Bill Seebold - Fast On Water 2017

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Bill Seebold

Circuit > Hall of Fame
Born: 1943
Started racing: 1952
Retired: 1997
 
Set 44 national/world records; in Gulf Hall of Fame; inducted into Motor Sports of America Hall of Fame in 1999; member of American Powerboat Honorary Squadron; six times winner of the Duke of York Trophy.
 
1974 - Winner Paris six-hour.
1978 - American F1 World Champion; winner Duke of York Trophy, Bristol.
1979 - American F1 World Champion; winner Duke of York Trophy, Bristol.
1980 - Winner Duke of York Trophy, Bristol.
1981 - Winner Duke of York Trophy, Bristol; winner FONDA World Series.
1982 - Winner of Embassy Gold Cup, Bristol, F1.
1983 - 4th overall Formula Grand Prix World Series.
1984 - Winner Duke of York Trophy, Bristol; 3rd overall Formula Grand Prix World Series; 12th overall Formula 1 World Series; 3rd overall Bud Light Formula One Series.
1985 - 9th overall Formula Grand Prix World Series.
 
1997 - American PROP Tour Champion.
 

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Billy celebrating at Holme Pierrepont, 1981
The Long John Racing Team - 
Erwinn Zimmerman, Gary Garbrecht, Bill Seebold
and Tom Percival with, centre, Mr Ian Coombes,
Managing Director, Long John International.
The following article is taken from the Quincy Looper Racing website, who kindly allowed it to be used.
 
Bill Seebold, Jr. was born on February 23, 1941, in Granite City, Illinois. At the tender age of 11, Bill Jr. won his first boat race, starting his career in stock-engined outboard boats that hit top speeds of about 26-miles-per-hour. Seebold, Jr. claimed his first American Power Boat Association national points title just six years later in 1958…a title that launched arguably the most successful powerboat racing career in the history of the sport.
 
The bulk of his 46-year career was spent racing in “tunnel-hull” outboard boats, which fly over the water on a cushion of air. Upon retiring in 1997, he had accumulated 69 World and National Championships with over 900 racing victories.  At the age of 57 he won the sport’s North American Championship and his seventh St. Louis Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious events in powerboat racing. Bill Jr. won the Paris 6-Hour Race in 1974 and six Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) world championships from 1975 to 1990. He won the Duke of York Trophy at Bristol, England, six times from 1978 to 1984.
 
In North America, he was the champion of the FONDA circuit in 1981 and the International Outboard Grand Prix in 1989, 1993, and 1994. A hard-charging, late-season drive brought him from the middle of the pack to the 1997 PROP Tour title that allowed him to end his career as most of it was spent – as a champion.
 
In 1999 he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Detroit, Michigan, as the first Missourian and the 10th representative of powerboat racing to enter the Hall. He received the Union of International Motorboating’s Medal of Honor in 1992, was inducted into the Gulf Marine Hall of Fame when he was only 25, and was recognized as part of the St. Louis Sports Century honorees in 1999.
 
The 2004 season represents Bill’s 53rd as a driver or team owner. It will be the 23rd season in which Team Seebold has been sponsored by the Bud Light beer brand of Anheuser- Busch. Much of Bill’s summer is consumed by making arrangements for the St. Louis grand Prix, a race he helped start 32 years ago. More than $2-million dollars in proceeds from the race have been donated to the charities supported by his Concord Village Lions Club. The St. Louis race was the first race to sign up the new Champ Boat Series, which was formed in 2002 and has become the lead organization for professional tunnel-hull boat racing in the western hemisphere. As the team owner, Bill has won three North American Championships. Bill and his wife Lynne have four children; Mike, Tim, Billy, and Kim.
 
See  Race of a Lifetime article - Bristol Grand Prix programme, 1983
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The following article is taken from Powerboat 83 yearbook and was written by Christopher Wright of The Telegraph.
 
Billy Seebold, from St. Louis, Missouri, is a mean American winning machine on the racecourse and an unassuming gentleman off it. He is definitely not a good loser and has been known to throw a tantrum or two in defeat. They don’t last long, but it is definitely possible to tell that Mr Seebold is not amused. On the other hand, he is perfectly willing to risk life and limb and anything else at his disposal if he has the slightest chance of getting past that chequered flag first.
 
Americans seem to live off fast machinery, ear shattering noise, the ‘all right’ spectacle sprinkled with a dash of showmanship and this is probably why Seebold and circuit racing suit each other so well. Take for instance the 1982 Embassy  Grand Prix at Bristol Docks: the engine manufacturers are at loggerheads, Mercury insist that the engine capacity should be limited while Johnson and Evinrude say the bigger the engine the better. The result is, whatever the rights and wrongs, the drivers are forced to choose, not only between engines but between formulas.
 
