They say that sometimes in life, you are just in the right place at the right time. |
this was true. At 10 years old, I met a boy in my neighborhood. His name was Ron Brown and
his Dad, Les Brown, owned a boat.
I recall spotting the boat from the end of his driveway one
day. The gleam of the chrome drew me to it immediately. Ron told me that his Dad raced the
boat and it had a 392 Hemi.
Wow…his Dad was a Hemi guy. I guess I have always been a
Chrysler guy. I recall as a child, sitting on the hood of a car peeling off the paint. Upon asking
my parents about it later in life, they told me that I had to have been about 3 or 4 years old and
it was my Dad’s 1941 Chrysler New Yorker.
When I graduated from College in 1971, I reunited
with Ron Brown who was actively racing with his Dad, Les and I became part of the Long Gone
crew. I remained with the team until Les Brown retired from the sport.
Les Brown got into boat racing accidentally in 1952. He just wanted a better boat for
water skiing. He had an outboard motor initially, but wanted one that would be better. Les
pioneered the SK class, convincing the APBA to add the class. He ran the SK boat and
dominated the class with a 392 Hemi running against other Hemis as well as other makes of
motor. It was not a question of who would win, it became a question of who would finish
second to Les Brown. Eventually the SK class died out and the Super Stock class was born.
then, Les was ready to go faster anyhow. He contacted prominent boat builder Ron Jones
about building a Hydroplane. His only stipulation was that it had to run a 392 Hemi. Les
wanted to continue to run the lucky number 7 on the boat and due to the popularity of James
Bond at the time, he chose 007 and thus the H-007 was born.
Now w he just needed a name for
the boat. When his father passed away, his Mother came to live with him. Every weekend Les
would be off racing. People would call the house and ask for Les and his mother would say, “Oh
no, Les is not here, he is Long Gone racing somewhere”. After each weekend, Les would hear
this from his friends and co-workers who had called looking for him and decided it was a good
name for the boat.
He wrecked the H-007 on Lake Maggiore in St. Petersburg Florida and broke
his neck. Even though his competitive driving days were over, he did not lose his desire to race.
Once again, Les contacted Ron Jones to build another Hemi powered Hydroplane. This
time he was looking to change his luck a little and chose to use the number 4. He raced this
boat for many years as the H-4. It won races some races here and there but after a tragic
accident, the boat was damaged. It had become increasingly difficult to maintain the boat and
he decided that he was once again ready for something new.
(I guess we're done racing for today)
He teamed up with Ron Jones a
third time. This time Ron Jones wanted to try a new technology called ground effects which
was becoming rather popular. The theory was that in Indy cars, the effects pulled the cars
down into the track for better traction. Ron thought this might work on water as well.
achieve his design the boat had to be much bigger than other Hydroplanes of the time. Due to
this, they both agreed that they would need more power than ever before. They chose the 426
Hemi. Another part of the new design was that they would move the engine further back to
put more weight over the propeller to help keep it in the water. However, moving the motor so
far back would have required us to run 2 gear boxes. Our engine builder Jack Dolan thought
that running the motor in the opposite rotation of the standard factory rotation would negate
having to run 2 gear boxes. So Jack Dolan worked with a company called Racer Brown to
design cam shafts to our specifications that turned in the opposite direction. After some
teething problems, it worked out quite well.
Unfortunately, after our 2nd or 3rd race of the year,
we were in Ottawa, Canada in July of 1975 and our Driver Bill Hodge hit a wake on the back
stretch and barrel rolled the boat. The result was a total loss. Immediately, Les contacted Ron
Jones about building another boat. However, he wanted to go back to a more conventional
design and wanted to run a new generation 426 Hemi.
In 1963, Ronnie Houssholder, who was the head of Chrysler Racing, was building the
fastest and safest stock car in history powered by a 426 wedge motor. In February of 1964,
Chrysler stunned the NASCAR world with the introduction of the 426 Hemi and it is well known
how the Generation 2 426 Hemi dominated NASCAR and Drag Racing.
With the only
Generation 2 Hemi running and on a quest to dominate the H class, Les reached out to Ray
Nickels who owned a NASCAR Enterprise in Highland, Indiana and established a relationship. In
approximately 1977, the team began getting factory support from Chrysler though Ray Nickels.
Chrysler decided they wanted to branch out and gain some exposure on the water. This was
highly unusual for Hydroplane racing in general. No other teams at that time had factory
backing. About mid-season, we began to see parts arrive in our shop; engine blocks, heads,
crank shafts, etc.
Late in the season, we received the first set of 16 spark plug heads that we
had ever seen. Unfortunately, it was so late in the season that we never got a chance to use
them. At the end of that year, Chrysler decided to cut back on their racing efforts. They felt
that boats did not really help sell cars and since that was the business they were in, we were
the first to lose their factory support.
The team was undeterred. Les decided to solider on with whatever parts we could find.
Les ended up buying engines from Bill Sterett after Bill had retired from 7 Liter racing. Running
in the Grand Prix class we really hit it big. Being the only Hemi, we won races against the
dominant number of Chevys.
25 boats would be entered in the race and 24 of them would be Chevys.
With Ron Brown as our Crew Chief, Jack Dolan as our Engine Builder and
Kent McPhail as our Driver, we finally broke out and set the Grand Prix Class,
5 mile competition record in 1981. This record put us in the Guinness Book
of World Records. We also won the 1982 Grand Prix Class National High
As time went on, it got harder and harder to fine quality Hemi blocks to use in the boat
and after 35 years in boat racing, Les decided it was time to retire from the sport. The boat and
the trailer were sold off.
I had offered to buy some of the remaining motors and parts, but Les
being the generous man that we was, told me, “Ray, I have know you since you were 10 years
old and you have been part of my crew for fifteen years or more, just take anything you want”.
I took a 1970 Nascar cast iron block, a Kellog crank shaft, and a set of ported and polished Hemi
heads complete with Manley valves.
After looking at the parts further, I am positive this one of
the engines from Bill Sterett.
Over the years, I had Opel Engineering in Streamwood, IL rebuild
the engine. After it was complete, I simply put the engine away until I found something I
wanted to put it in. In 2005, I acquired a 1965 Belvedere I post car. My brother had originally
bought the car in 1967 when it was a 383 four speed car. It has been in our family ever since. It
had been sitting in my brother’s garage in pieces for at least 9 years. Over the course of 4
years, I restored it and put the Hemi in it as a clone of an A990 car. After years of boat racing,
one of our Hemi’s is still alive and well and grumbling at over 500HP on the streets of Chicago.
© Ray Jackson