Team Mercury – Part 3: Earl Bentz

Earl in the "Big Bore T-4" powered Seebold. Photo credit: Boatracingfacts.com.
Photo from 1980 Popular Performance boat magazine feature on Earl.

“My racing days hold many fond memories for me. Being part of the Mercury Racing Team made it possible for a young country boy from South Carolina to go places, do things, and meet people from all over the world that would have otherwise never happened.” wrote Earl Bentz, regarding his time driving for Team Mercury.

Earl credits his uncle, D.F. Jenkins [Jenkin Outboard, Charleston, SC]. for getting him into racing. He ran his first race at age 16 on Lake Murray, South Carolina. “Blue Goose” was the name of the boat, a 100 h.p. Mercury-powered deep-vee.

“My uncle bought me my first tunnel boat over the Winter of 1968-69. It was a Galaxie tunnel boat powered by a stock V-4 Johnson that qualified me for Sport J class. One of my all-time favorites was the ‘Wild Geechee’. It was a kneel-down tunnel with a ‘crash’ throttle. We probably won 80% of the races we entered. One year in particular, we won 20 consecutive races in classes from Sport J all the way to U and S class [unlimited single engine outboard],” said Earl.

 

Photo of Earl featured on the cover of the 1978 Mercury Hi-Performance products catalog.

“I first met Reggie [Fountain] racing at local races.  I could beat him with the single engine. I couldn’t touch his twin engine Glastron,” said Earl.  Earl’s success with competitive power was getting noticed by Mercury. His racing career came to an abrupt stop in 1973 when he endured a near fatal crash at the Outboard Performance Craft Championships in Eufaula, Alabama.

Earl explains, “It was a bad crash. I broke my back in three places. I was in the hospital for a month. I was supposed to meet with Mercury [Gary Garbrecht and Jim Mertin Sr.] while in Eufaula. Garbrecht called while I was recovering to ask if I was still going to race. He told me they were getting ready for Europe and wished I could come along.”

Earl would eventually meet with Garbrecht and Mertin and sign on with Team Mercury. “I was 22 when I moved to Oshkosh in November of ’73. I still had my back brace on,” said Earl.

Team Mercury, 1977: Front (L-R) Dave Beier, Les Cahoon, Gary Garbrecht, Reggie Fountain, Earl Bentz, Bill Seebold. Back: (L-R) Gene Trichel, Jack Ferris, Dave Piper, Mark Baier, Jim Welton, Jim Schunke. Photo courtesy of Earl Bentz.

Reggie Fountain was Earl’s teammate and roommate when they raced in Europe. “Reggie has always been very kind to me.  Earl came down with a wicked flu virus while staying in London one year. Reggie took care of me. He would run and get me orange juice – medicine – he nursed me back to health.”

Some of Earl’s fondest memories are of testing on Lake Butte des Morts in Oshkosh. “Mercury went above and beyond to prepare for races. Dave Beier, Jim Schuenke, Jim Welton, Bob Hetzel, Les Cahoon. These guys put forth the effort to win. Even Jack Reichert, who was the CEO of Brunswick at the time, supported the team. Jack would say, ‘If you finish second, you lost. Don’t lose.” We tested all day long. If needed – the guys would work all night  de-rigging a boat, replacing the running pads – doing whatever it took to win.” We got more seat time than anyone. The OMC [Outboard Marine Corporation] guys would come to the local park with binoculars to spy on us,” Earl said.

Reggie, Billy and I were all mechanically inclined.
Earl fending off an OMC competitor at the the 1976 OZ World Championships.

The team was great at keeping secrets too. “We were testing at Renato Molinari’s shop on Lake Como, Italy in 1974 when we encountered some engine issues. This was the first year of racing the fuel-injected  V-6 T-3s. Billy [Seebold], Reggie and I were all mechanically inclined. Even so – the Mercury guys were very secretive. We had no clue what was back there. They would ask us questions to try and diagnose the problem.  Hours went by before they finally let us take a look and together we fixed the problem,” Earl said.