There was a lot of controversy and considerable bitterness when it all began in 1980, and Seebold always has been a Mercury man and always will be. He is fiercely loyal. I once made the mistake of having a Johnson promotional team jacket in my suitcase while staying with Seebold in St. Louis. It wasn’t being worn, but Seebold spotted it lying there and went berserk. The ‘trash jacket’ was dispensed with out of the window and I felt lucky not to follow.
 
However, theoretically Seebold had to follow the Mercury line and that meant racing the limited ON class, while the OMC boys had a birthday in the big Formula 1 OZ’s. ON’s are fast, but the OZ’s are faster and they also sound particularly evil, and Seebold is not the sort of character who sits on a bank watching others have all the fun. He was determined to join in and before leaving for Bristol he had been busy playing with machinery at his factory in St. Louis. He came up with a ‘special little number all of my own’, which turned out to be a tweaked up engine of 2001cc, thereby qualifying him for the Formula 1 races. That made him able, by changing powerheads, to run in both categories. He strolled home in the ON series, but there was no great surprise in that, but there was when he lined up with the Formula 1’s and started ripping them apart.
 
It should be remembered that you can only go so fast around Bristol Docks. The walls are frightening for a start, and there are crosswinds and currents and a thousand other things to penalise a moment’s lapse in concentration. This all played into Seebold’s hands. He knows the Docks and was banking that power was not everything round that circuit. He had the crowd on tenterhooks before the start of the Embassy Gold Cup, the prize for the unlimited engine class. The ON series had just finished;  Leo, his faithful mechanic, was working like a demon in the pits changing powerheads; would he make it on time? screamed the commentators. There were only two minutes to go before the start, and still no Seebold; one minute, and then out came Seebold  and the crowd went mad.
 
It would have ruined the fairy tale theme if he had failed, but of course he didn’t. Underpowered at the standing start, he managed to thread his way through the field and later admitted that it was the best race of his life. ‘But I would never do it again’, he recalls. ‘None of the OMC guys were particularly keen to let me through and one or two damn near ran over me to stop me. I was tired, half the time I couldn’t see anything because of the rooster tails of the boats in front of me, and I kept thinking ‘Keep clear of the dock walls’. No, I wouldn’t do it again – but it was the kick of a lifetime to do it once.’
 
To understand Seebold you have to consider his environment and lifestyle. He lives in an old house, converted from two slaves’ huts, now in an upmarket suburb of St. Louis, and ‘parties’ at his home on the shores of the Lake of the Ozarks, complete with docking for two boats. This is where he really relaxes, swimming, water-skiing and messing about. He first met and instantly fell in love with his wife, a professional water-skier at the time, at a ski show. There was a powerboat race on at the same time, Seebold won, told Lynn to jump on the back of his boat for the lap of honour and the two have been together almost ever since.
 
His two eldest sons are machine mad – racing cars, boats, bikes, anything. Mike Seebold is a brilliant powerboat racer in his own right and young Timmie is catching up fast. Mike, just like Seebold Snr, has no respect for personal safety when it comes to racing and almost lost a leg in a horrifying accident in 1982. And this is how the Seebolds live, work and play, all out, no holds barred, come home first then relax and have some fun. It is an all-American style of action that Europeans find a shade aggressive but which is in-bred to many in the United States. Yet at the same time the Seebolds away from competition are quiet, reserved and (usually) exceptionally well mannered.
 
Seebold himself is under contract to Mercury both to drive and build boats. He has a small factory and a big reputation and seems to be known by most people in St. Louis, where he is the local celebrity. He tests his boats constantly on a nearby lake and has achieved a ‘feel’ for his craft unknown to ordinary mortals. This extends to such a degree that while other drivers hate the narrowness of Bristol Docks and privately would be happy never to see the place again, Seebold sees the whole thing as a challenge and actually seems to enjoy it. He has won the Duke of York Trophy there four times and it should have been five.
 
In 1980 he was leading by a street when on the last turn bouy his engine seized. He managed to get it going again but by that time his arch rival, Italian Renato Molinari, had squeezed past to win. Seebold finished second and by the time he crossed the line he was smashing the side of the boat so hard with his fist he was lucky he didn’t sink it.
 
Molinari, Cees van der Velden and Seebold have had running battles all over the world throughout their racing careers. Each is convinced that he is the best and they are all determined to prove it whenever they meet. Van der Velden treats the whole thing as a sort of serious joke; with Molinari it’s simply serious. I remember a time before the Parker Enduro on the Arizona River when Seebold and van der Velden almost literally ran into each other (in my hotel room) and what had begun as a quiet drink degenerated into pure mayhem. Ice cubes littered the floor, a polystyrene beer cooler was demolished into a thousand horrible bits and clothes were scattered everywhere as the grown up boys laughed and frolicked around. The next day, race day, was  rather different and smiles were scarce. I forget who won that time.
 
