Say it ain’t so…
For the first time in modern memory, the prospect of a quiet — too quiet — summer is hanging over the Detroit riverfront. The annual hydroplane race that has brought literally millilons to the shores along Jefferson Avenue and Belle Isle is in jeopardy this year, owing to the daunting challenges of modern economics. The Detroit River Regatta Association has made preliminary plans to hold the Gold Cup, the oldest contested motorboat trophy in the world, on the weekend of June 25-27. But that date, even the majestic spectacle of the Cup race itself, is dependent on the raising of the big bucks necessary to run boat racing’s premier event in first-class style. And the clock is ticking.
Last year the Gold Cup was underwritten by Chrysler-Jeep Superstores to the tune of a quarter-million dollar donation. But that sponsor can no longer fork over the necessary funds, and the DRRA is frantically seeking gold to put the Gold Cup back on Detroit’s hallowed course. The Association has set a cut-off date of mid-April as the drop-deadline to come up with the needed dollars for the event. The group is still seeking large corporate sponsorships, and is also appealing to at least a hundred local Daddy Warbucks types to contribute $1,000 each to keep the big race in town.
Just as Detroit put the world on wheels in the 20th Century, so did it also bring speed to water with its leadership in the world of motorboat racing. And the prospect of the home city of fabled pioneer Gar Wood NOT hosting a world-class racing event seems unthinkable to local historians and fans. Whether it be the Gold Cup, the Silver Cup, the international race for the Harmsworth Trophy … Detroit and its unique riverfront course have been the home of speed on water since the first race here in 1916. The pear-shaped course has been called “The Yankee Stadium of boat racing” and DRRA honcho Mark Weber compares the prospect of not having the Gold Cup run here as akin to “Indianapolis not hosting the Indy 500.”
You don’t have to be a motor geek to love the annual race here. I still don’t know a carburetor from a hub cap, but I lucked into witnessing the 1961 race from the Belle Isle side, and have been madly hooked ever since. Crowds estimated as high as a million to as ‘low’ as 200,000 annually jam the riverfront to take in the amazing excitement that the world’s fastest boats provide. The speed, sound, spray, and danger inherent in motorboat racing are never more beautifully on display anywhere in the world than here in Detroit. In just the years that I have watched in open-mouthed amazement, legends such as Wild Bill Cantrell, Bill Muncey, Chip Hanauer and Fred Alter have sliced the water into towering roostertails in their beautiful three-point craft.
Similarly, champions like Bob Hayward, local idol Chuck Thompson, and Colonel Warner Gardner have given their lives chasing the goddess of speed on the demanding waters of our river. All of them died here in the tumultuous decade of the 1960s. Detroit owes it to their memories to continue the traditions that live in the hearts of the hundreds of thousands who trek back to the river each summer to witness worldwide racing’s premier water event. The technology has jumped from airplane engines to turbines; and the magic our race provides has survived world wars and the upheavals of time. Let’s hope it lives to impress and dazzle the world yet again … and again … and again.