Lyn Michaud hydroplane racer part I

Episode 311

April 12, 2020

Lyn Michaud hydroplane racer Part I

I’ve always like outboard boats,” remarked Lyn Michaud retired owner of the Van Buren Ski Shop now living at Long Lake. “After high school I became friends with the Cyr boys (Greg, Paul and Mike) in Madawaska. They’re a little bit older and I probably helped them out some. Their dad (Pee Wee Cyr) had been racing”. {Side note we will hear more about the Cyr brothers in the next episode}

I asked the former owner of the Van Buren Ski Shop, “Do you remember that first hydroplane race you watched and the first you actually raced?”

“The first ones I ever saw were actually here at the Sporting Club. They raced way back in the Sinclair area for a few years”, recalled Michaud. “That would have been in the late 70s. I started racing I’m going to say, I’ll throw a year out, maybe ’82.”

“My first hydroplane race was on Pushaw Pond”, said Michaud about the small pond located just north of Bangor in Hudson. “That’s also where I bought my first real race boat, was at Pushaw the year before (1981).

“That’s one I bought from the Cyr brothers. We put this motor together ourselves. This one started off as just a fishing motor. We pulled the power head off and rebuilt it. This was a D motor, that was a 40 cubic inch”.

It was noted by Lyn that the Mercury outboard was like the one raced by Glenn Campbell mentioned in the last three episodes of UpNorth Motorsports. Mercury was the racers go-to-engine during that era as you will notice later.

“I just drove it around the lake,” explained Lyn Michaud about how he got started racing. “Got used to running a hydroplane around the lake. This photo below would have been taken in front of my dad’s camp right straight across the bay (at Van Buren Cove on Long Lake).

Michaud thinking about that boat said, “The very first boat I ever had. I have a picture of it here. It was fun to see. It’s an old Swift. Boy, I’ll tell you, I wish I had it today, it’s worth a lot. That was the very first boat.”

Van Buren native Lyn Michaud with his first racing hydroplane a Swift, purchased from the Cyr Brothers from Madawaska. This was the beginning of a race career over a decade. (Lyn Michaud collection)

Continuing Michaud recounted, “They were made by Swift back in the 50’s. They made two boats. They had what they called the Big Bee. It was spelled Bee as a B class boat and then this one was called big D! So, they had a Bee boat, and a D class boat.”

“Swift was very popular, I mean this was huge, like the Ford of boat racing. You know, the Ford or the Chevy, everybody had these, back in the day.”

Swift and Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine sidebar

Joe Swift started building boats in Mount Dora, Florida, northwest of Orlando after forming a company called Swift Wood Craft. His first products were clothespins which became later part of the logo. He built a variety of boats including hydroplanes and became a major manufacturer of runabouts and hydros.

His efforts were enhanced immensely when he contracted with Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine in 1969 became the more familiar name Mercury Marine.

Carl Kiekhaefer. in 1939, took over the failing Cedarburg Manufacturing Company which unsuccessfully produced Thor Outboards in Cedarburg, Wisconsin, a short distance from the family farm. The purchase came with 300 non-working motors which he modified by producing a better carburetor and sold them through the Montgomery Ward catalog.

When the orders kept coming all thoughts of producing milk separators was abandoned and Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine was formed. The engines were named Mercury, getting a boost from the popularity of the Mercury Motor Car. The logo was that of the Roman god Mercury.

During the war, Kiekhaefer Marine split off a division called Kiekhaefer Aeromarine which produced tiny 2 stroke engines to power drones which were used by anti-aircraft gunners for practice shooting down planes. They also developed a 2-man chain saw for the Army Corp of Engineers which was light and much faster than existing models. They were the largest manufacturer of chainsaws in the world just after the war.

The military version of the Mercury-Disston two-man chainsaw developed for the Army Corps of Engineers. ( photo)

To view the Mercury-Disston chainsaw in action click here

Kiekhaefer was a demanding boss according to people who worked for him; pushing his people to produce the best products and become industry leaders in innovation. He also loved racing. Racing was a place to showcase his Mercury Outboards.

One of the most famous exploits took place after competitors claimed Kiekhaefer Mercury outboards were unreliable.  Kiekhaefer launched Operation Atlas at his ‘secret’ 1440-acre Lake X in Florida, southeast of Orlando.

Aerial view of the Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine secret test facility, Lake X southeast of Orlando, Florida. The lake was built in a swamp to keep away prying eyes of competitors. (Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine photo)

In 1957, the R & D folks based at Lake X began a 25,000-mile endurance event with two identical boats powered by the new Mark 75 six-cylinder 60 horsepower outboards. That distance was selected since it was roughly the earth’s circumference. In 34 days, 11 hours, and 47 minutes later, boat number one completed 4,526 laps or 25,003 miles. Boat two finished one minute later.