“Not many people know this – but Billy and I were the only two drivers to race experimental  “Big Bore T-4″ outboards. We ran them at the 1980 Bristol, England race. These were hand-built, fuel injected 4.0 Liter V-6 engines. We won the race and set a record that lasted for a decade.” said Earl.

Powerboat Magazine - 1980. Photo credit: Boatracingfacts.com.
Earl haulin' the mail - Bristol, 1979. Photo credit: Boatracingfacts.com.

Like Reggie, Earl has a fond memory of the OZ World Championships in St. Louis. Earl won the 1977 event. “This was the first year we used the brakes. They ran off nitrogen cylinders that shot rods into the water, off the transom. We had two, foot switches. The engine-up trim button was on the left, the brake button was on the right. The brakes would allow you to run up to a turn wide open without backing off the throttle, hit the brake button and hold on. The left hand rotation prop would carry you through the turn. The g-forces would put you on the verge of unconsciousness. It was incredible,” exclaimed Earl.  OMC driver Jimbo McConell said at the time, “I wish we could just sit on the beach and watch you guys all day.”

Earl summed up his Team Mercury experience by saying, “I give Mercury the credit for the success that I have enjoyed building boats [Stratos & Triton] for the past 37 years. Guys like Gary Garbrecht taught me the rewards of hard work and being prepared. For more reasons than you can count, I shall always be indebted to Mercury.”

Earl currently resides in Nashville, TN with his wife Janet and three daughters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share Share

4 thoughts on “Team Mercury – Part 3: Earl Bentz”

  1. When one of King Carls knights came to town in about 74-75 to race at JOC (Jacksonville Outboard Club) sir Earl Bentz instantly became this 15 year olds hero. Until then, we had inline mercs and v4 omc’s, but that big yellow and black tunnel dominated everything outboard and inboard! I wonder if it was a T4 – it sure rumbled! I was so glad he made the effort to visit us at a small race, and made me a Mercury customer for life. Keith Hughett

  2. Rick, in 74-75 the engine would have been the earlier T3. I believe the T4 was first run in the US in ’78, but it could have possibly been ’77. At the time I had a friend who worked for Mercury and his father had worked closely with Carl K in Fond du Lac in the ’60’s. Because of this we were able to walk behind the tarp at St. Louis the first year they ran the T4’s and see them with the cowls off. I didn’t know what the displacement was at that time, but it was huge compared to the smaller 2.4’s we were accustomed to seeing and triggered my awe for resulting in the T4 collection I have now. All of mine are 3.4 liter and I have never been able to acquire one of the 4 liter power heads although I’ve never quit looking.

    To see Earl, Billy and Reggie race for the good guys back then was amazing. I was sitting dead center at Miami in 1975 when the triple blow over including Reggie happened, and also on the beach in Eufaula a year or so later when Billy and Fred blew over running side by side. I can remember when OMC went to court and got the T4 outlawed and Earl and Billy put the 2.4 power heads on and went out and won the race against the F1 V8 OMC’s with some good ole’ fashioned Team driving.

    There was just something about going to a race when the Merc truck was there and seeing Billy, Earl, Reggie and Buck. Even going to Jasper many years later to the ODBA races, it seemed like it was a lot more exciting when the Merc factory truck was sitting in the pits.

  3. That was a great time to be in OPC boat racing. 1974-1988 when I was racing also. I started with JP , SJ, than on to Mod 100 , SST120 , Mod U and the F-1 races with Merc power. The Factory and Billy Seebold were very helpful and always giving me support with advice and parts for me to win. My biggest mistake was selling my Merc stuff and buying a OMC V-8 and boat. The factory would not sell parts to me so I could rebuild motors and NO support.
    Bad taste that made me sell off all race stuff and retire.

  4. I remember when “Wild Geechee” kicked ass at the nationals in Miami marine statium, seems like it was 1968 or 69′ = he ran away and hid form the rest of the field. That was the same year Reggie and 4 others, all did a blowover together, right in front of the statium. Picture made every major newspaper in the country. At the time, I was racing a 13′ Checkmate OPC; F/G and would step up to S/G if I could. Wonderful folks, wonderful days!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

4 × 1 =