Col. Warner Gardner proved his opening hydroplane victory of the season was no fluke and took another step toward a national title while maintaining the winning monopoly for Washington State Sunday in the Tri-Cities.
Gardner piloted the Spokane-based Miss Eagle Electric to two straight elimination heat victories, then left the rest of the field in his wake in the final to capture the championship in the third running of the Atomic Cup unlimited hydroplane race on the Columbia River.
The Inland Empire Eagle outran former Atomic Cup winner Miss Budweiser in the finals, while favored defending champion Miss Bardahl sat dead in the water, to take the $5,000 first prize and post its second win in four tour stops this season.
The annual Tri-City spectacular came off like clockwork under ideal racing conditions before a crowd estimated by Water Follies officials at 60,000, which jammed both shores of the Columbia.
Never miss a local story.
Gardner's 45-mile average established a record 102.913 mph, eclipsing the mark of 101.234 set last year by Miss Bardahl with Billy Schumacher behind the wheel. Eagle also recorded top 2 1/2-mile lap speed of 109.400.
It marked a bitter defeat for Seattle's Bardahl, which had won two consecutive races on the tour and was an easy victor in its first two heats. But the defending champion went dead in the backchute with a blown engine while making a charge at Eagle Electric in the second lap of the finals.
Ironically, the consolation Mira Slovak Trophy Race was won by Jim McCormick in Harrah's Club - the same boat Slovak was supposed to drive on the unlimited circuit this year before he was seriously injured in an airplane crash.
Joining the tour's hot boats -Eagle Electric, Bardahl and Budweiser - in the finals were Bob Miller in Atlas Van Lines and Jack Regas in Notre Dame.
The start of the final heat was a dandy, although Bardahl was a little late getting into position and got shoved to the outside. All five boats bit the line at full bore, but Budweiser held a slight edge and was ahead out of the first turn, followed closely by Eagle and Bardahl.
The Spokane boat charged up the outside, took over the lead in the backchute and led the field at the end of the first lap. Eagle and Bud were tight out of the turn and Bardahl started making its move up the inside when the engine blew.
Budweiser remained close on the heels of Eagle Electric for another lap, but Gardner starting pulling away in the straight-aways and opened a good lead after four laps. The Eagle kept increasing the distance the rest of the way and crossed the finish line with an average speed of 105.882 mph just as Bud was starting its entrance into the last turn.
In overall standings, Bill Sterett and the Bud took second place for $3,700, Notre Dame was third for $2,700 and Bardahl fourth for $2,100. Bardahl and Schumacher retained their leads in national point standings, while Gardner and the Eagle advanced from fifth to second, 600 points off the pace.
In the Slovak Trophy Race, My Gypsy, Parco's O-Ring Miss, Gale's Roostertail and Savair's Mist all jumped the gun - which unknowningly made things easy for the winning Harrah's Club because the other four had to make an extra lap.
Roostertail led for the first two laps, with Harrah's hanging back in fourth place. Gypsy running as a alternate when Smirnoff elected not to compete because of handling problems, overtook Roostertail on the far turn and zoomed past on the outside to take the lead to stay. Harrah's, who had fast time of 104.651 in the fifth lap, gradually moved up to challenge after passing Roostertail and Savair but never caught up.
Eagle Electric led all the way in winning Heat 1-C, with an average speed of 106.635. Eagle got a flying start and led out of the first turn by a comfortable margin. Rookie Tommy Fults spun out in the corner and nearly flipped, tearing chrome stripping off the right sponson and knocking the boat out of the second heat. Notre Dame challenged briefly in the third lap, but Gardner stepped on it and ran away.
The Eagle also led all the way in winning Heat 2-A, but had a scare at the finish. Eagle was running rough, coughing and sputtering, and nearly conked out in the first turn of the fourth lap. Atlas was coming on strong and was right on Gardner's tail when he finally got the Spokane boat churning again.
Eagle pulled ahead on the backchute of the last lap only to lose power again just 200 yards from the finish line. Gardner was trying desperately to get the boat across the finish while Atlas came charging down the stretch. Eagle managed to nose out the win by a scant two seconds.
Bardahl easily won heats 1-B and 2-B, posting averages speed of 105.592 and 101.427, respectively, without being pressed in either. Fascination, Bob Gilliam's Seattle latecomer which finally qualified early Sunday morning at 95 mph, sheared a propeller pin after two laps in last place in the second heat and never ventured back onto the course.
Notre Dame was the winner of the other elimination race, Heat 2-C, with an average speed of 104.976.