This month, Lake Havasu City is celebrating a 50th anniversary of the completion of the London Bridge project, said to now be Arizona’s second most visited tourist attraction next to the Grand Canyon. As part of that half-century recognition, it seemed only fitting that a major outboard power boat race should be part of the celebration this October 15-17.
Although the 2021 version won’t be an exact duplicate of what the original racing format was, it will still bring together an impressive collection of the country’s most talented outboard racers in exciting high-speed competition. The site of the race will still be the same, the Nautical Beachfront Resort on the island just like it was in its heyday. The always heart quickening modified Le Mans style start remains in place along with a course lay-out that will be spectator friendly.
From 1964 to 1990, the Outboard Championships was a yearly Thanksgiving tradition in Havasu, running during the holiday weekend. According to Today’s News-Herald archives, the 1969 race featured drivers from 24 states and five other countries, such as Italy, England, Canada, Austria and Argentina. That year’s race featured Bill Seebold’s father competing against his son Bill Jr. who went on to become outboard racing’s winningest driver.
At the 2021 Outboard World Championships, the Seebold family will once again be well represented at Havasu, but this time, not on the race course. Tim Seebold, Bill Jr’s son is now the Director of the NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Series and is responsible for race operations of the entire U.S. tour. Tim is a former multi-time outboard high points Formula 1 champion in his own right having competed all over the world.
“Back in the 1960s and 70s, the Havasu course was bigger and longer and had one tricky right hand turn in front of the judge’s stand which was unique for that time. It was a true marathon race,” Tim said. “They would race four continuous hours at a time and have co-drivers and switch drivers during refueling stops. Then they came back the next day and did the same thing again. It was a grueling test of equipment and driver endurance.”
Seebold Jr. recalls his first-time racing in the 1969 Championship event, making his initial trip to Havasu. “I remember driving into Havasu just before Thanksgiving and there was very little there,” Bill said. “(There were) 8 to 9,000 people at most in the city and there were only two hotels in town. With only two hotels in Havasu, there weren’t enough rooms to accommodate drivers and crews. The solution was for them and visitors to stay with host families. When you entered the race, they assigned you a place to stay,” Bill commented. “I stayed in a private home for the first year I was there.”
Back in those days there were many great drivers. Team Mercury had Bill Seebold Jr., Reggie Fountain, Bob Hering, Earl Bentz, and Fred Hauenstein to name just a few. The OMC Team (Johnson and Evinrude) countered with the likes of Jimbo McConnell, Johnnie Sanders, Ken Stevenson, Barry Woods and Tom Posey. Even President Reagan’s son Mike co-drove with Rudy Ramos of Rayson Craft boat fame one year to win an overall Havasu championship title.
And the prize money wasn’t bad either. It started out in the 1960s with a $25,000 purse and escalated by 1970 to $60,000. At the end of 1973 however, America experienced its first fuel crisis with gasoline lines circling around the block. Because of fuel shortages, the 1974 Outboard World Championships was cancelled, but resumed on a scaled back level a year later.
Quite possibly the most spectacular mishap in Havasu history occurred during the first lap of the 1970 classic. Joe Fielder of Austin, Texas was out-front of 107 boats as they passed by the on-land spectator viewing area. Fielder’s tunnel boat became airborne at 100 mph and crashed while national news media caught the entire sequence on film replaying it numerous times on the evening national newscasts. Fielder suffered various injuries along with broker bones but survived the accident.
Boat racing fans are encouraged to attend the 2021 Outboard World Championships with racing action on October 16 & 17 in Thompson Bay.