Lester ("Les") Staudacher
Les Staudacher Remembered
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
Lester ("Les") Staudacher designed and built some of the sport's most successful Unlimited hydroplanes. Boats of his design won 51 races between 1953 and 1971.
Initially a builder of church pews, Staudacher first achieved prominence in boat racing with his construction of the John Hacker-designed MY SWEETIE, an Allison-powered step hydroplane, which won the 1949 APBA Gold Cup and National High Point Championship with "Wild Bill" Cantrell driving.
MISS PEPSI, "The Mahogany Cigar", was another successful Hacker/Staudacher collaboration. The last formidable step hydroplane in the Unlimited Class, MISS PEPSI won the President's Cup in 1950-51-52, was National High Point Champion in 1951-52, and turned the first heat of the APBA Gold Cup at over 100 miles per hour in 1952 with Chuck Thompson driving.
With the onset of the 1950s, Staudacher faced a new challenge: the prop-riding three-point design of hydroplane, epitomized by the Ted Jones-engineered SLO-MO-SHUN IV and SLO-MO-SHUN V.
Les went on to build a number of outstanding three-point prop-riders. These included the Jones-designed SHANTY I, MISS WAHOO, MISS SPOKANE, MISS THRIFTWAY, MAVERICK, and HAWAII KAI III, and the Dan Arena-designed MISS U.S. I of 1957, which set a long-standing mile straightaway record of 200.419 in 1962.
The first Unlimited hydroplane designed by Les to win a race was the Bill Cantrell-chauffeured SUCH CRUST V at the 1953 Imperial Gold Cup in New Martinsville, West Virginia.
Two of Staudacher's most successful creations were the 1954 vintage GALE IV and GALE V, driven by Cantrell and Lee Schoenith. Between the two of them, they scored eight victories in 1954-55, including the 1955 APBA Gold Cup at Seattle by GALE V.
Staudacher's best race boat of the 1950s was arguably TEMPO VII. Owned by bandleader Guy Lombardo, "The Sweetest Boat This Side of Heaven" won five races in a row in 1955 and was simply unbeatable with Danny Foster as driver and Roy Duby as crew chief.
The Copper Cup, the Silver Cup (designated as the "National Championship Race" for Unlimiteds), the President's Cup, the International Cup, and the Indiana Governor's Cup all ended up on TEMPO VII's trophy shelf at season's end.
Later owned and driven by Chuck Thompson, this same boat won the St. Clair International Trophy in 1957 as SHORT CIRCUIT, the 1959 St. Clair race as MISS DETROIT, and the 1960 President's Cup as MISS DETROIT.
One of the most unusual assignments that Staudacher ever accepted was the "away-from-home" construction of J. Gordon Thompson's MISS SUPERTEST II, which was the Canadian challenger for the Harmsworth International Trophy at Detroit in 1956.
According to the rules, a challenging boat had to be built within the geographical boundaries of the country that it represented. So, every day, Les and his crew of helpers would pile into an automobile and drive from Kawkawlin, Michigan, to Sarnia, Ontario, where they built the boat in compliance with Harmsworth regulations.
Although MISS SUPERTEST II was defeated in the Harmsworth event by the U.S. defender, SHANTY I, the "II" nevertheless vindicated itself. SUPERTEST won the 1956 Prince Edward Trophy at Picton, Ontario, with Bill Braden driving, the 1957 Buffalo Launch Club Regatta with Art Asbury, and the 1958 St. Clair International Trophy with Bob Hayward. The Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered craft also set a world kilometer straightaway record of 184.494 in 1957 with Asbury.
In 1956, Staudacher began construction on a conventional three-point hydroplane for Paul Sawyer that wasn't put in the water for eighteen years. Tentatively titled ALTER EGO, the project was abandoned when Sawyer retired from racing. The unfinished craft was placed in storage. But Les and his helpers would occasionally "tinker" with it over the next decade when time permitted.
The boat without a name was finally rescued from obscurity by Bob Schroeder, who briefly campaigned it in 1974 as the CU-22 and in 1982 as the MISS CANADA. It was this craft that became the original MISS TOSTI ASTI in 1983 and was the entry vehicle into the sport for owner Jim Sedam and driver Todd Yarling.
Staudacher also built the first Unlimited hydroplane to catch the eye of future MISS BUDWEISER owner Bernie Little. This was the TEMPO, a four-seat pleasure craft, intended for taking VIPs for rides. Little bought the boat in 1963 and then embarked on a long and successful Unlimited career.
In 1966, two races into the campaign, Little needed a replacement hull in a hurry when his Anheuser-Busch-sponsored flagship was destroyed at the ill-fated President's Cup in Washington, D.C.
Staudacher came to Little's rescue with a brand new hull, built on speculation the previous winter and already water-tested. It was with this craft that the MISS BUDWEISER team scored its first two victories--the 1966 Tri-Cities Atomic Cup on the Columbia River and the 1966 San Diego Cup on Mission Bay--with Bill Brow as driver.
Who could ever forget Staudacher's MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC of 1968? Owned by Dave Heerensperger and driven by Warner Gardner, the "Screaming Eagle" was one of the greatest racing craft that ever wet a sponson. And yet, for the first six years of its existence, this stellar boat was an also-ran for original owner Bill Schuyler, who had campaigned it without victory since 1962.