‘Sure we joke around all the time,’ says Billy. ‘You’ve got to release the tension. But circuit powerboat racing is nowadays too dangerous to be funny. At the speeds we travel now only a fool would step into the boat if he has the slightest doubt whether he can handle it. People get killed out there. I’ve been lucky. The sport has made my life and I owe it a huge debt. I’ve met some great characters and made some great friends all round the world. No one could  ask for more.’
 
Earl Bentz, Bill Seebold, Gary Garbecht
and Roger Jenkins. Bristol
Bill with son Mike. Bristol 1981
Bristol 80. Photo Steve Powell All Sport
Bristol 1979. Bill with the Duke of York Trophy
Bill at Bristol, 1982. Photo Peter White
 
 
 
 
Bill in his early hydroplane days
 
1979. The first year Bill competed at and won Bristol
1980. Bill lines up for the start of the OZ Class race
Off the start. Bristol 1981
Bristol 1982. Bill swaps powerheads and leads the ON Class Duke of York Trophy with Mark Wilson in close pursuit
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Bill Seebold’s Memories
of the
Great Bristol ‘Powerboat Regatta’

This story starts long before we (Team Mercury) arrived in Bristol for my first time. The reputation of the event had been flying around the racing circuit for years. I had raced in Europe several times – Paris and Amsterdam with my friend, Cees Van Der Velden from Boxtel, Holland. My very first race in Europe was at Amsterdam with Cees and we won the three-hour event, so you might say it was a good start to several years of driving together and winning International events.

Although a lot of European races were set in city limits and on rivers with seawalls, making for a very rough water setting, Bristol was not a lot different except it was a lot smaller in size, the width mainly, and shaped like a big S with very tight turns. I thought I had seen everything in race courses, but when we arrived at the site in 1978, Gary Garbrecht asked me what my thoughts were. I said, “Where is the race course?” thinking we were looking at the pit area! So you could say I was quite surprised at my first view of the famous course. Little did I know how many laps I would make around this very tight and dangerous place over the next 10 years.
As a main stop on the international racing circuits for years, it was always one of the hardest to conquer and win. The competition was top-notch and it always lived up to its reputation as a thrilling event.

A lot of times it was the difference maker in the race for the championship, so if you did well at Bristol you had a shot at the world title!

Racing for Team Mercury was a big thrill during the heydays of factory battles in Europe and the USA until the Mercury factory pulled out of factory racing in 1979. Bristol was the last factory team event forever! It was the end of an era that helped put powerboat racing on the map around the world, but it hurt racing as much as it helped. Afterwards the engine manufacturers started selling race engines to everyone, making for a more even playing field for the participants and in the long run a better show for the spectator. Circuit racing became, in my opinion, more competitive on both sides of the ocean.

Bristol was always one of the luckiest places that I ever raced and I guess winning the Duke of York trophy six 6 times shows that. My very first time at Bristol everyone that had raced there before tried to warn me of the dangers around the course. When you head down the course for the first time it really opens your eyes. I always compared it to driving in a tunnel – eight foot-high seawalls on both sides and no run off areas.

The first boat and engine set up I drove at Bristol was a Van der Velden hull and the Mercury T3 V6 with Bendix fuel injection. The biggest problem with that set-up was starting off the dock. As everyone knows the start is the most important thing at Bristol. Handling the rough water is the other key to winning there. I remember telling the rest of the Mercury Team that I would drive in the middle of the course or 6 inches off the wall because I did not want my rig turning into the walls. Sometime the best plans work and sometime they do not.

I was scared to death on the first start but once the flag drops you forget everything and just drive. In the heats you kinda get the feel for the boat and course. I had never driven that rig before race day, so you could say that it was on the job training! During one of the heats I got my initiation to Bristol docks – a Dutch Driver lost control and hit a rescue boat, killing two volunteer workers. That put a black cloud over the day for sure. Charlie Sheppard, the race director, always said that the show must go on, so the next day we were back racing around the docks. I came away with the first of my Duke of York Trophies. In the years to follow I earned five more.
Like every race there are a lot of things going on. If circuit racing had an event to make the sport “big time” that would be Bristol. It was broadcast live on BBC-TV, giving our sport a big shot in the arm! The announcing was top notch and news coverage was equal to what was given to the F-1 cars. That race and the media coverage helped our sport come of age during the 70s and 80s. I remember one time going out of the pits and it taking an hour, signing autographs, to get back to my pit area. It sure made you feel good to be there and know the fans were into the event that much!

