So far, nobody had built a boat that could touch the Slo-Mos; but 1953 brought more trouble. Three days before the Gold Cup, Slo-Mo V whipped a broken propeller through her bottom, sending Lou Fageol out of the cockpit in record time while the crazily spinning shaft reached for the seat of his trousers. The boat was beached?in time to save her from a total loss, but even round-the-clock work couldn't fix the $5,000 damage in time for the race. It was up to Slo-Mo IV again, and Joe Taggart and Lou Fageol brought her home once more at 92.571 mph for a third race record.
Meanwhile, Slo-Mo V continued to balk. In the Silver Cup at Detroit she developed trouble in an early lap and retired. During trials at Martinsville, W. Va. she blew up and seemed gone for good. Only in the President's Cup at Washington, D.C. did the boat show to any advantage. She stayed patched long enough to win that one.
But Stan Sayres is a stubborn man. He studied the Merlin some more and made some changes, and in 1954 he showed up with the same combination?the Merlin in Slo-Mo V and the Allison in Slo-Mo IV. In this, his fifth year as the boss man of the fastest motor-boats in the world, he faced his biggest challenge. By the time the year was well under way, more than a dozen boats were scheduled for the Gold Cup?and every one of them looked almost exactly like a Slo-Mo. One Californian auto racer, in fact, announced his intention of getting the cup "even if I have to spend a million to do it." Sayres takes him seriously; the Californian has the million and Sayres doesn't.
With this kind of competition, Slo-Mos and racing now dominate Sayres's life completely. What started as a personal hobby has now been publicly accepted by the entire city of Seattle. People there now speak of "our boats." This gives Stan Sayres a warm feeling of oneness with his community, but it has ended privacy for him and his family. From May to September the Sayres residence is a hotel, with anywhere from 10 to 20 extra mouths to feed at every meal in the racing weeks?crew members, manufacturer's representatives, friends and even, now and then, complete strangers.
Once Madeleine Sayres asked her husband to introduce her to a man whom she had seen around for several days. Sayres didn't know him either. But to the guest it was simple. "I've always been interested in boats," he said, "and I just wanted to watch while you got ready for the race." Yes, he assured them, the food was fine, and he'd love to meet members of the family, any time.
The inevitable fringe of lunatics and gamblers also has put in its appearance. Calls demanding information?"the real inside dope"?became so frequent and insistent that Sayres had to resort to an unlisted phone. Night prowlers showed up so often that it became necessary to round up volunteers to patrol the grounds for weeks before a race. And the guest list swelled to the point where a catering organization had to be brought in at race time.
Sometimes, but not often, there have been complaints from neighbors, but Sayres has grown relaxed about them. The only calls he has had recently were from an elderly lady who threatened to get the seagoing police if Sayres didn't stop ruining her bulkhead with his wake (an easy one, since a Slo-Mo at 100 mph leaves less wake than a rowboat) and from a minister who inquired if the Slo-Mos would be running on a certain Sunday afternoon. Expecting trouble, Sayres admitted that they probably would.
"Well, I just wondered," said the minister, "if you'd mind having one of them come in close to my house. I have some guests, and I'd like to be sure that they see them."
Not only the boats but the Sayreses' home has become a prime attraction for the curious. Their wide-windowed house is just an hour's pleasant cruise from most of Seattle's boat moorings, where several thousand boats tie up. So any sunny summer afternoon is likely to bring a procession around the point, with all heads turned toward the house and the Slo-Mo sheds. "If the water were any deeper," Sayres said recently, "I think they'd come right through the windows. It's a little embarrassing when you go for a drink of water in your undershirt and see three boatloads of people looking in."
These, however, are minor anxieties compared to the big irritation in Stan Sayres's life. He is now 57 years old, and out of 16 races or tries for records in the boats which he created he has driven in only four?twice on exhibitions, twice on straightaway speed runs. The boss man wants to run a boat himself, but his blood pressure, his family, his friends and his business associates just won't let him.