Charles F. (Chuck) Thompson, 1911 - 1966
Chuck Thompson, one of the sport's all-time great drivers, is this year's inductee into the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame. Chuck won 15 major races and two National High Point crowns during an Unlimited career that spanned three decades.
Chuck advanced to the thunderboat ranks after a distinguished career in C-Outboards.
His first Unlimited ride was in the single Allison powered Miss Pepsi in 1949. The first Miss Pepsi never really excelled in competition, but Chuck got every MPH out of her he could. After a crane operator dropped the boat at a race in New Martinsville, West Virginia, a new Miss Pepsi was ordered for 1950.
Designed by John Hacker, the second Miss Pepsi was a lengthened version of Hacker's highly successful My Sweetie. Powered by twin Allisons, the second Miss Pepsi proved to be the fastest step hydroplane ever built.
Miss Pepsi almost won the 1950 Detroit Silver Cup, but Chuck, in his sportsmanlike fashion, admitted that he had cut a buoy, and was disqualified. Later, in Washington D.C., everything came together for Thompson and the Pepsi team. They scored an impressive win at the President's Cup. For the next six years, Chuck and the mahogany cigar U-99 were the scourge of the Unlimited class.
They were the first to run a lap at 107 mph in competition (1950) and the first to average 101 mph in a Gold Cup heat (1952). Thompson and the Pepsi also won the National High Point Championships in 1951 and 1952.
Chuck owned and raced his own boats between 1954 and 1962, winning three races with his popular Short Circuit and Miss Detroit boats. He also drove for the Such Crust team in 1953 and 1957.
In 1962, Chuck was hired by Bill Harrah to drive the Tahoe Miss. He won the 1963 Seafair Trophy, the 1964 and '65 Indiana Governor's Cups, and the 1965 Spirit of Detroit Trophy in his home town. The only major trophy to elude him was the APBA Gold Cup. He came close to winning it in 1952 and 1964. In 1956, he was actually awarded the victory for a short time, but a protest from the Miss Thriftway overturned the results.
In 1966, Thompson stepped into the Smirnoff cockpit to replace an injured Bill Cantrell. At the Gold Cup, Thompson's position as pre-race favorite was confirmed when he easily won the first two heats. Before the third heat, Chuck confided to a reporter, "This time, I've got a winner!" For a while it looked to be true.
Thompson had Heat 3A locked up, and was coasting home to a third straight heat victory when a fire on board the Chrysler Crew forced the heat to be halted. In the re-run of the heat, while battling with Mira Slovak and the Tahoe Miss on the run to the first turn, the Smirnoff became airborne, dipped its left sponson and crashed. Chuck's injuries in the accident proved to be fatal.
In tribute to his outstanding achievements on the race course and with respect for his strength of character, we are proud to induct Charles F. Thompson in to the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame.
(From the program for the 1996 Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony Honoring ChuckThompson, May 30, 1996)
(Reprinted from the Thunder Letter Vol. 2, No. 105 June 26, 1996)
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