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Guy Lombardo’s Need For Speed

Freeport Long Island was a frequent destination for my family. My father loved seafood and we ate at Barnacle Bills Seafood Restaurant often. It was on one of those dinner trips to Freeport, LI that my dad took me to see a fellow named Joe Van Blerk. Dad was in search of a custom engine manifold. At Van Blerk’s shop, we met Guy Lombardo and had an up-close look at the Tempo VII. Of course, I had no idea who Guy Lombardo was at the time. All I knew was that he was very nice to me and my dad. Guy Lombardo invited us to an unlimited hydroplane race in which he was competing. From then on, we were hooked and always rooting for the Tempo VII.
I soon learned that Guy Lombardo was one of the most popular dance band leaders of the time. He played regularly at the Roosevelt Grille in New York City for a period of 33 years. The band was known as Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. I remember seeing them on TV on New Year’s Eve.
Lombardo was an ardent supporter of unlimited hydroplane boat racing and did a great deal to popularize the sport powerboat racing. He had been racing boats for 60 years Before WWII he was racing 225 Cubic Inch class boats The he purchased a boat named My Sin and with it won the 1939 and 1941 APBA Gold Cup, My Sin was powered by a 604 cubic inch Zumbach Miller engine, which actually combined four Indy car engines onto on crankshaft. In 1948 he repowered the race boat with an Allison V-1710 aircraft engine. He also renamed it Tempo VI. Lombardo raced that boat to victory in the 1946 Gold Cup and the 1948 Ford Memorial.

The boat racing bandleader had two major victories at the 1946 Gold Cup and the 1948 Ford Memorial contests–both in Detroit–with Tempo VI. Other wins include the 1946, 1950 and 1951 National Sweepstakes Trophy Races in Red Bank, New Jersey, the 1949 and 1950 Star-Spangled Banner Regattas in Baltimore, Maryland, and the 1950 and 1951 Buffalo Launch Club Regattas. Lombardo broke two super-charged Gold Cup Class boat records with a mile straightaway average speed of 113.031 mph he became the second Gold Cup racer to break the 100 miles per hour barrier.
Lombardo had a very narrow escape at the start of the 1948 Gold Cup renewal in Detroit, MI, Lombardo described the situation in his autobiography AULD ACQUAINTANCE, words:
“I had Tempo in a favorable starting position for the first heat, nursing it along, planning to get up to 125 mph before we hit the first turn. In front of my boat was Morlan Visel’s Hurricane IV from California, untested in major racing, a big humpbacked affair that seemed perpetually airborne. My plan was to hit the starting line at full speed, cut across his wake and go inside at the first turning buoy.
And so it went as the starter’s gun went off. I was flying at 125 mph at least, heading for Visel’s wake, when his boat’s rudder and prop suddenly failed and veered into the path of the oncoming Tempo. If I kept going, I would have crashed into him at tremendous speed; if I swerved in the opposite direction, I would have hit a pier that jutted into the river at that point. Hundreds of spectators crowded the pier and my boat would surely have killed some of them. Hardly thinking, I spun my wheel and shut off the engine, sending Tempo into a broadsiding stall.
For a moment it seemed my beautiful boat would achieve a miracle of stability and stay right-side up. That was the last thought I can remember. Tempo dug her port sponson into the churning wake, whirled on her side, and flipped over in a huge cascade of spray, splotched with debris and the floating form of a forty-six-year-old orchestra leader turned racing driver.”
Tempo VII set another record during the Washington DC Presidents Cup race on the Potomac River. She had a 15-mile clocking heat of 100.709 miles per hour beating the record by five miles per hour.
Lombardo never lost interest in boat racing. Lombardo won the Indiana Governor’s Cup at Madison. This victory was his last major appearance as a boat racer. While he did still send Tempo VII to one event in 1956, he later sold it to Chuck Thompson
Lombardo simply no longer had the time for boat racing He became a producer of musical comedies in an outdoor stadium at Jones Beach as well international appearance with his orchestra. Lombardo was the chairman of the Honorary President’s Cup Regatta In 1971 he presented the Gold Cup to Jim McCormick pilot of Miss Madison.
