By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
Lee Schoenith and GALE V from Detroit finally broke up the Seattle Yacht Club’s five-year monopoly of the Gold Cup in 1955. GALE V won a disputed decision over Bill Muncey and MISS THRIFTWAY, which involved Bonus Points and 4.536 seconds in total elapsed time.
This was in spite of the fact that the Seattle-based MISS THRIFTWAY had posted heat finishes of third, first, and first, while GALE V had run second, second, and third.
On the strength of their victory, the father-and-son team of Joe and Lee Schoenith won the right to defend their title in 1956 on home waters in Detroit, which hadn't hosted a Gold Cup since 1950. This was a blow to the citizens of Seattle, accustomed as they were to considering the Gold Cup their own.
>From the outset, the 1955 Gold Cup seemed predestined to go down in history as one of the more memorable. The first indication came in the form of a bombshell, dropped by referee Mel Crook. In a declaration aimed at SLO-MO-SHUN V pilot Lou Fageol, Crook threatened disqualification for reasons of safety to any contestant attempting a "flying start" from under the Lake Washington Floating Bridge.
The "flying start" issue was rendered moot when Fageol and SLO-MO V turned a complete backward somersault at 165 miles per hour during a qualification trial on Friday, August 5. Fageol was badly injured and the boat had to be withdrawn.
This was the final appearance of SLO-MO-SHUN V. The hull was eventually sold to Roostertails, Inc., a local syndicate, and renamed MISS SEATTLE in 1956.
SLO-MO-SHUN IV qualified fastest for three laps around the 3.75-mile course in 1955 at a record 117.391 miles per hour.
Heading into the third and deciding heat, SLO-MO IV with Joe Taggart and the new MISS THRIFTWAY with Muncey were tied at 625 points apiece with the SLO-MO driver in line for the 400 bonus points for the fastest heat (at 103.159), provided he complete the 90 miles. Schoenith possessed 600 points but stood in the best position for the 400 bonus points for fastest match, with an elapsed time edge of ten seconds over Taggart and 37 seconds over Muncey.
SLO-MO-SHUN IV charged to the front at the start of Heat Three, followed by Walt Kade in SUCH CRUST III, Muncey in MISS THRIFTWAY and Schoenith in GALE V in that order with Bud Saile in MISS CADILLAC and Jay Murphy in BREATHLESS trailing.
The positions remained unchanged until the fifth backstretch, when MISS THRIFTWAY roared by on the outside of SUCH CRUST III, which was attempting to lap BREATHLESS. On the same lap, SLO-MO-SHUN IV's manifold started to crack. Taggart eased off to nurse SLO-MO along as Muncey moved closer.
Finally, two laps from victory, Taggart elected to save the boat, and himself, from fire. He shut off the engine, forever dashing the hopes of Stan Sayres for an unprecedented sixth consecutive Gold Cup triumph.
With Taggart out of the race, Bill Muncey, in his first appearance with a competitive Unlimited hydroplane, had the Gold Cup in his grasp. He had compensated for the 37-second elapsed time differential between himself and Lee Schoenith. But on the final backstretch, the inexperienced MISS THRIFTWAY pilot forgot or ignored or was unaware of the critical bonus points factor. He committed the costly error of reducing his speed and allowed his approximate 38-second lead over the third-place GALE V to dwindle.
At the finish, it was MISS THRIFTWAY the winner at 99.990, SUCH CRUST III second at 98.460, GALE V third at 97.080, MISS CADILLAC fourth at 88.390, and BREATHLESS fifth at 77.201. But while Muncey had eased down to 93 for the last lap, Schoenith had maintained his same steady previous pace.
Although despondent over the demise of the SLO-MO winning streak, Seattleites generally consoled themselves over the apparent victory of another local boat. They jubilantly proclaimed Bill Muncey as the hero of the day for having "saved" the Gold Cup for the Pacific Northwest. There were many references to a long and successful career for the 26-year-old driver who, ironically, resided in Detroit.
It was a shining moment as well for designer/team manager Ted Jones, back in the limelight after having designed yet another top-notch hydroplane. The smooth-riding MISS THRIFTWAY used a stock Allison, but was several hundred pounds lighter than the other boats. In posting a competition lap of 105, THRIFTWAY compared favorably to SLO-MO-SHUN IV, which had set the record at 107.
Meanwhile, out on the judges' stand, the team of APBA officials checked and rechecked the overall average speed and discovered a startling statistic. Lee Schoenith and GALE V had completed the 90 miles 4.536 seconds faster than MISS THRIFTWAY. The three-heat clocking, 24 laps of 3.75 miles each, showed a match speed for GALE V of 99.552 miles per hour, compared to Muncey's 99.389 for the 90 miles.
This entitled GALE V to the bonus points for the fastest race. His accumulated points increased from 825 to 1225. The Detroit Yacht Club challenger held a victory edge of 200 points. For the first time since the introduction of the Gold Cup bonus point system in 1937, a boat had won the race without winning a single heat.
The announcement proclaiming Detroit the winner and Seattle the loser generated something akin to a cultural shock wave throughout the Pacific Northwest. Even persons not otherwise inclined toward boat racing were inevitably drawn into the debate over the invocation of a "technicality" in a civic-supported sports event of national significance. Lack of understanding by the general public of APBA "fine print" was partially responsible for the uproar.
The local press capilalized on the public disenchantment with harsh criticism of the Gold Cup rules and expressions of sympathy for the crestfallen Muncey. The Seattle media even went so far as to accuse SUCH CRUST III pilot Walt Kade with intentionally blocking MISS THRIFTWAY in the last heat so as to slow her down, an allegation without basis in fact and absolutely denied by Kade in a 1965 interview with Fred Farley.
According to Kade, "I didn't even know Muncey was behind me. I was trying to get by the BREATHLESS. I didn't know Muncey was there until he went by both of us on the outside."
The bottom line was that Bill Muncey just plain "blew it" by not following the rules. Conversely, Lee Schoenith followed the rules and reaped the benefits of doing so. Muncey never made that mistake again and vindicated himself by winning four of his next seven Gold Cup contests for the MISS THRIFTWAY organization.