Driver Fageol's near-tragic mishap with Slo-Mo V—in which he miraculously escaped death but went to the hospital with broken ribs and spinal injuries after averaging 124 mph for two and a half laps—indirectly ended the argument. The flying start was banned and Sayres announced that he was through with racing after 1955. But tension mounted hour by hour as the gleaming, high-finned, roaring boats hurtled through tests on the lake and as mechanics toiled round the clock to repair the awful mechanical attrition caused by strains on bearings, shafts, propellers and power plants.
At five minutes to one on race day it reached a peak. A dreamy silence lay over the miles of humanity packed along the shore of the smooth blue lake, over the thousand yachts and cruisers moored side by side for miles around the course, over green hills and headlands which stood up against the blue summer sky beyond them. The silence was broken by a growing thunder. One by one, 10 hydroplanes were floated, one by one their exhaust stacks coughed, belched smoke, rumbled, and one by one they began a slow jockeying for a position from which they could accelerate to the start.
Time passed slowly, achingly. Then suddenly the mass muttering became a brazen, bull-like bellowing, and 10 sinister shapes came hurtling south down the lake, dwarfed by the enormous lashing white curtains of water flying behind their sterns. A flash of yellow, of red, of mahogany, of blue, of orange—then what looked like high moving fountains marched off into the distance in uneven formation. The race was on. Then applause began rolling down the shoreline—Slo-Mo IV, the red boat, the boat which could keep all this grandeur for yet another year, was speeding in the lead.
The flying curtains of white water became fewer almost immediately. As Danny Foster hit the north turn in Lombardo's Tempo VII the cover of his gasoline tank broke. A gout of gasoline sloshed out, touched the exhaust stacks, became a bright billow of searing flame. He ducked and chopped his throttle, the fire went out and he sat up again, out of the race and with a badly burned right arm. Henry Kaiser's Scooter II hit some drifting debris, filled and sank almost immediately. But Slo-Mo hurried on, eight times around the three-and-three-quarter-mile course and then took the checkered flag.
Next time out, Slo-Mo attempted to hug Gale V, hottest competition in the first heat, at the start and fell irrevocably behind. But orange Miss Thrift-way, driven by chunky young Bill Muncey, burst into the lead and kept it to the end with an average of 100.944 mph. All around the lake the crowds breathed more easily: two Seattle boats were now tied with 625 points, and Detroit's threat to steal away the bauble of civic pride seemed remote and pale. But back at the pits, Detroit's trailing owners and drivers were gathered in emergency session around young Lee Schoenith, driver of Gale V.
"I haven't got a chance," said Schoenith, "unless I win the third heat. I'm gonna win."
"Yeah," cried his teammate Bill Cantrell, "quit coasting!"
But George Simon, dark-haired owner and driver of Detroit's Miss United States—which was out of the race with a broken supercharger shaft—had another idea. Figuring intently with pencil and pad he arrived at the conclusion that Gale V's average speed might be much closer to that of either Seattle boat than anyone believed. He eyed Detroit Bakery Man Jack Schafer, a broad-shouldered, jovial man who looks for all the world like the captain of a tramp freighter. Schafer pushed back his white yachting cap and beckoned to Walt Kade, a 51-year old Packard Motor Co. engineer who drives his big, twin engined Such Crust III.
HIDING AT 100 MPH
As Kade walked up Simon said: "You gotta block that IV, even if you go over the line too soon. You've got nothing to lose, and if it works we'll have the cup back in Detroit." Kade shrugged. But as the field ran for the start of the third and crucial heat Such Crust was hugging the pole out in front of the pack—and Detroit's Miss Cadillac was running exactly parallel off to her right. The maneuver failed—Joe Taggart gunned Slo-Mo between the two with a terrific burst of acceleration, burst in front and fled for the south turn, opening water on the field. But Such Crust, rolling ponderously in second, was to find other work to do before the race was over.