The purpose of this column today is to solicit support for a commemorative stamp in honour of Miss Supertest, the most famous racing powerboat in the history of Canada, and the fellow who drove her, Bob Hayward.
John Lyons of Picton, who is spearheading the campaign for a stamp, came to see me about a month ago.
A passionate, enthusiastic fellow, Lyons says a show of support for the stamp is critical.
"The Stamp Selection Committee of Canada Post and its chairperson, Robert Waite, must know that Canadians are supportive of such a stamp," he said.
"They get about 600 applications a year," he said, "and fewer than two dozen are approved. So it's really important for people to get behind this."
Many people and organizations are already on board, of course: yacht clubs, members of Parliament, the world governing body for powerboat racing, and so on. Even Mayor David Miller of Toronto is in support.
But backing from those folks and institutions is to be expected. It's people from the non-powerboat-racing world who could tip the balance here.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Miss Supertest, the boat, the man and the story make up a wonderful slice of Canadiana.
First, a little background. In 1902, the fellow who owned Britain's Daily Mail newspaper, Alfred Harmsworth, dedicated a trophy to encourage development of the motorboat industry. Starting in 1920 and continuing through to 1958, the United States held the trophy.
Jim Thompson of London, Ont., president of the Supertest Petroleum Co., became interested in powerboat racing and purchased an unlimited hydroplane in the early 1950s, renaming it Miss Supertest. When Thompson didn't win in that boat, he had Miss Supertest II built in 1954 and subsequently enjoyed some success.
In 1959, Miss Supertest III was constructed and this boat was a winner right out of the box. In August of that year, Supertest III with Hayward driving (Thompson did virtually all of the testing and development work on the third boat but left the actual race-driving to Hayward) went up against the American champion Maverick, which was defending the Harmsworth Trophy on the Detroit River, and beat him.
The victory caught the country by surprise but very quickly there was joy in the land.
They might be our friends, but there's nothing Canadians like to do better â€“ be it in hockey or the War of 1812 â€“ than beating the Americans.
As dictated by Alfred Harmsworth back in 1902, any challenge for the trophy had to take place in the country of the Harmsworth holder and so, in August of 1960, the Americans brought three boats â€“ the maximum number of challengers under the rules â€“ to Lake Ontario at Picton to try to win it back.
By now, Miss Supertest was a Canadian icon: a household name from one end of the country to the other. The excitement over the showdown was unimaginable.
Prime minister John Diefenbaker, Ontario premier Leslie Frost and Toronto mayor Nathan Phillips were there.
Tens of thousands of spectators from both sides of the border turned out to watch Hayward turn back the American challengers.
The boat and the man were national heroes and were given a ticker-tape parade up Bay St. in Toronto.
Miss Supertest III and Hayward successfully defended the title again in 1961 but several months later, disaster struck. On Sunday, Sept. 10, 1961, while competing for the U.S. Silver Cup on the Detroit River, Miss Supertest II flipped over and Hayward was killed.
Thompson would only allow Miss Supertest III to compete in the Harmsworth Trophy races; Hayward raced Supertest II at other times and he was in that boat when he died. No matter. Thompson retired from the sport on the spot and Miss Supertest III was never again sent into battle.
Miss Supertest III and Bob Hayward are members of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame; they, and Thompson, are inductees of the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame. The magnificent boat at present is on loan to a private collector but is expected to be moved to a new and permanent home at the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame facility at Downsview later this year.
Let me quote John Joseph Kelly of Georgetown, who wrote "Roostertail, The Miss Supertest Story," to put into the proper perspective what she meant to Canada and Canadians 50 years ago.
Speaking about the 1960 title defence, in particular, Kelly wrote:
"Understand why this was such an important event in Canada's struggle for autonomy from her southern neighbour … For (the Thompsons), it was imperative that Canada be No. 1 in the unlimited hydroplane racing world and we were, from 1959-1961. It was a dominance that would have lasted for several more years had driver Bob Hayward not been killed … for the Americans did not have a boat that was capable of challenging Miss Supertest.
"I have been to Picton many times, and stood on the shores of the Long Reach, where Miss Supertest turned aside those American challenges in 1960 and 1961. When I watch a videotape of that 1960 race, the hair on my neck goes up because it was such a special moment in our history."
Please lend your support. Mail or email your support to:
Mr. Robert Waite, Chairperson â€” Stamp Selection Committee, Canada Post Corp., 2701 Riverside Dr., Suite N1070, Ottawa, K1A 0B1.
Or email email@example.com
Want to watch Miss Supertest in action? Go to click here.
The deadline for letters of support is March 31. They'll announce their decision in April.firstname.lastname@example.org Read motorsport writer Norris McDonald's Auto Racing blog at wheels.ca.