Mira Slovak, Power Boats, Class of 2001
Mira Slovak won nine races in a 12-year career as an unlimited hydroplane driver, including the 1966 Gold Cup on the demanding Detroit River, but the race he wanted to win most was Washington, D.C.'s President's Cup. Slovak wanted to win that race because the President of the United States presented the trophy to the winner. And he had something to say to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
At the height of the Cold War, Slovak was captain and chief pilot of the government-controlled Czechoslovakian Airlines. In 1953 he overpowered his co-pilot and made a below-radar dash during a regularly scheduled flight and landed in West Germany where he requested political asylum. Eventually he made it to the United States, but could not find work as a pilot because he needed a radio operator's license, which were not issued to non-citizens. President Eisenhower signed an executive order that allowed Slovak to be issued a license.
Slovak won the President's Cup in 1959 and was able to thank Ike personally on the victory stand.
His defection heroics and his outgoing personality made Slovak a popular figure on the unlimited circuit during his tenure, which lasted from 1956 to 1968. During that time he was national high point champion twice -- in 1958 with Miss Bardahl and in 1966 with Tahoe Miss. And he won the 1966 APBA Gold Cup with Tahoe Miss.
Slovak's first unlimited ride was aboard Bill Boeing, Jr.'s Miss Wahoo, which made its competitive debut in Seattle in 1956. Not only was the Seafair Regatta Slovak's first race as a driver, it was his first race, period. Despite this unfamiliarity, he finished second in his first competitive heat.
His first victory came in 1957 on Lake Tahoe at the helm of Miss Wahoo. He won the Buffalo Launch Club Regatta and the American Speedboat Championship with Miss Bardahl in 1958. He was back at the wheel of Miss Wahoo in 1959 and won the President's Cup and the Lake Mead Cup.
After two bad accidents between 1960 and 1963, "The Flying Czech" had his best season in 1966.
As a last-minute replacement for George "Buddy" Byers at the wheel of Bill Harrah's Tahoe Miss, Slovak thundered to victory in the Gold Cup at Detroit, the British Columbia Cup at Kelowna, the Diamond Cup at Coeur d'Alene and the Indiana Governor's Cup at Madison. He did this with an Allison engine at a time when most of the top unlimiteds were using the more-powerful Rolls-Royce Merlin.
In addition to driving in competition, Slovak often would take to the sky and stage aerobatic shows with his biplane between heats of the races. He was also active in air racing and won many championships.
Slovak suffered serious injuries in a plane crash in 1968 and retired from hydroplane racing. He chose to concentrate instead on his career as a commercial pilot for Continental Airlines.