by H. L. Dewey
Tom D'Eath has won national championships in nearly every class of hydroplane racing. He's driven the vaunted "Miss Budweiser" and he's won three APBA Gold Cups. But he will always be best remembered for his first Gold Cup victory in 1976.
It was on that sunny afternoon in the summer of '76 when D'Eath, at the helm of the Detroit-based "Miss U.S.," out-dueled the legendary Bill Muncey to win his sport's most-prized trophy on the Detroit River in front of a hometown crowd of more than a half-million people.
In addition to his extraordinary skill in the cockpit of boats moving as fast as 200 mph on straight-aways, D'Eath has a flair for engineering and a special appreciation for the heroic figures of the past as well as the crafts they piloted.
D'Eath followed in the wake of his father, Al, an accomplished driver of unlimiteds and midgets in the '40s and '50s. Tom started at age 14 racing in the "A" Utility Stock Outboard Class. Within two years he had moved through the 280- and 150-cubic-inch classes for inboard hydroplanes.
In 1971, Tom set the kilo record in his boat "Southern Style" -- a record that stood for 19 years. He won three national championships in the 150-cubic-inch category and went on to compete successfully in all inboard classes.
In the spirit of history's great hull designers and engine builders, Tom hand-crafted dominant powerboats. His first-ever creation, a 2.5-liter modified, won four national titles.
Five-liter engines of his design captured speed records and championships for multiple years.
Power boating racing's elite class, the unlimiteds, welcomed D'Eath in 1973 as skipper of George Simon's "Miss U.S."
He followed his 1976 Gold Cup by capturing it again in 1989 and 1990, piloting Bernie Little's famous "Miss Budweiser."
In addition to his three American Gold Cups, D'Eath won the Prince Edward Canadian Gold Cup in 1974, 1976 and 1980. He remains the only three-time winner of both.
Like powerboat Hall of Famers Bill Cantrell and Chip Hanauer, D'Eath tried his hand at racers of the four-wheeled variety. He got his "land legs" by running USAC Formula Vees from 1977 to 1981. He competed in USAC midgets from 1982 through 1991 and even tried out the NASCAR Sportsman series. Ironically, it was injuries from a car wreck that forced his retirement from driving hydroplanes in 1991.
When the new Vintage and Historic Division of APBA was formed in 1994, Tom accepted another challenge. Under his leadership, the fledgling group has grown in popularity and visibility. Antique race boat regattas are the highlight of many a hydro weekend. Thousands have joined in preserving and restoring vintage craft. As usual, Tom has taken the hands-on approach. When being notified of his Hall of Fame election, he took some time getting to the phone. His first words were: "You caught me gluing!"
A student of history, D'Eath emulated the lead-foot driving style of men named Thompson, Duby and Muncey. He admired and expanded on the skills of immortals like Wood, Smith, Lauterbach and Jones.
Tom D'Eath has a true appreciation for the builders of the heritage of powerboat racing. Now, he joins some -- and precedes many -- in the Motorsports Hall of Fame.