Up to the test

Recalling Canada’s world-beating speedboat.

Written by Henrietta Roi

Posted September 11, 2019

Sixty years ago, an all-Canadian boat-racing team began a winning streak that is unparalleled to this day.

In 1959, the team of Jim Thompson and Bob Hayward, driving Miss Supertest III, won the Harmsworth Cup — a historically significant international motorboat race. And they won again in 1960 and 1961, despite being relative underdogs in the world of hydroplane boat racing.

Hydroplane boats have specially designed hulls that utilize planing action to support their weight as they travel on water. “Unlimited hydroplane racing was a huge sport,” Murray Walker, the current owner of Miss Supertest III, told Canadian Yachting.

At the turn of the 1960s, the sport was dominated by Americans. Hayward drove in his first race only in 1958, and Thompson had never designed a boat on his own prior to Miss Supertest III.

Hayward was at the wheel for the 1959 victory, which shocked the speed racing world; Americans had won the previous thirty-nine Harmsworth Cup races.

Sadly, the Miss Supertest III team would face tragedy a month after the 1961 Harmsworth Cup victory. Hayward entered a race on the Detroit River, this time driving Miss Supertest II. While roaring along the river at a speed of at least 120 kilometres per hour, Hayward’s boat veered off course and rolled, killing him instantly.

Miss Supertest III was retired after the death of its star driver. Since then, the boat has occasionally been displayed at boat shows and other events. However, work is underway to establish a Canadian Raceboat Hall of Fame that would feature Miss Supertest III as a central exhibit. More than $300,000 has already been raised with support from a major bank. The next challenge is finding a location.

Races drew “thousands of spectators,” Walker said, adding that he wants to “help new audiences taste some of that excitement.”

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This article originally appeared in the October-November 2019 issue of Canada’s History.

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