Lombardo consulted on a TV film about boat racing in 1963. Guy Lombardo received the J. Lee Schoenith in gratitude for his long-term contribution to the betterment of hydroplane racing.
In his THE GUY LOMBARDO STORY, Unlimited Hydroplane historian Fred Farley writes; “At the Gold Cup in Seattle, Tempo VII qualified at an incredibly fast 116.917 for three laps around the 3.75-mile course but caught fire in the first heat, inflicting severe burns on pilot Foster. Attempts to repair the craft for the second stanza with Guy Lombardo ready to step in as relief driver proved futile and the craft was withdrawn from further action that day.
Then, in the second half of the season, Tempo VII came alive and could hardly do wrong. Lombardo and Foster took all three heats of the first annual Copper Cup at Polson, Montana and then returned east for the Detroit Yacht Club-sponsored Silver Cup which carried with it the added distinction of being the “National Championship Race” for Unlimiteds.
Fifteen boats–the largest single gathering of the season–attended the Silver Cup. Included among the “hot dogs” were Gale IV and Gale V, owned by Joe Schoenith, the Dossin brothers’ Miss Pepsi, and Willard Rhodes’ Miss Thriftway. Tempo VII rebounded from a second place in heat 1-A to win the 2-A section after a spectacular duel with Chuck Thompson in Miss Pepsi. In the final go-around, Danny Foster thrilled the fans by fighting off a gusty challenge from Bill Cantrell in Gale V.
The victory was the first-ever in the Silver Cup for Guy Lombardo whose previous high had been a fourth in 1950 with Tempo VI. Foster’s winning 45 mile average of 93.120 was distinctive as being the second-fastest race speed ever recorded on a 3-mile Detroit River course at the time.
Tempo VII continued at its historic pace in the Washington, D.C., President’s Cup with a 15-mile clocking in Heat I-A of 100.709 to eclipse the former Potomac River standard by better than five miles per hour. Foster recovered from a fourth in 2-B and took the final heat, outscoring runners-up Bill Muncey and Miss Thriftway by 69 points to claim a third consecutive regatta triumph. Lombardo, who had finished second in the 1948 President’s Cup with Tempo VI, was running out of worlds to conquer.
Although far behind Schoenith’s Gale V in National Points due to the early season difficulties, Foster and Tempo VII continued their domination of the Unlimited Class.
The super-fast Lombardo craft coasted to victory in both ends of a two heat exhibition doubleheader at New Martinsville, West Virginia, and scored a record-breaking three-heat triumph at the International Cup in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on the Pasquotank River with a 3-mile lap 0f 105.987, a 15-mile heat of 104.775, and a 45-mile race of 102.469.
Inclement weather necessitated a two week postponement of the Indiana Governor’s Cup at Madison and allowed the fleet fourteen additional days to better prepare for one final go at the matchless Lombardo-Foster combo, the most successful in Thunderboating since the Miss Pepsi vintage year of 1951. But the result was the same.
Tempo VII took heat 1-A at 102.079–the first 100-plus clocking ever on the narrow Ohio River–to outdistance second place Lee Schoenith and Gale V which checked in at 97.052. The remainder of the event was reduced to an exhibition with Danny Foster throttling down to 84.945 and 84.230 for the spectators’ benefit to win the next two 15-mile outings by a tick of the clock over 1955 Season Point Champion Gale V, which had Bill Cantrell behind the wheel during the second heat but with no change in the order of finish.”
Guy Lombardo died on November 5, 1977. His fame as a band leader was equaled by his unlimited hydroplane boat racing career and his commitment to the sport. I shall remember him as a very nice man who took the time to show me, just a young kid, his race boat Tempo VII.