Well somehow I wandered onto your web site and the memories are flooding back. I was on hand as a 10 year old boy in New Martinsville, Wv. the day Buddy Byers set the speed record in Miss DeSoto. My father (Lee Ferrell and uncle (Jesse Ferrell) had taken two D-Class outboard Hydros to the races at New Martinsville and entered them in the event. Neither made the Main do to engine trouble but I believe Jesse did qualify. My dad was the gearhead. Jesse was a superb driver but lacked the skills Dad had. Dad and I spent many nights repairing and sanding after a hard weekend of racing. The pair of boats that they campaigned were always magnificent in their appearance. One (Dad’s) was painted with alternating Bright Red Stripes on White on the doped canvas deck, starting with a Red Stripe and Alternating with White and the numbers were in Black. Jesse’s was just the opposite it started with a White Stripe and alternated, each stripe was about 4 inches wide and ran the full length of the deck. The motor’s were Evinrude and I remember the steering wheel as a black Bakelite and steel. On the right the throttle was a two piece squeeze affair and you rode on your knees. Dad kept each boat spotless and they were on a trailer that stacked one over the other and had a large red box on the back for the motors, tools and beer.
If you had never been to the races at New Martinsville, Wv. in the ‘50’s you missed a combination of the Indy 500 and a bluegrass concert. Country music, fast boats, lawn chairs, grandstands, food booths and of course the main attraction the Unlimited Hydroplane racers. I remember watching as one of the Big Boats got out of hand, the nose raised up and she elevated into a full 360 degree loop on the front main stretch. The boat hit flat and a little sideways when it struck the water, it instantly exploded into marine grade splinters. You could see the driver bounce and disappear. We knew he was dead. But, in a few seconds his old Kapok life jacket did its job and he bobbed up. Knocked cold but alive. I bet the engine is still somewhere around New Martinsville, on the bottom.
We made sure to be on the bleachers when Miss DeSoto was running, Dad was driving a new 1957 DeSoto Adventurer, Baby Blue and White and backed his man Buddy Byers with pride. When Miss DeSoto was in form she would put a rooster tail up that would block your view of the other side of the river and she would scream down the stretch with neck twisting speed. Some of the Unlimited Hydro’s were faster and had a large Rolls P-51 Mustang engine that developed more HP but Miss DeSoto had a sound that we loved. She sounded like what we wanted our car’s to sound like. That big 392 Hemi was in full voice on the river those days and Buddy Byers was THE MAN. I remember the record and how we left with Dad and Uncle Jess saying they just knew he was going to crash, the water was too choppy and the wind was getting up. Excitement back then wasn’t on an X-Box, it was next weekend at the Boat races. We followed the tour for about three years with Dad winning a few and Jess winning several. Finally, Uncle Jess relocated to Martinsburg, Wv., Dad sold his boat and quit racing but those three years 1957, 1958 and 1959 will forever be etched in this old man’s mind. 10 Year old boys were pretty happy back then..
I went on to be a fair mechanic, I worked on the late Gemini project and the Apollo project. Was in the U.S. Army and had some nice muscle cars. I still get to hear the roar of an engine and I still go 200 MPH on a regular basis as I have my own passion and it involves flying a Piper 235 four passenger aircraft and a private pilots’ license.
Thanks for indulging me on this backward glance.