Then came the memorable 1968 campaign when MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC came alive and scored decisive victories in the Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, the Atomic Cup at the Tri-Cities, Washington, and the President's Cup at Washington, D.C. The Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered EAGLE humiliated the opposition, which included Billy Schumacher in MISS BARDAHL, Bill Muncey in MISS U.S., and Bill Sterett in MISS BUDWEISER.
MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC turned a 120.267 mile an hour qualification lap at the Seattle World Championship and was mounting a serious challenge for the APBA Gold Cup at Detroit when tragedy struck. The "Screaming Eagle" crashed while contending for high position in the Final Heat. The driver was fatally injured, the hull was wrecked, and Unlimited racing lost one of the most competitive machines in its history.
Not afraid to try something new, Staudacher built the first jet hydroplane in America for Joe and Lee Schoenith's Gale Enterprises in 1958. The non-propeller-driven craft made an exhibition run at that year's Silver Cup in Detroit but failed to reach significant speeds.
In later years, Les experimented with a couple more jet boats--the TEMPO ALCOA for Guy Lombardo and the MISS STARS AND STRIPES II for Robert B. Evans. While at the wheel of the Evans craft in May of 1963, Staudacher almost lost his life on Michigan's Hubbard Lake when the rudder assembly failed at 280 miles per hour. Staudacher suffered two broken legs and other injuries.
One shining moment for Les Staudacher was the 1960 Silver Cup on the Detroit River when his NITROGEN TOO won a surprising and impressive victory, beating the favored MISS THRIFTWAY and averaging 101.919 for the 45-mile distance.
Owned by Samuel F. DuPont and driven by leadfoot Ron Musson, the TOO would not be denied, leading MISS THRIFTWAY pilot Bill Muncey all the way in the final Championship Heat. The DuPont team's triumph was all the more remarkable, considering that MISS THRIFTWAY used the more-powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. NITROGEN TOO, on the other hand, ran a basically stock Allison.
When the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame was organized in 1961, Les was honored for his contribution to the sport and inducted into the Hall for the year 1955. Staudacher is probably best remembered for his partnership with designer Ted Jones. The Jones/Staudacher collaboration resulted in 30 race wins between 1956 and 1966, including three APBA Gold Cups (with MISS THRIFTWAY and HAWAII KAI III), and two National High Point Championships (with SHANTY I and HAWAII KAI III).
After a falling-out with Jones in August of 1956, Staudacher went his own way and concentrated mainly on boats of his own design.
In all candor, for the balance of his career, Les did not achieve the level of success in comparison to the Jones years. Left to his own devices, he still turned out an occasional winner. These included the 1960 NITROGEN TOO/MISS MADISON, the 1962 $ BILL/MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC, the 1962 NOTRE DAME/MISS BUDWEISER, and the 1964 TAHOE MISS, which were all excellent boats. But it was pretty much hit and miss.
Too many of his hydroplanes from the late-1950s and '60s proved to be wild-riders. These included the 1958 MISS PAY 'n SAVE/MISS SEATTLE TOO, the 1959 MISS BUFFALO, the 1964 MISS U.S. 5, the 1964 NOTRE DAME, the 1965 BLUE CHIP/MISS DIXI COLA, the 1966 MISS BUDWEISER, and the 1967 "bob-tailed" MISS U.S.
Staudacher's 1967 NOTRE DAME, which crashed at Seattle, was so erratic that Les temporarily shut down his business in order to re-evaluate the situation.
His one undisputed super-boat of the 1960s was Bill Harrah's TAHOE MISS, which won seven races with Chuck Thompson and Mira Slovak as drivers. These included the 1964-65-66 Indiana Governor's Cups, the 1965 Spirit Of Detroit Trophy, the 1966 APBA Gold Cup, the 1966 British Columbia Cup, and the 1966 Diamond Cup. TAHOE MISS also won the 1966 National High Point Championship. (The Staudacher-designed GALE V had been High Point Champion in 1954-55.)
The last victory by a Les Staudacher-designed and built Unlimited hydroplane was by the community-owned MISS MADISON of 1971, which won the APBA Gold Cup at Madison, Indiana, and the Tri-Cities Atomic Cup with Jim McCormick as driver.
This was the craft that had first appeared in 1960 as NITROGEN TOO and had won the Dixie Cup at Guntersville in 1965 as MISS MADISON with Buddy Byers driving. It was rebuilt by Staudacher in 1970 and went on to become the first Thunderboat to win a race eleven years after its competitive debut.
Les, in later years, left most of the boat building to his son, Jon Staudacher. The final Unlimited Class effort by Les Staudacher was the 1976 MISS VERNORS, which showed good chute speed but had a hooking problem in the turns.
It was in this craft, renamed SQUIRE, that driver Jerry Bangs suffered fatal injuries when he was thrown out of the boat at the 1977 Seattle race. This was before the introduction (in 1986) of the F-16 safety canopy, which very likely would have saved Bangs.
A couple of "antique" Staudacher hulls were used in the filming of the hydroplane-themed MADISON movie, released in 2005 by MGM. These included the former PAY 'n PAK'S 'LIL BUZZARD of 1970 and the 1962 NOTRE DAME.
Les Staudacher passed away in March of 1988 at his home in Bay City, Michigan. He was 76.
First run of the hull in 1970 before she became Miss TIMEX.