A recent discovery of classic photos of the Team Mercury outboard tunnel boat race team rekindled my curiosity of the outboard factory war era when Mercury and OMC (Outboard Marine Corporation – parent company of the Johnson and Evinrude brands at the time) battled for bragging rights (and sales) across the globe.
I thought it would be interesting to interview the team drivers to hear first hand what it was like racing for Team Mercury.
#190 – Bill Seebold Jr.
“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.”
Next, we’ll hear from Reggie regarding his time driving for Team Mercury.