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The Gold Cup Crash of 1948
A close escape for Lombardo
by Christopher Doty

detroit 1948During a band rehearsal in early 1948, Carmen Lombardo caught his older brother staring vacantly into space while conducting.

"For chrissakes, Mr. Gold Cup, will you start thinking about the next number and forget about your next engine?" he snapped.

Carmen was referring to his brother's win of one of the most prestigious trophies in hydroplane racing, a sport that had been consumming Guy for almost a decade.

In 1946 Guy's 450-horsepower speed boat Tempo VI had sped to victory at The Gold Cup race in Detroit. "I was fourty four when I won and I felt like twenty," Guy wrote in his memoirs. "I was being being lumped in now with the sports heroes of the day. It was a heady feeling."

In 1947 he was bent to make it two in a row but floating debris, rain and problems with the Tempo's lubrication system had thwarted the attempt. On August 28, 1948, he tried again at the Detroit Yacht Club.

In the first heat the Tempo was the second hydroplane to fly across the starting line, hot on the heels of Morlan Visel's Hurricane IV, a craft that had never been tested in major racing. Lombardo planned on cutting across Visel's wake and going inside the first turning buoy. He was doing at least 125 miles per hour when things went wrong.

The Hurricane's rudder and prop failed, sending the boat veering into the Tempo's path. Faced with the decision of crashing into Visel or plowing into a pier loaded with onlookers, Lombardo spun the wheel and shut off his engine.

The sudden turn wrenched part of the Tempo VI's hull apart and caused it to flip over. Lombardo was thrown 15 feet into the air. He was fished from the Detroit River with a broken arm by a patrol boat. Yachting magazine later described the scene: "Lombardo floated unconscious in the water and Hurricane lay inert nearby like a large dog feigning innocence after upsetting the dinner table."

Gold Cup officials later credited Lombardo for avoiding a serious wreck. It was some compensation for the loss of the Tempo VI which had sunk to the bottom of the Detroit River a quarter mile from the starting line.

lombardo in castAfter having his left arm set in a cast, Lombardo, still in shock, returned to the Detroit Yacht Club as a spectator. Only one out of the 20 remaining boats would finish. As a result, the Gold Cup committee changed its rules to prohibit untested drivers and boats from entering the race without a short qualifying heat.

For the next few months, both dancers and bandmembers at the Roosevelt Grill had to put up with a one-armed leader.

"The cast itched and I would reach into it with the baton and scratch furiously," Guy recalled. "I tried to hide it from the audience and would scratch facing the band, which often sent Lebe into convulsions as he was about the launch a trumpet solo."

Doty Docs wishes to extend its gratitude to Richard LeMoyne who provided his father's rare colour shots of the 1948 Gold Cup for use on this webpage. Roy LeMoyne (1899-1975) was one of the organizers of the race in Detroit.

Click here for more information on Guy's hydroplane career.