Regatta a big part of Taylor’s life

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By Dave Taylor

The year was 1959: Ron Musson enjoyed his first career win in unlimited hydroplane racing by capturing the Indiana Governor’s Cup race in a boat named Hawaii Kai III.

That race stands out vividly in my mind because it was the first unlimited race I ever saw. Standing on the riverbank at the foot of Madison’s Ferry Street I was overcome with excitement as the roar of the World War II-vintage fighter-plane engines rattled my bones and echoed through the hills and “hollers” of the Ohio River valley.

Visually, the unlimiteds of that day were as spectacular to watch as those of today’s design, trailing lengthy plumes of propeller spray – called roostertails – in their wake. Audibly, they were much more spectacular than the turbine-powered boats of today. On that day, a breeze from the Kentucky shoreline wafted a thin mist of roostertail vapor onto the face of the 7-year-old watching from the water’s edge in Indiana.

I returned to that same location on Sunday to shoot a few pictures of the 2009 version of the Governor’s Cup race, catching the hydroplanes in action as they exited the upper turn on the 2½-mile Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course. I reflected on the 50-year journey I have taken as a hydroplane racing fan, journalist, broadcaster and promoter.

I was president of the Madison Regatta committee in 1990 and 1996, and served 15 years on the organization’s board of directors. It was at my suggestion during my last term as president that the  the race course was named in honor of the late hydro-racer Bill Cantrell. Then-state representative and former Madison Mayor Mark L. Lytle arranged for a beautiful bronze plaque to commemorate Cantrell’s career. Former unlimited driver and Madison resident Jon Peddie, and long-time enthusiast and boat crewman Dave Johnson found a large boulder, which they had  moved to the riverfront near the regatta judges’ stand to be used as a base for Lytle’s plaque. It was dedicated that July as Peddie scattered Cantrell’s ashes in the race course that would thereafter bear his name.

Cantrell had been a long-time friend. He would call me with news tips when I was a sports reporter in the 1980s. On his behalf, I attended ceremonies in Detroit, Mich., to accept his trophy in 1992 when Bill was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame in America. That evening I got to hang out with the likes of car designer Carroll Shelby, Indy winner Parnelli Jones, NASCAR great Bobby Allison, Michael and Jeff Andretti and others. I met a niece of the late aviator Amelia Earhart, who was inducted into the Hall in the Air Racing category that evening.

I met many of the greats in powerboat racing while traveling from coast to coast and even to Hawaii as public address announcer and radio and television commentator in the 1980s and ’90s. Some of my favorite interviews involved the late Bill Muncey, 1985 Madison winner Steve Reynolds and today’s Oh Boy! Oberto driver, Steve David.

David, now 55, is a good friend who has been at this game on this level for more than 20 years. I told him Sunday I wasn’t going to let him even think about retiring until he has won boat racing’s most prestigious event, the American Power Boat Association Gold Cup. David has won just about everywhere else, including a victory at Madison in his first year as helmsman for the Oberto team.

The accident in which Jean Theoret was critically injured Saturday reminds us that even with all the safety elements incorporated into the sport since the deaths of top drivers Muncey and Dean Chenoweth in 1981 and ’82, it remains a dangerous sport.

Jean (pronounced Zhawn) has had many years of racing success in Canada and across the U.S. He has become very popular with legions of unlimited racing fans since taking the helm of the U-37. Like David, Theoret is very public with his Christian beliefs. I pray he’ll have a speedy and full recovery.

Economically, the future of unlimited racing, like all forms of motor sports, is a big question mark at best. But as the economy recovers, look for a strong competitive future in unlimited hydroplane racing as today’s young guns mature into the top guns of tomorrow.

I already have it marked down in my date book to return in another 50 years to that spot at the foot of Ferry Street for the regatta. By then they’ll probably be using government-surplus space-shuttle engines to power the hydroplanes. Then we’ll really make some noise. Maybe you’ll be there, too. The light mist of water swept by the breeze across your face will be me saying hello.

Dave Taylor is a Trimble County native and is a reporter for The News-Democrat in Carroll County.