Saturday At The Classic Raceboat Association Spring Thunder – A Day To Remember


Photo courtesy – F. Peirce Williams

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.


Photo courtesy – F. Peirce Williams

F. Peirce captured some great shots of Miss US when Jack Schafer got her up to speed…


Photo courtesy – F. Peirce Williams

And Jack gave us the “thumbs up” as he rounded Turn 1 on Lake Dora in the bright late afternoon sunshine.


Photo courtesy – F. Peirce Williams

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…

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Miss Budweiser Driver Howie Benns (center) – Photo by Texx

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

To learn more about F. Peirce Williams and his photography you can Click Here to go directly to his website.

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.

Lake Dora CRA Saturday - Slot 2 005 - Copy

2013 CRA Spring Thunder Land Display – Photo by Texx


16 replies
  1. Philip Andrew
    Philip Andrew says:

    Go that Pay n Pak ! What a cool bit of history. I always used to wonder why they named those boats after brands. Just realised its because the commentators say your brand name 200 times in a single race. Marketing 101. Duh

  2. Texx
    Texx says:

    Yes – Pay ‘n Pak was a home improvement chain of stores that was based out of Kent, Washington.

    They sponsored unlimited hydroplanes from the mid 1970’s, and one of the first turbine powered unlimited hydroplanes in 1980 when it crashed and the sponsorship ended.

    • Doug P
      Doug P says:

      Pay n Pak was changed to Eagle and then bought by Lowes.
      Here is another Tex at Seattle Gold Cup.
      Probably the best driver of all

  3. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    This story really got me going on a Sunday morning. Sunshine, flat water and spending the day with the great thunder boats and their royalty. Texx, how do you get so lucky? I am truely jealous. Keep it up!

  4. floyd r turbo
    floyd r turbo says:

    Charmed life, Texx, doesn’t get any better than that. Boat ppl are so accommodating as you already know. And a tip ‘o the hat to Jamie Smith, he’s a great guy. Remember meeting him in Port Carling, he was so excited I had come up from Atlanta to the spring tour to see Miss Canada. Hope to chat with him again in Tavares.

  5. Alex
    Alex says:

    Wow. Nirvana Texx style.

    So how do you top this? Bumping into Jackie Stewart at the Piggly Wigly? Alain Prost at the 7 Eleven? Mario Andretti at the Chic Fil A? Sebastian Loeb at the… well you get the point.

    Awesome experience. Can’t think of anyone who would get more of a rise out of it.

  6. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    Cool day Texx, but remember, you are more famous than those guys in Woodyboaterville. I hope they were honored to meet you!

  7. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    Great reporting! Have been there the last couple of years for this event, but could’t make it this year. Thanks Texx, it was almost the same!

  8. WoodyGal
    WoodyGal says:

    CRA are a great bunch of folks and they do a good job of putting on these races and making everything
    run smoothly.

  9. Jamie Smith
    Jamie Smith says:

    Texx, it was great to have you on site yesterday. Watching Miss US IV run yesterday was exciting. Too bad you missed to-day because Jay Armstrong and his team really got the boat cranked up late this am and again this afternoon. Music to my ears as the boat passed in front of the shoreline heading into turn one!

    It won’t be long before we put Miss Canada IV into the water. The Test Team is meeting to write the test plan in mid April so that we’ll be ready for testing after the ice goes out. We’ll keep you in the loop.

    The ACBS Spring Tour is on April 27. We have a very special event planned for people visiting Tom Adams shop in Port Carling. More on the event to come for WoodyBoater followers soon.

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