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Too fast for the three fastest
Kim Chapin
December 04, 1967
A trio of records on land, sea and air failed to intimidate the speedy outboard racers on Lake Havasu
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December 04, 1967

Too Fast For The Three Fastest

A trio of records on land, sea and air failed to intimidate the speedy outboard racers on Lake Havasu

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No one, of course, gave the three any chance of winning the marathon. Tinker Collinge of Anaheim, Calif. said, "The first time they carve a doughnut [spin out] in the race, look back and see five boats bearing down on them, they'll start to wonder what it is all about." And Dick Lucero, the assistant race director and an ex-driver, said, "It would be like putting me in a Formula Vee. No way."

Oblivious to this sort of conversation, the three spent their free moments talking about the many things they have in common. Breedlove is building a boat to go after Taylor's water-speed record and asked Taylor all sorts of questions. Taylor responded, "I know—I am convinced—I can go faster than a land-speed car in the Hustler."

Breedlove and Taylor in turn asked Knight about his jet engines and heard some weird technical explanations.

The expectable ribbers who joshed the three were led by another racer whose presence might at first have seemed to be the result of further press-agentry. He was Mike Reagan, the 22-year-old son of the governor of California. Saturday morning, just before the flare was shot to start the first half of the race, Mike walked by Breedlove's table and said, "Don't forget. Turn, baby, turn."

Roughly, marathon racing is to outboard motorboating what Le Mans is to auto racing—but oh what a difference in the racecourses. Lake Havasu, set in a valley between the Mojave and Chemehuevi mountains, is not really a lake but a dammed-up section of the Colorado River. Although the water is calm under normal conditions, there is always a 7-mph current. This is the first of the hazards faced by the drivers. The second is the boats themselves. Their overgrown power plants churn up white water and send wakes back and forth to batter each other like sniper bullets. The result is a fiendish chop with troughs that are sometimes three feet deep. Even in a calm lake there is very little smooth water in the course of an afternoon's racing. As a consequence of the skittering and porpoising, four boats had sunk at the end of the first four hours, seven flipped, and more than 20 were beached, with good-size hunks out of their hulls. Of the 126 starters, only 73 were running at the end of the first day.

The Breedlove-Taylor-Knight boat was not among them. Taylor was chosen as starting driver, with unanimous instructions from the others to just "survive the first two hours and figure out what's happening." He obeyed halfway, surviving the first hour well, driving relatively slowly at first but keeping clear of the vast hordes that often bunched around the four-mile course. Slowly he picked up his speed and twice on relatively smooth straights managed to match speeds with the leader boats.

Then, shortly after the one-hour mark, while rounding a series of three turn buoys, a little single-engine runabout spun to the front and to the left of 707, kicking up a huge spray and soaking Taylor's engines with water. All three died, and 707 was towed in. The 12 laps Taylor had completed put him ahead of 29 boats overall. "The boat was flooding," said Taylor to Breedlove and Knight, "but I wanted to make sure you guys got a chance in it tomorrow."

Well, Breedlove got his chance but, thanks to a 22-knot wind that added just one more squirrelly element to the already dangerous conditions, Knight never did get into the boat. About 90 minutes into the second four hours and just beyond the turn where Taylor had had his mishaps a day earlier, Breedlove slapped a wave which lifted the front end of his boat high into the air. Then the wind got under it, raised its bow even higher and suddenly the world land-speed record holder found himself in the cold waters of the lake.

Fortunately, the boat did not land on its back but did a flip in midair, slammed back down right side up and growled angrily in circles around Breedlove. He managed to get back into the boat, found the two outside engines still running and refused to accept the offer of a tow, which would have disqualified him. As he attempted to start off again, he learned he had no control. The steering was jammed, and that was it. He rode 707 in behind the towboat, teeth chattering and sporting a good-size bruise on his right arm. But he was still smiling. "These people are crazy," he said.

That brought the crowd's interest back to the professional drivers, and when the signal flares ending the race went up at 3 p.m., the winner was a boat owned jointly by young Reagan and Rudy Ramos. Ramos and Bill Cooper did most of the driving, but it was Reagan, in his first outboard competition (he drives about 10 inboard races a year), who was in the boat when it received the checkered flag. By that time Breedlove, Taylor and Knight were headed back to California to resume their more humdrum careers.

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