Without letting off the throttle Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine R & D performed non-stop refueling for 34 straight days in Operation (Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine photo)

Non-stop running necessitated refueling on the go. The record attempting boats travelled at slightly over 50 mph at all times. To refuel, the fuel boat would pull up alongside and transfer a refueler who would add fuel all the while hanging on for dear life. Drivers were transferred at speed also.

For Mercury outboard enthusiasts that little six inch decal in the lower right “Dialed in at Lake X” was a badge of honor. (Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine photo)

For NASCAR fans, Kiekhaefer also campaigned a Chrysler 300 in 1955-56 winning 52 races. The team showed up at the races in uniform with the best of equipment. A rule dispute for the 1957 season ended the Kiekhaefer participation in NASCAR. (Ford Museum photo)

That is where Joe Swift came into the picture in the 1950’s,contracting with Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine to produce boats which would showcase their outboards. A would-be boat racer could walk into a Kiekhaefer Mercury Marine showroom and leave with a Swift boat, Mercury motor, trailer, and the necessities of racing. A 1955 price listing was $550 minus the trailer. All this and financing as well. Needless to say, popularity soared.

Swift boat production estimates were from 5-9,000 during 1950-1967. They may not have always had the fastest boat, however, their sheer numbers at races would be overwhelming.

Hometown Racing big part of Michaud career

This was the headline and article from the June 13, 1991 Bangor Daily News when the St John Valley town hosted their first National APBA races.

Van Buren gears up for boat racing, international festival

By Dawn Gagnon St. John Valley Bureau, Special to the BDN • June 13, 1991 12:00 am

From July 5-7, Van Buren will host the American Power Boat Association’s (APBA) 1991 Eastern Division Modified Boat Racing Championship. While APBA has held races here for the past six-year, this summer will mark the first time the championship is held here.

Racers will compete in several stock and modified categories for runabouts and hydroplanes on courses set on the St. John River. Organizer Jarrett McLaughlin said racers are expected to arrive Friday and practices and heats set for Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., weather permitting.

In conjunction with powerboat events will be an Anything That Floats That’s Not A Boat Race. McLaughlin said the international competition begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 6, weather permitting, on the St. John River.

The race is open to anyone interested. Trophies will be awarded for fastest, prettiest, ugliest and most ingenious. For more information or to register, contact the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce.

Lyn Michaud on right at speed on the St. John River in Van Buren, Maine. This was before Michaud’s driving career was cut short. That story is next week. Note the camper trailers in the background. (Lyn Michaud collection)

“This was in Van Buren,” recalled Michaud who was proud of his hometown’s efforts. “Of all the years we raced, we raced for about 15 years in Van Buren. One year, and I don’t remember what year it was, it was kind of more toward the end of it… Van Buren was awarded a North American Championship.”

“Every year there was one class, A, B, C, D, E, hydro, and runabout, that would get awarded one North American Championship at a predetermined race. Van Buren put in for it a couple of years and didn’t get it. Finally, one year we did get it!”

Michaud described the year that C Modified Championships were held in Van Buren. He got hurt severely in 1989 and was a hydroplane owner no longer at the controls. That part of his story is in the next episode.

The race in Van Buren that year took on increased significance since it pitted his driver, Fred Zompa, against the “King if the Mods” Bob Goller. Goller was a master at engine building and boat set up.

Goller, like Michaud was not driving that year. He had a driver who drove the complete series that year. Lyn was unable to recall his name. Goller was good friends with Michaud and oftentimes would answer questions dealing with Michaud’s hydros.

Goller was so proficient; he went on to be the APBA Technical Inspector for many years. He once disqualified himself, when he found he had inadvertently used a part that was not allowed in his engine in the class he had wo

Describing the races in Van Buren with a sprinkling of laughter Michaud said, “What happened is Fred Zompa (Michaud’s driver) did not run the modified class, Fred was a stock class driver. He ran C stock and D stock.”

“That year he got on to me.”

“Say!” Zompa said, “We could win this! If we put your motor on my boat and of course, well, why don’t we leave the motor on my boat”.

“It was back and forth,” chuckled Michaud. “It was Fred driving Fred’s boat, my motor, and the Cyr brothers best C propeller!”

“We went out there and quite honestly, we were up against the king of the C modified class, Bob Goller. This guy, Bob had the best class C modified in the country. In fact, his boat held the record for like a 15-year period – nobody could break it.”

