If hard work, forethought and careful preparation could always be counted on to breed victory, Harold Eis would have been a cinch to win the third annual World Outboard Championships at Lake Havasu. Defending champion Eis, an automobile-parts dealer from Kansas, believes in taking care—particularly of his boat Salty Cat, a lightweight two-hulled outboard powered by twin 110-hp Mercury motors. Days before most of his competition had even arrived at the Arizona lake where the championships were to be held, Harold was there, spade in hand, digging himself a makeshift dry dock in the hard shale of the lakeshore.
Eis wanted to win this race. He wanted the four-foot trophy offered by the McCulloch company, manufacturers of chain saws and outboard motors, to the first man who could win the race three times, and he wanted the $8,100 in cash that would go to the top boat. That is big money in outboarding.
Unlike hydroplane racing or offshore powerboating, outboarding is a relatively inexpensive sport and the prizes it offers are relatively small. The $25,000 overall purse in the Havasu championship makes it the richest of all outboard races, and its prizes can be won by engines and hulls that are far cheaper than those contesting for inboard honors.
Although many of the boats at Havasu bore about as much relationship to Junior's little runabout as Ben Hur's racing chariot did to the surrey with the fringe on top, outboard racing still enjoys an identification with the man (or woman) who owns a boat and motor for weekend fun. As a result, the fields in outboard races tend to be far larger than those in most other boating events. There were more than 120 crews at Havasu, for instance, eager to contest Harold for his cup and his prize money.
Most of the 120 arrived only a day or so before the race began, and all, except Harold, meekly established their pits where they were told. Eis was different. Eis wins races and he knows the most important factor in a two-day marathon (two hours on Saturday, four on Sunday) is preparation—and preparation for the worst. As he saw it, if he needed to change one of his engines in a hurry he could speed up the process by digging a canal and burying his trailer in the canal's bed to form a sort of do-it-yourself dry dock. Then, if he should have trouble, he could simply run his boat onto the trailer, pull out the bad engine, replace it with one of the two spares he always carries in his truck and get going again in seconds. Eis originally wanted to establish his pits right below race headquarters at the Nautical Inn, within easy reach of a power line for his lights and tools. But the spot he wanted lay outside the bounds of the official pit area, and after some futile give-and-take with an adamant official who said he must pit where everyone else pitted. Eis capitulated and went to work on his private harbor.
All afternoon he and his Nebraskan crewman, Mike Hynek, toiled in the ice-cold Colorado River water. They filled sandbags to support the trailer's wheels and built a levee. At dusk on Wednesday evening they were still at it. Mrs. Eis, who doubles as Harold's pit boss, tried to get him out of the water. "You gonna catch pneumonia wading around out there," she cried. "I hope not," replied Harold, more interested in the race than a little lung trouble.
By the time Eis, still miraculously free of pneumonia, had finished his digging, some of the other drivers had begun to arrive from three countries and more than a score of states.
There was Jan Schoonover from Lima, Ohio, another driver with 110 hp Mercs on his boat. Schoonover's boat, which looks more like a Batmobile, holds his class world record of 96.008 mph. Obviously, it could do 100 mph on any of the straights on Havasu's four-mile-long, boomerang-shaped course. Other drivers out to wreck Eis's winning streak were Joe Stevens Sr. from Manteca, Calif., the winner of 19 out of 20 races; Floyd C. Murton from Hot Springs, Ark., with a record of 11 wins in seven race meets; Lou Cooley, a radio traffic monitor from Station KXOK, St. Louis, who gives his radio audience a running account of the race while driving his boat; and tall John Merritt, a gas-station operator from Westchester, Calif., who would drive the biggest boat in the race and had arrived at Havasu fresh from a victory in the grueling Salton Sea 500-mile marathon.
The man Eis feared most of all, however, was Bill Hill Jr. from Cullman, Ala., driving a Power Cat with not two but three big Mercs. "From what I seen yet," said Eis, who had spent all day Thursday trying to bait his rivals into pickup races that would burn up their engines before the marathon began, "Bill's my favorite to win."
McCulloch Properties Inc. likes to think of its Lake Havasu City as a kind of lakeside Palm Springs. By Friday night it looked more like Coney Island overrun by a mechanics' convention. On the shore a blaring carnival whirled and swooped in a miasma of cotton candy and canned music. Overlaying it were the sounds of portable generators chattering out power for trailer dwellers, and the tortured howl of someone testing his outboard engine.