One of the glories of sport is its refusal to be cautious and prudent. What cautious man would dare Everest? What prudent man would stand in and swing at Nolan Ryan's fastball? And, indeed, who in his right, weigh-it-out mind would dabble in the outlandish game of offshore powerboat racing, where the boats are fiendishly expensive, the purses nonexistent or absurdly small and the risks to life and limb all too real? Well, take Robert Magoon, 38, the distinguished Miami Beach eye surgeon. In the operating room Bob Magoon is the soul of prudence. But on the water he stands a 1,200-horsepower racer up on its tail at speeds of 75 miles an hour and more and socks it to one and all.
Last week, in what may have been the classiest event in offshore racing's modern history, Magoon, the U.S. champion for 1971 and '72 (and the outboard champ for 1969-70), went into the lead in his try for a third straight inboard title by socking it to as fascinating a field of rivals as these kidney-kicking boats have seen. This was the fourth annual Hennessy Grand Prix, put on by the cognac people over a 181-mile Atlantic Ocean triangle stretching from Point Pleasant, N.J. to Fire Island off Long Island's south shore, to a buoy off New York's Rockaway Beach, and back to Point Pleasant again. Part of the course was a bash up and down the coast adjacent to Point Pleasant so that a large fleet of spectator boats and scores of thousands of standees on the Jersey shore could have a close-up look.
Magoon won in a woolly finish by a mere three seconds (for a mere $2,000) from an imprudent publisher from Milan, Giorgio Mondadori, an unexpected visitor to American racing. Signor Mondadori, 56 years old, is obviously no stripling, but if a mature man wants to shove an 80-mph dart over Atlantic swells on a magnificent day in July, who is to say him nay? And if he has had the exceptional good sense to borrow the boat from a friend, not shell out $40,000 for it, then bravo.
Mondadori's friend, a brand-new one, is Sandy Satullo, at 51 no kid himself, the owner of a restaurant in Rocky River, Ohio called the Copper Kettle, after which he names his boats. The boat he loaned to Mondadori was a 36-foot Cigarette in which he, Satullo, had captured last year's Grand Prix—the only one not won by Bob Magoon. This time Satullo thought he had something hotter, a slick new 40-footer made of that old-fashioned stuff, wood (all the others are fiberglass), by Gara Boats of North Miami, an emerging rival for Don Aronow and his conquering Cigarettes. So where did Satullo finish? Third, two minutes and 20 seconds behind Mondadori.
Several elements gave the Hennessy its extra dash of quality: Satullo's prototype and another 40-foot Gara, a new 40-foot Cigarette entered by Roger Penske of auto racing achievement and a 38-foot Bertram (a name that dominated offshore racing in the late '50s and early '60s) driven by Sammy James, with Astronaut Gordon Cooper as co-pilot.
So it was Magoon against the world, Aronow against the non-Cigarettes and, not least, Carl Kiekhaefer, mechanical wizard of the ocean sea, against MerCruiser power packages from Mercury Marine, a company he formerly owned. Today Kiekhaefer builds Aeromarine power plants based on a beltless Chevy engine; MerCruiser puts together a more conventional unit that also starts with a Chevy engine. In order, the winners were Magoon—at an average speed of 73.86 miles an hour—Aronow and Kiekhaefer.
It was late morning when the big boats—19 of them—moved down New Jersey's Manasquan Inlet toward the sea, candy-wrapper bright and latent with power. They passed jetties barnacled with people, gazing at the rakish hulls as ancient peoples might have looked upon fleets set with bright sails also bound for dangerous waters. About the boats, too, there was an aura of romance—in the look of them, in the reputations of their drivers.
Offshore powerboat racing is seldom a spectator sport, but the Hennessy people, with a limited market among sea gulls, did what they could for the viewers by starting the race with three passes close along the shore. From there the boats were wonderful to watch—close together, 22 to 40 feet long, skipping off the swells like stones across a pond. As Magoon had pointed out before the race, there was danger in the pack—nine-thousand-pound boats are not stones—and as the leaders headed to sea he was running sixth, intentionally. Penske was eighth, or rather Jerry Simison was eighth. Penske had left some doubt as to what he would be doing during the race, and now Simison, a man of some boat-racing experience, was steering while Roger handled the throttles. Together they were more than a mile behind Magoon, who in turn had some water to make up on Mondadori and another Italian, the whippet-thin veteran Vincenzo Balestrieri who, since Magoon does not race in Europe, is leading in the world championship, which he won in '68 and '70.
It is 50 miles from Point Pleasant to Fire Island Inlet, and halfway across Magoon took the lead. He was a minute up on Mondadori at the Fire Island checkpoint and two minutes ahead of James' Whittaker Moppie as the new Bertram was called (Whittaker for the firm that now owns Bertram Yacht, Moppie for the deep-vee hull design from which all these boats have descended).
In the Bertram, Astronaut Cooper was serving as James' navigator. Said James: "He's tough. He ain't gonna fall down and cry if the going gets rough." It was Cooper who took over the landing of a Mercury space capsule in 1963 from its faltering automatic system and put it down "right on the old gazoo." Off Fire Island the gazoo eluded him. Whittaker Moppie took a very wide turn at the Fire Island buoy—2� miles wide, it was calculated—and in no time was eight minutes down to Magoon. By then the good doctor was leading Mondadori by five minutes. In all fairness to Cooper, though, he has been accustomed to having more room to navigate in.