Every year Bristol seemed to get bigger. Like a good wine it got better with age. It is hard after this long to remember all the details from all the races but every year after the event I always felt that I had accomplished something special. After winning the Duke of York trophy three times I received a letter from the Queen Mother about my achievement. A letter I was very proud of, which Charlie Sheppard flew out to the St Louis Grand Prix to give to me in person. Then I went on to win it three more times and I won the Embassy Gold Cup in 1982.

That Embassy Gold Cup race was possibly my best achievement in boat racing. Winning as the underdog with a smaller engine always feels great. Doing 95 laps both Saturday and Sunday in Bristol is no easy chore no matter how good a shape you are in. Between heats Leo Molendijk and the crew changed power heads, gassed the rig and launched with the crane in 7 ½ minutes so I could make the start in the Embassy Gold Cup final. Without a crew like that I would have never made it for sure!!! But it was a race that told a big story about crew, boat, set-up, propeller and driving instead of horsepower.

Yes, my years at Bristol were very memorable and something I will always cherish for the rest of my life. I wish we had more races like it today, putting more focus on driving and not just horsepower!

Just a quick note – writing this has brought back a lot of great memories. I thank Roy Cooper for keeping the memory of Bristol alive with the Fast On Water website.
Bill Seebold, # 7

Published in the Fast On Water magazine - Winter 2015.



The following piece, written by Bill Mackie, is taken from the Mercury Racing blog

“Those were the golden years of tunnel competition,” the first words spoken by Bill at the start of our phone interview regarding Team Mercury. “Back then, winning prestigious events such as the 6-hours of Paris or 3-hours of Amsterdam had an direct impact on European outboard sales!”, Bill said.

Bill began racing kneel-down “Alky” Pro Outboard hydros in the 1950s. It was at the 1968 Pro Outboard Nationals in Depue, Illinois that he met fellow competitor John Woods. Bill and John would hear the other drivers talk about their annual trek to Havasu, Arizona to race tunnel boats over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. After three years of hearing this – Bill and John decided to team up and buy a 20-foot Ron Jones tunnel boat. Bill owned a large Mercury Outboards dealership at the time in St. Louis, Missouri. Even though he was a dealer, he didn’t know anyone within Mercury Hi-Performance. He placed a call to the late Gary Garbrecht, the Mercury Race Team director, to introduce himself and get the serial numbers on the set of race engines he had on order (they ran twin in-line six cylinder outboards on 20-foot boats back then).

Mercury rigged the boat and took it West for the 1969 Havasu Classic. Bill had never been in a tunnel boat before. The boat was new – never been wet. Bill explained, “The Mercury Team guys gave me a quick run through of the cockpit and the number one thing they said was, ‘never trim beyond this point on the trim indicator.'”

After two days of testing – Bill was ready to go with John Woods doing the co-driving. They started 80th on the dock (incredibly, 105 boats started the event).

“I ran the boat first – with a two hour fuel load before handing it over to John. John ran it for 10 minutes before hooking it in a corner – crashing into another Mercury sponsored competitor, the late Bob Nordskog. Garbrecht went ballistic – and told me to never bring John to a race again!,” said Bill. A rough initiation into tunnel boats and not so good first impression with Mr. Garbrecht.

Bill won the 1972 Morgan City, Louisiana race in “Old Blue,” a 17-foot Molinari powered by a Mercury T-2X race outboard. It was a first of many race wins he accomplished for the team. He built his first tunnel race boat in 1974. It was a SST 120 class boat for independent drivers running in-line six cylinder Mercury Twister II race outboards. Seebold tunnels made their debut as the official Team Mercury boats for the 1975 race season. These were powered by the revolutionary V-6 Mercury T-3 race outboards.

Bill said the 1979 OZ World Championship in Milan, Italy was his most memorable race. Mercury was now campaigning the larger, 3.4 Liter V-6 engine called T-4. OMC would usually compete with their even larger V-8. They shocked everyone when Renato Molinari showed up with twin V-6 outboards on the transom. The race consisted of four heat races – best overall finish wins.

Bill explained, “It was a clock start race. Renato won the first heat – fair and square. I got second, Earl Bentz finished third. We immediately had a meeting with Gary [Garbrecht] to come up with a race strategy. Earl jumped the gun in the second heat. Renato was forced inside and hit a buoy – while I went on to win the heat. The Italian officials scored Renato with a second place finish. It took us hours of protests before the officials finally handed down a one-lap penalty. Renato went on to win heat #3 on Sunday, I placed 2nd. I won the final heat. The buoy infraction would end up costing Renato the championship. This was the ultimate death of twin engine tunnel boat racing. I still have the solid gold OZ World Championship necklace from that great race. I have many fond memories of the people I’ve met and places I’ve been during my Team days with Mercury.”
Calm before the storm. Bill with Renato Molinari,
Victoria Docks, London 1984
1987
Bill with Jon Jones
 
 
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