A Family Affair Vintage

The APBA’s Vintage and Historic Division would not be thriving if it were not for the countless families of racers across our great nation that fell in love with boat racing in the early days of the sport. Out in Region 10, we are blessed with dozens of racing families that have paid their competitive dues and are now enjoying the slower paced life within the vintage community. The Gillmer family from the Spanaway Lake/Tacoma, WA area fit this bill to a tee. Gordy Gillmer’s love for boat racing started in the early ‘50s when his parents got their first 13” black and white TV, which he became glued to. That summer, the local stations would broadcast the qualifying runs for the Unlimiteds on Lake Washington. Gordy also remembers watching the flip of the “Slo-Mo-Shun V” live on TV at the 1955 Gold Cup. From that point on, it was a love affair with the hydroplanes. In 1968, Gordy roomed with a friend who had a cousin that owned a 145-class hydro. When he first laid eyes on the hull, he knew it was his destiny, so he purchased the hull for $500.00. He entered the little boat at his first Tacoma Inboard race at Mossyrock on Riffe Lake in the summer of 1969. Gordy got a great start but was then passed twice in the same heat by the up-and-coming youngster Chip Hanauer. Despite the first race setback, Gordy went on to be the 1969 TIRA rookie of the year.

The ‘70s and early ‘80s were very fruitful for Gordy as he became involved in the popular 7 litre class in Region 10, which featured many great boats such as the Record 7, the Tool Crib and the Merion Bluegrass. It also featured a lot of slower 7 litres that put on a great show from the middle of the pack. In late 1972, Gordy purchased one of those slower 7’s from Bill Walker named “Sunday Pants”, a late ‘50s Ted Jones design, which Gillmer preferred. In 1973, with a stock 383 Chrysler on board, Gillmer edged out the Miss Heidelberg for the National High Point title, which allowed him to fly the coveted H-1 on his boat for the 1974 season. From there it was full speed ahead for Gordy. In 1975, Gillmer purchased another hull, this time from Jon VanDyke, who had a fleet of new Jones hulls. Gordy chose the 5 litre named “Tool Crib”. Much to his joy, the hull was pure magic out of the box. He took his new toy to Green Lake in 1976 and promptly set a course record at 100.559 mph, topping Jerry Bangs record of 99mph from the year before. Gillmer still owns this record due to the true 5 litre class dissolving into the 6 litres and eventually into the National Mod class.

During the 80’s while working part time for Ron Jones Sr. Gillmer also drove several other boats which included the “Gold Streak”, the “North Star” and the old “Gladiator” from California. It was also during this time that he made a trade. His current 7 litre division 1 hull for an unfinished Jones, similar in size to John Leach’s famous J-101 Buccaneer. The finished “red” hull became the beautiful “Pegasus II”. Unfortunately, the 7 litre division 1 class quickly died off with the birth of the GP class, so the “Pegasus II” went into storage for a long sleep. Shortly thereafter, two kids came into the picture, Travis and Stephanie, and boat racing was put on hold until further notice. But as you might have expected, the racing bug came back in the late ‘90s when Gordy decided to give it one more shot. From scratch, he built a 25-foot monster GP hull that took ten years to complete. This is where Travis began to learn the tools of the trade. However, racing with canopies was a whole new ball game for Gordy, and the false sense of security became a bit too much. With two kids to raise, the choice became clear. An offer came along to sell the GP hull, so he reluctantly let it go. In early 2007, during that 10-year build, Travis started nosing around the shop and spotted an old Ford straight six that was originally in Gordy’s first hull. Being the curious type, Travis took off one of the heads and was surprised to find no rust in the cylinders. He also found all the hardware for the little 145 which sparked an interest in building a new boat around it. They then contacted Ron Jones Sr. about a set of new plans. Travis told Ron that they were looking for something truly vintage, so Sr. drew up a set of plans from an old Ted Jones design with a few improvements.

When Travis graduated from high school later that year, he had saved up enough money to start building his new vintage hull. In 2008, the frames were cut out, further enhancing his excitement. Although it came with trials and tribulations, the 5-year project was most enjoyable. The tiny 145 class vintage hull debuted at Black Lake in 2013 as the S-60 “Lil Miss Thriftway”. Like most rookie drivers, Travis had the proverbial butterflies in his stomach, but he thought to himself “my Dad has raced and been around hydros for 40 plus years. There is no reason in the world why I can’t do this too.” He threw the ignition toggle and off he went. Travis wasn’t setting the world on fire with his little Ford Falcon motor, but we he came back to the pits, the smile on his face was a mile wide, at which point the “vintage” hook had been forever set. In the years that followed, the “Pegasus II”, which bears a similar resemblance to the 1976 Gold Cup winning U-2 “Miss U.S.” was pulled out of storage to also run in the vintage class. In 2017, Gordy located his old 7 litre that he won the National Championship in back in the ‘70s, which was owned by Mike Egbers. Mike’s intentions of restoring it to her prime never happened, so the boat was stored away. Fortunately for Gordy, the hull was in great shape, and as sad as Egbers was to part with his dream project, he decided to sell it to Gillmer so it could finally get back on the water as intended. As a tribute to the days of old, the hull was painted up like Gordy’s favorite hydroplane of all time, the 1958 “Miss Thriftway”. All three Gillmers, Gordy, Travis and now daughter Stephanie, ran the H-60 “Lil ‘58 Miss Thriftway” for only a few years before it went into semi-retirement, which brings us up to date with their current project. Travis is currently building a replica of the 5 litre that his father set the world record with on Green Lake in 1976. If all goes according to plan, the new boat should be ready for the Region 10 vintage circuit in 2021. Thanks to the Gillmers, vintage continues to be alive and well out west.

John Woodward – Region 10 Vintage and Historic Representative



More Posts