gold Cup and a major embarrassment for the sport.
In Heat 1-A of the 1959 Lake Mead Cup, MAVERICK took over the lead after NITROGEN blew a gearbox on lap-three.
In Heat 2-B, MAVERICK tangled with Mira Slovak and WAHOO, which led all the way by distances of up to 200 yards. Coming off the final turn, WAHOO had the inside lane, pushed MAVERICK far to the outside, and won handily.
After two preliminary heats, Slovak had 800 points for two firsts and Stead had 700 points for a first and a second. For MAVERICK to win the race, winning the Final Heat was mandatory.
In the last heat of competition that Bill Stead ever drove, he jumped the gun and incurred a one-lap penalty.
"I looked at that [blackout] clock in the Final Heat and all of a sudden it seemed to stop five seconds before the start. There was nothing I could do about it then."
MAVERICK crossed the starting line about three seconds early. Dallas Sartz in MISS SEATTLE TOO and George McKernan in MISS BARDAHL also jumped. WAHOO made a legal start.
Stead crossed the finish line after the regulation five laps about twenty seconds ahead of Slovak. That would have been enough of a margin to win the Lake Mead Cup on the basis of total elapsed time had MAVERICK's start been legal.
"It would have been close if I hadn't jumped," a dejected Stead acknowledged.
WAHOO had really been on a roll that day, having posted the fastest heat at 110.316 and the fastest lap at 114.431. This compared to MAVERICK's best heat at 106.299 and best lap at 109.489.
With nine victories including the Gold Cup and a National Championship to his credit, Bill Stead decided to call it a career. "I think I've had enough," he said. His retirement coincided with that of MAVERICK owner Bill Waggoner's decision to likewise withdraw as an active participant.
In the highly competitive decade of the 1950s, only Chuck Thompson had won more Unlimited races (10) than Stead.
In winning 9 out of 30 races, Stead had a victory percentage of .300. Danny Foster had an identical percentage. The only driver who ranked higher than Stead and Foster in that decade was Jack Regas who won 9 out of 20 for a .450 percentage.
Even the great Bill Muncey, who went on to win more Unlimited races than anyone else (62), only won 4 out of 27 races entered in the 1950s.
In the years that followed, Stead had many opportunities to return to competition but chose not to do so. He did make two official appearances with the former U-00. He qualified TAHOE MISS for the 1962 Seattle Gold Cup and took a driver's qualification test with MISS BUDWEISER at the 1964 Seattle Seafair Regatta. He made it clear that he wasn't interested in racing anymore: "I just like to renew my driver's license every few years."
A close friend of APBA Unlimited Commissioner J. Lee Schoenith, Stead served the URC in various capacities during the 1960s. He acted as Unlimited Drivers' Representative and served on various safety and technical committees. He was instrumental in bringing Unlimited racing back to Lake Tahoe when he served as chairman of the 1962 Harrah's Tahoe Regatta. He also served as team manager for MISS RENO in 1961 and for TAHOE MISS in 1962.
In 1961, Bill Stead was inducted into the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame.
Stead also pursued his other passion--flying--when he organized the Reno National Championship Air Races in 1964. Many of his Unlimited friends assisted him in this endeavor. He even set up a scoring system for the air races that paralleled that of Unlimited racing. (First-place in a heat was worth 400 points, second-place 300, third- place 225, etc.)
It was while test-flying his racing airplane over Tampa Bay in Florida on April 28, 1966, that Stead met his Maker.
He was on a practice run for the Flying Midget race to be held the following Sunday at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport when his plane failed to come out of a 30-degree dive and crashed. It is reported that he had had engine trouble and was making a practice flight to test the engine.
His friend Bernie Little, the MISS BUDWEISER owner, identified Stead's body. Bill left behind his wife (Lila) and two teenaged daughters (Miriam and Susan). He was 44.
Stead's fatality was just one of many dreadful shocks that the Unlimited hydroplane fraternity had to endure in 1966. A few months later, drivers Ron Musson, Rex Manchester, and Don Wilson were lost in the President's Cup, followed by Chuck Thompson in the Gold Cup.
The loss of Bill Stead was keenly felt. The man exuded class and always seemed to come up a winner in whatever he attempted.
He is remembered to this day as one of racing's all-time greats.