Tuesday, August 09, 2011
The Supertest Story-2011
Fifty years ago, we lined the banks of the Long Reach in Prince Edward County to watch the Harmsworth Trophy Races. We had little idea what to expect.
We knew something about water speed, from boat races in the Bay of Quinte. We knew land speed from motorcycle and automobile races at the Fairgrounds. We knew air speed from the skies as we witnessed early jet flights in and out of Trenton. And we knew speed from the drag races on the old aircraft strip at Shannonville.
We were not prepared for what we about to experience. And it was truly a wonderful adventure.
After years of experimentation, the Thompson family was bringing their boat to the County to defend their previous year’s victory in the Harmsworth Trophy Race.
On the weekend of August 20, 1960, cranes lowered the huge crafts into the quiet waters of the Reach for the races.
“This was the best water we ever raced in,” Jim Thompson told me during the celebrations this past weekend. Now an octogenarian, Thompson was an integral part of the entire adventure. He had designed the boat. His family had been involved in the boat racing game for years. They had started the journey, on a more serious basis, when they purchased a couple of boats from the Wilson family in 1951. Included in the purchase were the two hulls and two engines.
Years later, Jim Thompson confessed to John Joseph Kelly, the author of Roostertail: The Miss Supertest Story: “We knew nothing” about the powerboat game. But learn they did, and quickly as well.
Last weekend, Kelly told me that he grew up in Windsor, about a stone’s throw from the Detroit River. “I knew the boats from the sounds I could hear on the river. As a child, I kept scrapbooks on Miss Supertest,” he told me as he signed copies of his book. He added that he remembered being devastated by the death of Bob Hayward, Miss Supertest’s driver. Hayward was killed a month after the Harmsworth Trophy victory while driving Miss Supertest II on the Detroit River.
Jim Thompson celebrated the weekend with great dignity. He answered question after question, and signed thousands of autographs. He took the stage at the Regent Theatre on Saturday afternoon, fielding countless enquiries about the boating world. Remember, he not only owned the boats, he drove them as well. I asked him whether or not there were any significant differences in the three Supertests. “Considering the speed, and the conditions,” he replied, “they all gave you a pretty good ride!”
He respectfully gave credit to those involved in the past weekend’s activities. “John Lyons and all the members of the committee deserve a great deal of credit. Kelly’s book is wonderful. Peter Lockyer’s documentary really tells the story.”
The trophy races did not go unnoticed by the rest of the country. Naturally, Mayor Harvey McFarland was the perfect host. He had upwards of eight hundred guests for tea on a couple of occasions during the weekend. Prime Minister Diefenbaker was at the water’s edge, as was Leslie Frost, the Premier of Ontario. Belleville’s Jack Devine covered the race on CJBQ Radio, and the coverage was carried by CBC across the country.
In essence, it was the pinnacle of unlimited power boat racing in the world. Miss Supertest III was retired after the race.
She looked stately at Loch Sloy above the town of Picton last weekend. She is immortalized on a couple of postage stamps released during the weekend. Pick them up at your local Canada Post office.
I cannot capture the essence of power boat racing with paper and pen. The tremendous roar of the aircraft engines, the wonderful aroma of mysterious fuels, the two hundred foot rooster tail, (to be avoided if you were not in first place!), and finally, the ecstasy of becoming a world champion. Truly a great moment in Canadian sporting history.
There is a movement to rename the Reach “Hayward Long Reach”. That cannot happen soon enough, for all concerned.
August 9, 2011