Speedboat builder, driver together in London hall

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Free Press sports columnist

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

What do you get when you cross a chicken farmer from Embro with the owner of a petroleum corporation?

The fastest boat of its time.

So it's fitting that they enter London's Sports Hall of Fame together on Nov. 10.

Jim Thompson was the designer/owner/builder of Miss Supertest III, a boat that set world and British Empire speed records and brought home the Harmsworth Trophy, speedboat racing's most coveted trophy.

Embro's Bob Hayward was the driver. The chicken farmer from Embro took Miss Supertest III to Harmsworth Trophy victories in 1959, 1960 and 1961.

A London branch of the YMCA is named for Hayward, while Thompson arena on the campus of the University of Western Ontario is named after Thompson.

Hayward was almost 33 when he was killed driving Miss Supertest II in a powerboat race in the Detroit River in 1961.

"He was an unassuming fellow. Quiet, a good sense of humour," Thompson said of Hayward. "He was well-liked by people and he was good with young people.

"He and his brother, if it moved they would race it. It didn't matter where it was, they would race it."

Thompson and his family owned and operated Supertest Petroleum. He attended Ridley College, Royal Roads Military College, the University of Toronto and got an MBA at Western.

"I like anything that floats," said Thompson, 78, who got into racing by buying the Miss Canada boats from the Wilson family of Ingersoll. In 1954 he built Miss Supertest II. His boat set the world speed record in 1957 at 184 1/2 miles per hour.

"I'm not too sure I would have been a good race driver," Thompson said. "But I did hours and hours of testing at race speed. I designed the boat and we built it in London."

Miss Supertest III only raced four times and was retired in 1961, never having been beaten. Thompson got out of boat racing shortly after Hayward was killed.

"We left at that time because we'd accomplished what we set out to do," he said. "That was to bring the Harmsworth Trophy to Canada. Where do you go from there?"

Mark Hayward is Bob's nephew. They were born on the same farm and Mark grew up 40 yards from his uncle's shop.

"He was an entrepreneur," said Mark. "He started by souping up tractors and pickup trucks. The most famous thing he had on the road was a '38 Chevy coupe. He used to prowl London looking for races. In the early '50s he became quite notorious with that."

Hayward became famous for boat racing but he was successful in drag racing. "He, Dick Patterson and Roy Hickson from London built a dragster out of tubing," said Mark Hayward. "It was like the top-fuel dragsters. Bob put up television aerials. With the tubing from the aerials, they built the dragster. It annihilated the competition."

His uncle would also race the '38 coupe in the U.S. and play the chicken farmer routine to the hilt.

"He'd dress up with bib overalls and white T-shirt," said Mark. "He'd put on a straw hat, chew on weeds. They'd play this farmer thing up. Then he'd just go out and destroy them."

It was a colourful family.

Bob's brother Keith, Mark's dad, was also into racing. Keith lost a leg in a motorcycle accident but still raced boats.

"They built a boat out of Popular Mechanics magazine and raced it on the Thames," said Mark. "Bob used to say that dad had the advantage because he'd screw off his leg, Bob would throw him on his shoulders and take dad out to the boat. There would be less ballast when it raced."

It's impressive how a "humble" group of individuals managed to take on outfits with a lot more money.

"Boat racing in the States was huge. Big companies took it seriously and spent a lot of money," said Mark. "What Jim Thompson did, along with Bob, and Bruce Wells of Wells Foundry in London, was remarkable. Bruce was very influential in the gear box and supercharger. Even though Jim was probably the only one who went to university, they were all smart guys."

His uncle was killed Sept. 10, 1961. He tried to shoot between two boats and Miss Supertest II flipped and rolled over. Speed was the first goal of running a boat, safety came second.

NEXT: Frank Colman

SPIRIT OF SPORT

WHAT: Volunteer recognition dinner and London Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

WHEN: Nov. 10. Dinner at 5:30 p.m. at Four Points Sheraton.

HALL INDUCTEES: Max Gauss, Frank Colman, Jim Thompson and Bob Hayward, and Fran Eberhard.

TICKETS: 451-6401 or lsc@bellnet.ca


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