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This is another installment on my series "Messin' With Chick". Just trying to recall some of the stuff I've done growing up and living around the water. I hope you guys enjoy going down memory lane with me.  I've forgotten most of it, but maybe I can remember enough to keep things going. Anyway, I thought you might like to hear about those crazy years spent racing outboards.                                                   


      I guess it’s about time to tell y’all about a bit of insanity that overtook me back in my late teen and early twenties. Somewhere around the time that I got my driver’s license, I bought a little eight foot “race” boat with a 10 horse power  KG-7 Mercury Hurricane motor on it. You would kneel in the boat, steer with a steering wheel, and control the speed with a dead man’s throttle. Doncha love that name “dead man’s throttle?”. Ya have to squeeze it closed to make the motor go. If you let go, like in a flip, the motor shuts off. Hopefully preventing you from becoming a “dead man” in the accident.

      Maybe a bit of history is indicated here. Back in the early days of outboard motors, the outboard factories were heavily involved in racing. They used racing as a way to promote their products. The “John-rudes”, Eltos, and such ruled the roost until old Carl Kiekhaefer decided that he wanted a piece of the pie. At that time, stock outboard racing boats had to be powered by motors that were built by the factory for recreational use only, not purpose built racing engines. Wiley old Carl knew that he could build a better motor. For one thing, he used ball and roller bearings in his motors for less friction, and more efficiency. Called it “full-jeweled power”. But he knew that to really “make it big”, he’d need to win races. I know y’all are familiar with the outboard motor's forward-neutral-reverse gear case.  Carl knew that if he could make the gear case smaller, he could reduce friction and go faster. But remember the rule that motors had to be stock “fishing boat” motors? He just built his line of motors  with a “straight drive” gear case – no neutral  or reverse! Those old Mercury motors just “took off” as soon as you pulled the starter cord, or pushed the ignition switch. The outboard lineup even included those big-old six cylinder monsters! The big four and six cylinder motors were “direct reversing”. When you wanted to back up, you simply stopped the motor, and restarted in reverse! The little two cylinder jobs just went forward. Dang, I can’t even imagine starting one of these big guys in a confined space without neutral. Boaters were real men back in those days!

      I guess it’s time to get back to these ramblings. I spent many happy hours blasting around Lake Maggiori, scaring water birds, alligators, and the occasional fisherman. After a while, just running around by myself got a bit boring, and the little eight foot boat wasn’t really very good, so I started looking for something better. I found an old 12 foot (I think) Whirlwind cold molded fishing boat and cut a few inches off the sheer, built on a deck, and installed a steering wheel and dead man’s throttle. This boat was much more like the “real” race boats. It was also the start of a lifetime of modifying, restoring, and building boats.  Well, except for fixing the mast step on the old Sailfish I told you about in a previous story.

      Now let’s get back to THIS story. For years, I’d been attending the boat races at Lake Maggiori. Back then, this lake was a record breaking five mile race course for both inboard and outboard racing, and many racers lived in the St. Pete-Clearwater-Tampa Bay area. One day I saw an ad for a real racing boat. It was a Sid Craft class B hydroplane. I immediately made a deal to buy it, and hung my Hurricane motor on it.

      Now, by this time, stock motors were allowed to use the Mercury “Quicksilver” racing lower unit, and my motor was still the same old “fishing” version. I didn’t care, I ran it all over the lake as it was. Along about then  I got to thinking that I outa try my hand at some real racing. I had met a younger teenager  named Jack Quillman that had a little boat kinda like the one that started out this story. He called his boat “Leapin’ Liz” because of the way it “hopped” as it ran. (Now we call it “porpoising”.) Maybe you remember the cartoon Little Orphan Annie? And how she would say “Leapin’ Lizzards”? Jack later became my first racing partner. We had a ball racing each other around Lake Maggiori, and imagining that we really were real boat racers.

      Naturally, I wanted one of the Mercury Quicksilver lower units, but only had what I had. And I also decided that I would rather race a runabout than a hydroplane. Maybe because the old Whirlwind was a runabout. Guess I’d better digress again to explain the difference. I had read a book about outboard racing. Included were pictures of different racing boats. There were hydroplanes that used the “lift” of the airflow over them and under the hull to let them rise off the water enough to run on the back of the hull and the two “sponsons” (Kinda like pontoons---only different.)  They were the fastest boats. Then there were the runabouts that had more-or-less flat bottoms and weren’t allowed to depend on lift. They were slower, but much more exciting, and I thought fun to drive. The most exciting pictures were of the class-B utilities. That’s what runabouts were called back then---utilities. They had to have a little front cockpit to carry passengers ---HA! These boats were called the “Bouncing Bs” because of the way they ran across the water. Especially in the turns.


      I was HOOKED! Had to have one.  Sure-nuff, I found a one for sale. It came with a KG-7 Mercury Hurricane class B---complete with a QUICKIE LOWER UNIT!!!! What a BLAST! By now I had made friends with an ex-boat racer named Billy---dang, now what WAS his name? Oh, well, on with the story. He told me about a type of racing called “outlaw racing” or “back yard racing”. This is when a bunch of guys would get together in clubs and organize races at different places around there area, which was most of Florida. They were not sanctioned or insured by any organization. I quickly found out where there were some races, and Jack and I started attending. We took turns driving the boat. He’d drive at one race, and I’d drive another.  We quickly assumed the nick names  of “Flipper”. That was me---more about this in a later story. And Jack became “Quicksilver Quilligan”. Eventually we bought a class-A motor that Jack raced, while I drove the B. So this was how my boat racing career began. I eventually moved on to other partners, and other boats. C’mon back later and I’ll tell you about some of the interesting folks I raced with, and adventures that we had.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ken, flips rarely result in a "dead man". The dead man (we preferred to call them "racing throttle".) would shut off the motor when the driver let go for any reason. And, yes, it would prevent the motor from damage in the case of a flip. Water does not compress. A running motor can self destruct if it ingests water, salt or fresh, when running. But the throttle would also prevent a run away boat if the driver was thrown out and the boat stayed upright. 


Without the motor being shut off, the boat could also run in circles possibly running over a driver in the water. It was comforting to not worry about these things when twelve boats all went into the first turn together, fighting for the best position to come out of the turn first. Most accidents happen at this point of the race. It was scary enough racing in Florida after the race chairman told us not to flip in the first turn because of the big gator that hangs out there!


Oh yeah, no, the name "Flipper" had nothing to do with porpoising. I'll tell you all about it in the next installment.

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