But Bob had stopped race driving, almost about the time Michaud got into it. He had a guy in his boat when they came to Van Buren who drove his boat at every race.

“We were fast,” said Michaud moving closer to the edge of his seat as he told the story. “Goller’s driver was trying to battle and ended up dumping it!”

“The North American Championship was the only race where it was a six heat cumulative finish,” explained Michaud.  “Typically, boat races are two heats a race weekend. So on Saturday, you have a D-Stock heat one and heat two with the best combined finish as the race winner. So, it’s two heats of racing.”

“But for the North American Championship races, it’s six heats of racing. He (Goller’s driver) had ended up dumping the boat in one heat and we did well, in fact we won that heat, When Fred won another heat or two and came in second in others we ended up North American Champions!” 

“Yup, said Michaud. “North American was USA, Canada, and Mexico on the trophy and plaque. I never got the plaque! Fred kept it! He was supposed to give it to me. The Cyrs were supposed to get it for a year and I was supposed to get it for a year.  Fred, that bugger, he never relinquished it!”

I asked Michaud about the Van Buren races and how many people attended?

 Michaud estimated, “We used to get average 125 entries. Each class was probably 10-12 boats. There weren’t enough boats to get into eliminations, but we were a fairly full field so probably 10-12 boats per class.”

“With 125 boats on the shoreline, that was impressive,” said Michaud. “We would start at 11:00 in the morning and we’d race right until 5:00 in the afternoon, I mean it took a whole afternoon and it was good.”

“Van Buren race was always Fourth of July. And like Lockhaven, (Pennsylvania) we were doing a three-day race because it was so far to come. We would at least allow guys to get points for three days of racing, these were overall national points.”

“We had little food vendors and there was a skydiving group at the time in town and they used to do some skydiving and parachute stunts and stuff in the morning before the races. There were pontoon boat rides on the river. For ten bucks, they’d take people out.”

“Van Buren was one of the most well-liked races of everywhere,” stated Michaud proudly. “

“It was hospitality. We would put on our race and we would get the local motels and restaurants to provide breakfast one morning, another would do a breakfast another morning.”

“Racers would come and were able to eat breakfast and dinner, free of charge, every night in lieu of prize money.”

“We used to do what other races did; what they called ‘tow money’. Tow money you just get ‘x’ amount of dollars for each class that you enter. You might get  30 or 40 bucks a class; if you race three classes, you get 100 bucks for gas money and  they’d go to breakfast and dinner for free every day.”

“Visitors used to stay at the Colonial, in town, the Yacht Club, and there was a little motel in St. Leonard across the river that they used to filter in also. A lot of guys would come up with their motorhomes and stay right in the pits.”

“We used to do a pig roast every year on one of the nights with a live band!”

It was noted that the organizers were primarily the local Lions Club with the American Power Boat Association as the sanctioning body which provided the event insurance.

 Michaud added that, “The actual races were run by South Shore Outboard Association which is the New England  subchapter of APBA. They are a regional club. South Shore had the tow boats, the inspector, and the referee, and they’d come up to run the race.”

“What would happen if the racer broke down in the race on the New Brunswick side of the river?” I asked. “Would you need to report to customs?”

 Michaud laughed replying, “Not unless you set foot on shore. And of course, nobody, nobody did that. We had two patrol boats, one on each end of the race course. So, if somebody breaks down they’ll pull you in.”

“Sometimes they use jet skis, most of the time. The rescue boats had litters that can lower right into the water that can lift somebody out. Those two boats are owned by SSOA. They go to every single race. You have to have them.”

Next week the importance of rescue boats and how an accident in Connecticut forever changed Michaud’s life, in fact probably should have ended his life. Do not miss it!

Social distancing with Grandkids

I asked my grandkids to spend some time last week with me coloring race cars. They selected their cars and provided these photos for this week’s Cars are the Stars.

Lila on left chose a Mercedes while her sister Lydia colored a Lamborghini to which she added a Harry Potter lightning bolt. (Cole Family Photo)

Caleb on left displays his IndyCar with a patriotic red, white, and blue scheme. Soren on the right used blue and yellow, two of his Grampy’s favorite colors. (Courtemanche Family Collection)

Of course Grampy had to do two IndyCars at the world’s most famous racetrack, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Don’t forget, Part II of the Lyn Michaud story next week and a tribute to Kody Swanson’s USAC Silver Crown owner Gene Nolen, who passed away this week. Hope your Easter was as blessed as mine!

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine