Hydroplane event brings pair together again

It’s a relationship that began 56 years ago this week, according to Mira Slovak, one of the biggest names in the early days of hydroplane racing.

  • BY Wire Service
  • Tuesday, August 5, 2008 1:15pm
  • News
Bill Boeing

Bill Boeing

Boeing, Slovak recall their races

It’s a relationship that began 56 years ago this week, according to Mira Slovak, one of the biggest names in the early days of hydroplane racing.

Bonded over a jet-powered boat, it is a relationship continues to leave both men revved.

Mira Slovak was reunited Thursday at a banquet with Bill Boeing, Jr., the owner of the Miss Wahoo, the hydroplane that made Slovak a household name in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the hydro-racing circuit. And as the night unfolded during the event at the Kent Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum, the two smiled and laughed and talked of the good old days, when racing was a pursuit of volunteers and not the corporations that dominate the game the today.

“It was a different time and a different type of racing,” said Slovak, now 79.

“Those days were very different,” agreed Boeing, 85, calling the era “the great early days of racing.”

The Kent-based museum announced this week a project to relive the glory days of Boeing and Slovak, by reconstructing the hydro that made that made them famous, with plans to launch the replica Miss Wahoo at Seafair 2009.

The original Miss Wahoo was designed by Ted Jones and made its debut in 1956 and, according to a press release from the museum, was not only the first time Slovak drove in a race, but was also the first time he even saw a hydro race was.

Slovak was originally a pilot for the government-controlled airline in his native Czechoslovakia. But one night, during the height of the Cold War, Slovak overpowered his co-pilot and “borrowed” a DC-3 airliner, flying it to West Germany where he surrendered the plane and asked for U.S. political asylum.

After moving to Washington, spending some time as a crop-duster in the eastern part of the state, Slovak was hired as the personal pilot to Boeing, who was functioning an executive for the growing aviation company. Soon after, Boeing got involved in the relatively new sport of hydro racing and Slovak, with his well-honed piloting skills, seemed like a perfect fit.

“So we asked Mira if he’d like to drive the boat,” Boeing said, a smile spreading across his face.

Slovak accepted and one of the most famous partnerships in Seattle hydro history was born.

Slovak’s experience as a pilot made him a natural choice.

“Well, half the time he was in the air, the other half he was on the water,” Boeing recalled Thursday night.

According to banquet attendee Ron Jones, whose father designed the original Miss Wahoo and who will be working on the replica, Slovak took to the craft naturally, requiring only a few instructions.

“We told him ‘when you get to the corner, turn left,’” Jones recalled.

Back then, hydro racing was not the corporate-sponsored sport we know today, according to Boeing and Slovak. The owners were private and there was no advertising on their boats, simply a number and a name. “Miss Wahoo,” named for Boeing’s hometown in Nebraska.

Slovak relished his time in the cockpit, roaring across the water.

“It was pure love,” Slovak said, downplaying his role as a driver, which he called “one of many” on the racing team. “Everybody was learning, everybody was new.

“It was just fun,” he continued. “Winning or losing didn’t make a difference.”

Fun though it was, Boeing and Slovak went on to win several major races, including the 1957 Mapes Trophy, the 1959 Lake Mead Cup and the 1959 President’s Cup, which Boeing remembers as the team’s finest hour. After winning, Boeing and Slovak were presented with the trophy by President Dwight Eisenhower during a ceremony at the White House.

Before that race, Slovak blew a cylinder in his engine, leaving him with only 11 to the other boats’ 12. He won anyway.

“They said ‘That miserable so-and-so, with 11 cylinders beat us!’” Slovak recalled of his competitors.

“There was nothing better than the Wahoo when it hit the water,” agreed Jones.

After an accident in 1960 and the creep of corporate-sponsored hydros, Boeing got out of the sport. Slovak continued to compete but a series of accidents and injuries led him to hang up his helmet in 1968.

Since then, Slovak said he hasn’t followed the sport too much, though his legacy as a top driver continues to follow him today, as evidenced by a fan at the dinner, Marc Connelly, who snapped a photo and told Slovak that if he didn’t shake the driver’s hand, his mother would never forgive him.

“Miss Wahoo, Mira Slovak, that was the biggest story in Seattle that year!” Connelly spouted.

Boeing also is no longer involved as a hydro owner, but he still follows the sport. According to him, the biggest change since Slovak’s days is the addition of a new skid plate to the boats.

“I don’t know where he’d be if he had that fin,” Boeing said of Slovak, before the two launched into a discussion about how the new fin affects the aerodynamics and abilities of the modern hydros.

With the announcement of plans to rebuild the Miss Wahoo, the pair’s legacy is once again cemented into the lore of the area and the sport. Both Boeing and Slovak said they were proud of their time together and their victories nearly 50 years ago.

“It was a lot of fun,” Boeing said, adding “It’s always great to see Mira.”

“It’s like a homecoming,” Slovak said.

The Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum is located at 5917 S. 196th St. in Kent. For more information, visit www.thunderboats.org.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@kentreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.kentreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

t
Kent Police arrest man, 18, in fatal shooting of 13-year-old boy

Judge finds probable cause to hold the Kent man for murder, attempted murder and robbery

The Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center in Seattle that handles juvenile detention. COURTESY PHOTO, King County
High-profile juvenile crimes continue to rock Kent this summer

Six incidents in five weeks include fatal shooting, vehicular homicide, vehicular assault

King County Correctional Facility in Seattle. COURTESY PHOTO, King County
Kent man charged with attempted kidnapping of 6-year-old girl

40-year-old man allegedly try to take girl from apartment complex parking lot

Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent. FILE PHOTO
Kent man receives 8-year sentence in 2021 fatal shooting

Pleaded guilty to lesser charge of manslaughter in shooting at apartment complex over parking dispute

Courtesy Photo, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
Judge finds probable cause to hold Kent man for kidnapping girl

Man, 40, reportedly grabbed 6-year-old girl in East Hill apartment complex parking lot

t
King County residential property values rise 12.4% in SE Kent

King County Assessor John Wilson begins to release 2024 numbers

t
Three 11-year-old girls in Kent help stop kidnapping of 6-year-old girl

40-year-old man reportedly grabbed girl in apartment complex parking lot on East Hill

t
Kent Police seek male teen driver in fatal hit-and-run on East Hill | Update

Teen reportedly driving stolen vehicle and fleeing police during Saturday, July 13 incident; victim identified

t
13-year-old boy fatally shot in Kent on East Hill near Turnkey Park | Update

Boy found shot near apartment complex Tuesday night, July 16 identified by medical examiner

t
Kent School Board votes 3-1 to send levy to voters in November

Capital projects and technology levy reduced from $192 million to $97 million after previous failures

t
Kiwanis clubs to place painted rocks at downtown Kent parks

Purpose is to ‘spread joy and positivity’