In the seven years
since he stole a Czechoslovak airliner loaded with furiously reluctant
passengers and treetopped his way to freedom, 30-year-old Miroslav Slovak has
pursued such a variety of careers and diversions that he has sometimes seemed
headed several ways at once. This week in Seattle he will be involved in two
very different and important causes in his fast, full life.
Washington, Slovak will again be at the wheel of the beautiful, powerful Miss
Wahoo, running against a bellowing pack of unlimited hydroplanes for the
Seafair Trophy. Though he never raced boats until four years ago, Mira holds
the highest average speed for a completed race and is rated one of the two top
drivers on the unlimited hydroplane circuit. The day after the Seafair race,
battered and bone-weary, Slovak will take his final test for U.S. citizenship.
If the pounding on the race course does not shake all the U.S. history out of
his head, Slovak should pass.
In any case,
testing the Americanization of Mira Slovak is at this point only a formality.
For some time now he has been making his own way, but without letting the
cozier aspects of the "good life" stifle his sporting soul. After
coming to the U.S., he supported himself for a while flying as a crop duster,
and now earns a living at the relatively staid job of copilot for Continental
Airlines. His off time, when he is not racing in Miss Wahoo, is given over to
what he thinks of as humdrum pursuits—stunt flying, soaring, snow skiing and
Slovak has a thick
shock of black hair, protruding ears, an eager-to-be-liked grin and a way of
talking that is sometimes eloquent but still marked with rich, cockeyed idiom
("let things go as they come"). These attributes, coupled with his
taste for danger and his proved competence at the wheel, have made him a
popular driver among spectators east and west.
At Seafair a good
portion of the 200,000 lining the shores and the log boom surrounding the Lake
Washington course will be rooting for Slovak as he winds up Miss Wahoo's
Rolls-Merlin engines and charges across the water. Most of those who aren't for
Slovak will be for his rival, Bill Muncey, in Miss Thriftway. Wahoo and
are popular and logical favorites against a field that also includes
Kol Roy, Miss Bardahl, Miss U.S.I, Miss Burien and Miss Seattle Too. Thriftway
holds the world record for a time-trial straightaway run (192.001 miles an
hour), so Miss Wahoo's chances depend considerably on Slovak's skill and
In the eyes of one
rival driver, Slovak is either "the grittiest guy on the water or the
goofiest." To Miss Wahoo's owner, Bill Boeing, the tall, soft-spoken son of
the founder of Boeing Airplane Company, Slovak was the first—and remains the
only—choice to pilot his boat—"an ideal man because he is not foolish. He's
had good training and has a fine feel for the boat." Boeing recently gave a
further reason. "I want a bachelor in my boat," he admitted, "not a
driver with a distraught wife on shore and a bunch of kids waving Daddy goodby.
When Slovak quits, so does Wahoo. They'll finish together."
Unlimited hydro racing at more than 150 miles an hour is dangerous business.
Lou Fageol retired after puncturing a lung in a 70-foot flip; Joe Taggart broke
an arm and two legs and retired; Jack Regas retired after a severe brain
injury. Bill Muncey has had two memorable close ones: an earlier Miss Thriftway
disintegrated under him, and another lost a rudder and rammed a Coast Guard
boat, leaving Muncey shaken and bruised and lucky to be alive.
Mira Slovak's zest
for hazard and his joyful compulsion for passing other boats comply with
Boeing's all-or-nothing racing philosophy. On the wall of his trophy room hangs
a picture inscribed by the late Stan Sayres, owner of Slo-Mo-Shun IV: "The
original Gold Cup rules stated that it was a sport for gentlemen and their
runabouts. Today there are few of either." Since his driver, Mira Slovak,
and his pit men serve without pay, Bill Boeing's hydro team is closer than most
to the original concept.
throw a blanket over all the varied interests in racing today," Boeing
observed recently. "The commercially sponsored boats are under great
pressure to win, so they enter all the races. The community-backed boats have
to compete wherever they can because of their contributors. We have nothing to
sell. We can pick our spots and race for the fun of it. But when we do race,
there is no letup."
Since Ted Jones
designed her in 1956, Miss Wahoo has won only three of her 15 races. Her record
is dotted with sixths, sevenths and eighths. Brilliant laps bring her in first
in one heat, and the next heat mechanical failure adds up to a dismal "did