Black Sunday: a day of tragedy in hydroplane speed boat racing

Black Sunday: a day of tragedy when three race car drivers died on the same day
Black Sunday: a day of tragedy when three speed boat drivers died on the same day
On Sunday, June 19, 1966, three experienced hydro speed boat drivers died on the same day in Washington, D.C.., vying for the President’s Cup, in the Potomac River Basin.

The first driver, popular Ron Musson died in in a spectacular collision.  Although the race conditions were less than ideal, race officials forged ahead with the rest of the race   Hours later, however, two more drivers died;  Rex Manchester and Don Wilson died in another catastrophic event when their boats collided.

Black Sunday shook the racing world, especially the Gold Coast Marathon, now attracting more than two hundred boats of all kinds from all over the world.  It was impossible for race officials there to maintain safety with that many boats in the water.

Race officials put limits on the boats, pressing 200 mph. Race conditions were more carefully watched.  In the case of the Gold Coast Marathon, it took a death before the Coast Guard stopped rhe running of the race on the Intracoastal. Driver’s helmets were harder and reinforced in the back of the neck to prevent cervical fractures and the possibility of permanent damage to the spinal cord and paralysis of the arms and legs.

The opening of the Miami Marine Stadium offered the possibility of an oval race course and other less interesting races.  Still, later on, a death occurred when a famous Italian hydro speed boat racer died after a collision while the driver’s widow watched the gruesome event from the stands.  For several years, off-shore racing attracted several times more powerful 7-liter hydros like “Miss Budweiser” and other commercially-sponsored name branded hydros at tremendous corporate expense.  In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Alan Vordermeier both drove and brought to the table the large corporate sponsors necessary to fund the hydros, drivers, mechanics and other support staff able to commit the time to race for months at a time in venues throughout the country and occasionally in Canada.

Black Sunday still places an indelible mark upon the memories of the “old-timers’, some like Stu Wilson, who as a 28-year-old first-timer, won the 1956 Gold Coast Marathon.  Stu died a few months ago in his 80’s.  His were the golden years of speed boat racing when boats of every class competed in a single race.  October 19, 2015.

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