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In Detail: APBA Hydroplane Racing Past And Present

At first glance, hydroplane racing on the Detroit River may seem a little obscure, but a closer look at its history reveals a motorsport that's rich with both heros and heritage. Clearly, the #88 Degree Men hyrdroplane featured in TRANSLOGIC 65 is a state of the art racing boat, but the sport has more modest beginnings. The American Power Boat Association (APBA) Gold Cup is the oldest active trophy in motorsports and was first awarded in 1904. The Gold Cup found its way to Detroit in the years following the debut of Christopher Columbus Smith's Miss Detroit, which first surpassed the 60 mph mark in 1915. You may not have heard of Chris Smith, but are certainly familiar with his iconic Chris-Craft boats.

Detroit's relationship to powerboat and hydroplane racing is more than just coincidental. Sure, lots of cities have off-shore or outboard powerboat races, but the origins of the sport are forever tied to Detroit. One man, Garfield 'Gar' Wood, is largely responsible for raising the profile of powerboat racing in the region. Gar Wood was an American inventor who, at one time, held more U.S. patents than any other living American. He also broke several water speed records and was the first person to go faster than 100 mph on the water.

In 1920, his boat Miss America set a world speed record of just under 75 mph and he did it on the Detroit River. In the 1920s, Wood staged several stunt races where he pitted one of his boats against a train and won. He also won the Gold Cup five times in a row between 1917 and 1921. A prominent member of the Detroit Yacht Club (DYC), Wood solidified an annual Detroit River tradition as the club continues to sponsor the event to this day.

Wood continued to work on new innovations even after he stopped racing. He built truck utility truck bodies and is thought to be responsible for the garbage compacting trash trucks that are so common today. In 1967, Popular Mechanics magazine did a story on Wood that featured an electric car he was developing.

Although not nearly as ubiquitous as automotive racing, hydroplane and powerboat competitions have continued to find significant regional and niche audiences, as evidenced by some impressive sponsorship deals over the years. In the 1970s the now defunct Pay 'n Pak chain of stores sponsored a hydroplane and it was Pay 'n Pak that sponsored the first turbine powered hydroplane. Other past and current sponsors of note include a very successful Atlas Van Lines hydroplane, Bardahl oil, Camel cigarettes, Oberto Sausage and Pepsi. The retired Miss Budweiser is likely the most recognizable name and certainly the most successful. The boat was even featured in the now famous Budweiser Frogs series of TV commercials in the late 1990s.

The ultra high tech #88 hydroplane featured in TRANSLOGIC 65 is sponsored by Degree Men, a deodorant brand from Unilever.

APBA sanctions races of all kinds of boats and classes, in addition to the H1 Unlimited hydroplane class. Off-Shore, Drag Boat, Superlight Tunnel and Modified Outboard are just a few. Some races are even televised, but the best way to catch an APBA race is in person; and, with races in such a diverse array of places as California, Florida, Maine, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, you should be able to find one near you.

Click the image below to watch TRANSLOGIC 65: Detroit Hydroplane Races:

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