There was a time, in the not too distant past, when speedsters Craig Breedlove, Lee Taylor and Pete Knight led relatively docile lives. All Breedlove had done was work the world land-speed record up to 600.6 miles per hour in his Spirit of America. Taylor had gone just under half that in setting the water-speed mark this past June in his jet-powered Hustler, and Knight, a major in the U.S. Air Force and a test pilot for the X-15 program, had sputtered along at just over 4,500 mph in the fastest flight ever made by a manned aircraft.
For all three of them, however, this blissful serenity came to an abrupt halt last week when they suddenly found themselves in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., taking part in an outboard motorboat marathon, which, since there are no other claimants and the purse is big ($27,750), bills itself as the "world outboard championship."
The appearance of Breedlove, Taylor and Knight had been planned as one huge publicity stunt, of course, since their combined times in any racing outboard motorboat before last week would not have added up to the time it took to complete one lap of the four-mile, boomerang-shaped Lake Havasu course. The closest Breedlove had come to setting any record on water was in 1964 when he wound up in the middle of a canal at the end of a trial run at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Taylor had never driven a boat in a race, although he was once towed behind one at 92 mph on a pair of water skis. And Major Knight? Well, he's currently stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California, about three sand dunes away from the middle of the Mojave Desert, and, as he blandly put it, "I don't see water too much out there."
Publicity stunt or not, however, the men responsible for the Lake Havasu regatta—particularly Press Agent Larry Laurie—quickly discovered, to their dismay, that Breedlove, Taylor and Knight were very competitive characters—experience be damned. At the start of the regatta week everything had seemed simple to Laurie. Get the guys in town, have them sign a few autographs, pose for a few pictures and get them out. In between, maybe, they could put in a few laps in a little runabout, stay away from the real drivers and in general keep out of harm's way.
But Breedlove and Taylor arrived early, and after each had taken a few laps in the tired twin-engine boat Laurie had picked out for them, they nicely, but firmly, threw a stink. The unwieldy boat, inappropriately numbered X-15, had two Chrysler 105s, but the hull was not designed to support more than one good-sized engine.
"This is like putting a blown Hemi on the end of a Go-Kart. Above 40 mph you can't control it," said Taylor.
"Gee," said Breedlove, "I understand it used to be somebody's fishing boat—and painted pink, for gosh sakes."
The third member of the team, Knight, did not arrive until Friday, the day before the first four hours of the marathon. He was spared the embarrassment of a ride in the X-15, but after a quick conversation with Breedlove and Taylor he quickly and utterly concurred.
"No sweat," said Laurie as the sweat poured from his brow, and after a frantic conversation with Jack Oxley, a West Coast representative for Chrysler Marine, he came up with U-707, a catamaran racing hull with three Chrysler 105s on her stern. After another equally frantic conversation between Oxley and the driver who was supposed to drive the 707, the team of Breedlove, Taylor and Knight was at last properly mounted, and everything looked great.
Except, of course, that Laurie's problems were now slightly compounded. All of a sudden he had the lives of three very famous people to worry about, since each, separately and alone, would be required to drive at high speed in a very fast and very unfamiliar racing craft. "Can you handle it?" he perspired. "Is it gonna be all right?" Breedlove, Taylor and Knight just smiled. Once, with Knight on the course, Breedlove—who can be very puckish away from Bonneville—grinned at Taylor. "Let's go tell Larry that Pete flipped and we need another boat. It'll drive him up the wall."