(Reprinted from Science and Mechanics, June, 1937) My Greatest Thrill!
by Gar Wood
The ace of motor boat drivers tells of that moment in a long and exciting life out of which he got the biggest kick. Gar Wood’s name has been synonymous with speed on the water ever since motor boat racing took its place among popular and dangerous sports. The Editors of Science and Mechanics felt that in his long career, there must have been one moment that stands out in his memory above all other. They put the questions directly to him. He answered it just as directly. Here is the answer!
When I was asked what was the greatest thrill I ever experienced during my racing career, it didn’t take me long to recall the time when, in 1920, I won my first Harmsworth trophy race in England. This race was the one which gave me the outstanding thrill of my racing career, for I won new honors for America and brought the famous trophy back to our shores.
Beating the English ace at that time was a sensational accomplishment and meant personal triumph for me and glory for the United States. This race, by the way, cost me about $150,000. Since that time, I have spent more than $1,000,000 winning and defending the trophy. This Harmsworth trophy now reposes in the Yacht Club at Belle Isle, Detroit Michigan.
The Harmsworth trophy is a simple bit of bronze on which two ancient motor boats are shown plunging in a heavy sea. Millions of dollars have been spent on it in competition. Its donor was the late Lord Northcliffe. The races staged in its name on the Detroit River have been known to cost $45,000 a minute.
But a champion can never rest on past laurels. England came back in 1921 with a challenge for another race. This race however was run in America, and it is needless to say that I successfully defended the trophy. Orlin Johnson rode with me during this race. He has been my personal mechanic ever since and rides with me in all my races.
From a record standpoint, the most important historical event was on September 20, 1932, when I drove Miss America X on the St. Clair River at Algonac, Michigan and attained a new world speed record of 124.915 mph. this record still stands. Don drove Miss England III 119.81 mph on Loch Lomond, Scotland, July 18 of the same year.
In establishing the worlds speed record with Miss America X in 1932, I used four motors. Each motor had 1600 horsepower, which together made a total of 6400 horsepower.
While I am not superstitious, I always carry twin rag teddy bears, one christened Teddy and the other Bruin. Before I start any race I make certain that the mascots are fastened securely to the steering column. During one race, while they were attached to the transom, I noticed they were working loose from the boat. Instinctively I slowed down so the wind would not carry my ‘good luck pieces’ away. I lost some time, but the records show that I went on to win the race. You can call that luck if you care to.
I know that the public oftentimes has premonitions that some accident will occur in races of this kind. Most of the people enjoy a motor boat race simply as a sport. But it is safe to say many watch it in anticipation of an accident. In 1928 Orlin Johnson, my mechanic, was severely injured while we were trying out Miss America VI and traveling at better than 100 mph. The boat suddenly cracked to pieces. the hull was too light to take the strain. Orlin was carried to the hospital with a badly lacerated face, his jaws broken and body considerably bruised. His injuries resulted when he was thrown against the motors. The only thing that saved me from serious injury was the fact that I had grasped the steering wheel tightly. This gives some idea of what might happen when one is fond of high speed traveling on the water.
A Costly Prize
While I take pride in being the nine-time winner of the internationally famous Harmsworth trophy, I must admit I cherish most the possession of the Carl G. Fisher trophy, of which I’m now the proud owner. These races were fiercely contested. To obtain permanent possession of the trophy, it was necessary to win three times in succession.
A reporter once asked me why I call my racing ‘Miss’ America. I thought the best way to answer the question was to say the boat is called a ‘Miss’ because she is hard to handle, and that in brief, sums up the task of piloting of racing craft when you are after new world speed records and the costliest price in sports – the Harmsworth trophy, which I now possess.