Woody Boater has opened many doors for me over the last few years, and yesterday was one of those days to remember. If you are a regular viewer here at Woody Boater you know that I am a big fan of all forms of motor sports, and throughout the month of March there is a lot of stuff going on here in Florida.
After attending the huge Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance and RM Auction last weekend, we headed 3 hours south to central Florida where we could easily commute via motorcycle to the various motor sports venues this weekend. Two hours south of the Mission Inn in Howey-in-the-Hills was Sebring International Raceway where the American Le Mans series was preparing for the 61st running of the Mobil 1 – 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race, held on Saturday. It was fun to get down there to check out the practice and qualifying earlier in the week.
Then on Thursday afternoon it was time to head over to Daytona Beach for Daytona Bike Week and Daytona International Speedway for some AMA Motorcycle Racing which was great. I have never seen so many motorcycles in one place, it’s like every Harley-Davidson ever made was in Daytona at once.
Yesterday we planned to attend the Classic Raceboat Association Spring Thunder Regatta being held all weekend in Tavares’ Wooten Park on the shores of Lake Dora. This event begins two weeks of classic boating events at Lake Dora, with the big Sunnyland ACBS Wooden Boat Festival next weekend.
Our visit to Lake Dora yesterday began with a short one-hour ride from Daytona Beach through the Florida countryside where we arrived in Tavares just before lunch. A classic car show was also running across the street from Wooten Park and the perfect weather attracted tons of people for both events. After finding a parking spot we grabbed the camera bag and made our way into the busy race boat pit area, where the boats were being prepared for the demonstration runs on Lake Dora.
At the entrance to the pit area was fellow Woody Boater / Miss Canada IV Restoration Team member Jamie Smith who greeted us with a warm smile and a handshake. I asked Jamie “Is there any chance that we could get out on the lake to shoot some photos of the race boats for a Woody Boater report?” – and within minutes Jamie introduced me to the nice folks from the Classic Raceboat Association who were organizing the event. A few minutes later I signed a media waver, had a special wrist band and was instructed to make my way down to the dock and they would arrange for me to join a professional photographer and another fellow who would be driving the photo boat.
So there I was, still wearing my Harley-Davidson boots and Daytona Bike Week tee shirt, looking completely out of place headed out to the inside of Turn 1 with two guys I had never met before. The professional photographer had 3 giant Nikon cameras on board, 2 with lenses the size of trash cans and there I was with my pea shooter camera… thinking “what did I get myself into this time?”
Well – I quickly learned that I was out in the middle of Lake Dora (on a pontoon boat) with none other than Howie Benns, winning driver of Bernie Little’s legendary Miss Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane from the early 1970’s along with F. Peirce Williams, one of the top motorsports photographers in the country!
Shooting race boat demonstrations from a fixed position inside a race course can be described as short periods of excitement with long periods of waiting for the next group of race boats to gather on the course at once. For almost four hours we shared some wonderful stories of boat racing and motorsports, and although F. Peirce has been photographing various types motorsports his entire career, his love and knowledge of vintage (and modern) boat racing is remarkable. And his photography speaks for itself.
Many different types of vintage race boats are on hand for this years CRA Spring Thunder Regatta, and tomorrow we will do our best to share some photographs of those boats with you. But today, to show our appreciation for the contribution that Howie Benns made to unlimited boat racing and the contribution that F. Peirce Williams is making to vintage (and modern) power boat racing with his spectacular photography, today that’s were we are heading.
MISS US U-36 is a recently restored 1957 32′ Henry Lauterbach designed & built unlimited hydroplane featured at Lake Dora this weekend. The stunning red race boat is powered by a V 1710 Allison V12 and driven this weekend by noted driver Jack Schafer. After some minor teething problems caused by what we understand was a faulty magneto, the crew did manage to get the big hydroplane running beautifully for some late afternoon laps on Lake Dora – up on the water where the vintage hydroplane works best.
F. Peirce captured some great shots of Miss US when Jack Schafer got her up to speed…
And Jack gave us the “thumbs up” as he rounded Turn 1 on Lake Dora in the bright late afternoon sunshine.
In 2012 Bill DeGlopper & Jay Armstrong wrote a great story titled “The Rebirth of George Simon’s U-36, Miss US IV – a Henry Lauterbach Unlimited Hydroplane from 1956” on Old Boats Buffalo – Niagara Frontier Antique and Classic Boats Inc. – Check it out.
Unlimited / Limited hydroplane driver Howie Benns (shown below – center) was truly amazing to talk to yesterday, and to watch his facial expressions when the boats came by us in Turn 1 was great. We spoke about his days driving Miss Budweiser for Bernie Little, and he said it was a pleasure to drive for Bernie. On Sunday morning before the final race began, Bernie would say to Howie “It’s payday today Howie” and smile…
From our friends at the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum, here’s some history on Howie Benns.
Howie Benns Question:
By Fred Farley – ABRA Unlimited Historian
I would like to know how many Unlimited races Howie Benns won during his career. He was a very popular Grand Prix driver in Quebec and won the Valleyfield race three times (in 1973, 1988, and 1991). – Pierre Vezina
Howie Benns drove Unlimited hydroplanes between 1974 and 1977. In most of his races, he drove for Bernie Little’s MISS BUDWEISER team.
When Dean Chenoweth temporarily retired from the MISS BUD after 1973, Little asked APBA Inboard Commissioner Bob Wanamaker who was the best Limited driver in the country. Wanamaker assured Little that person was Benns.
Howie won his very first Unlimited race–the 1974 Champion Spark Plug Regatta at Miami Marine Stadium. That doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it’s only happened four times in the last fifty years. (The others were Jack Regas in 1954, Gene Whipp in 1973, and Dave Villwock in 1992.) Benns drove MISS BUDWEISER to two more victories in 1974: the Gar Wood Trophy at Detroit and the Desert Thunderboat Regatta at Phoenix. Howie’s chief competition in 1974 was George Henley in the PAY ‘n PAK, owned by Dave Heerensperger. Benns and Henley staged some truly sensational side-by-side duels during that memorable campaign.
Here’s a some great video from the 1974 Seattle Gold Cup – Heat 1
Howie Benns Miss Budweiser U-12 vs George Henley Miss Pay’N Pack U-1
Special thanks to Jamie Smith and the nice folks from the Classic Raceboat Association for making this memorable day possible, and to Howie Benns and F. Peirce Williams for sharing their stories and knowledge with me yesterday – It was a day I always remember. – Texx
These events also provide a unique opportunity for future generations to experience vintage boat racing, which we all know is very important. When I see an enthusiastic young man learning first hand about these vintage race boats, it’s encouraging.