It is difficult to imagine a racing world without "Wild Bill" Cantrell. A versatile competitor, Cantrell drove everything from one-lung outboards to Indianapolis Speedway cars. No fewer than eleven major race victories were compiled by Cantrell in the Unlimited Class of hydroplane competition between 1949 and 1964. He was also a champion many times over in the old 725 Cubic Inch Inboard Class of the Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association during the 1930's and early 1940's.
Although pinpointing the exact beginning of "Wild Bill's" long career is difficult, Cantrell acknowledged that he started in the 1920's as a riding mechanic in two-man boats. "They put a jacket and a helmet on me and I'dget in there and pump air for the fuel to get up to the carburetor. One day, one of the guys didn't show up and I got a chance to ride in the Gee Whiz, a little 151 cubic inch boat, in Springfield, Illinois. Then I got a chance to drive it, and that was it."
Cantrell first attracted national attention when he challenged for the APBA Gold Cup at Detroit in 1939 with the Hispano-Suiza-powered Why Worry. Despite a limited budget, Cantrell turned in a fine account of himself by leading the field in heats one and two. Although propeller failure forced him out of the race, Cantrell nevertheless served notice that he was a competitor to be reckoned with in the future.
His best year of racing in the Unlimited Class was 1949 when he won five out of six major races, including the Gold Cup and the National High Point Championship with Horace DodgeJr.'s My Sweetie. Cantrell repeated as High Point winner in 1950 with My Sweetie and in 1963 with Gale V. Cantrell's greatest personal victory was at the 1949 Gold Cup on the Detroit River. In winning the Crown Jewel of APBA racing, he had to outrun the best boats in the world. A friend recalled this incident which occured when Cantrell brought My Sweetie back to the dock to receive the trophy: "When he came in by the judge's stand, Bill got out of the cockpit and kissed the deck of the boat! Then he pulled his old dollar watch out to see what titne it was" to note his moment of triumph.
Following his retirement from competition, Cantrcil went on to win as a hoat designer anti shore mechanic many of the same trophies that he won as a driver. This classic speedster serves as a connection to a past when a daredevil would drive anything that was fastcar or boat. Ile has won the affection and respect in the sport and a place in the Motorsports Hall of Fame.