Wild Bill Cantrell pictured as driver of the Gale IV in the 1950s.
Wild Bill Cantrell pictured as driver of the Gale IV in the 1950s.
The late Bill Cantrell, longtime hydroplane and race car driver, was among 11 racing greats inducted as the Class of 2016 at the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame in Owensboro on Saturday. They became the ninth group of individuals to be enshrined in a ceremony at the Speedzeum in downtown Owensboro.

Dave Taylor, a two-time past president of the Madison Regatta, was on hand to accept the induction for Cantrell, who died in 1996. During his acceptance remarks, Taylor spoke of his long friendship with Cantrell and cited the legendary racer’s long career in both hydroplane and automobile racing.

“Wild Bill is what they called him but he was really a big teddy bear, a down to earth, ordinary guy who did extraordinary things with racing machines — both as a driver and a mechanic,” Taylor said.

A native of West Point, Ky., Cantrell may be the most varied inductee in the nine years of inductions by the Hall of Fame. Noted for winning four times in the Madison Regatta (1934-36 in the 725 cubic inch class and in 1954 in the Unlimited hydroplane Gale IV), Cantrell also was a three-time starter in the Indianapolis 500, won the 1949 Gold Cup in Unlimited hydroplanes and even was an auto stunt driver in the movies, “To Please a Lady” and “The Big Wheel.” He also drove an Unlimited hydroplane in the opening sequence of the Rock Hudson movie “Magnificent Obsession.”

Cantrell was Unlimited hydroplane national champion in 1949 and 1963, and, in addition to his Indiana Governor’s Cup win, enjoyed runner-up finishes in the Madison race in 1955 and 1962-64.

Cantrell has previously been recognized in 1996 in Madison with a riverside historical plaque commemorating the Madison Regatta race site as the “Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course” and is an inductee in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America that recently moved from Novi, Michigan, to Daytona Beach, Florida.

Cantrell made his home in Louisville in the 1930s and 1940s, later moving to Detroit where he drove and crewed with hydroplane teams, including My Sweetie (with which he won the Gold Cup in 1949), Jack Schafer’s Such Crust and Joe Scheonith’s Gale Racing Team. Cantrell retired to Madison in 1975 where he resided until his death.

Besides Cantrell, the Kentucky born inductees for 2016 are: Wayne Coakley, David Lloyd Green, Cooper Hayden, Brooks’ Patrick Keating, Butch Shay, Willmoth Conway Witten Jr., Gary Eldridge, Jackie Lawson, Billy Adams and C.J. Rayburn.

Cantrell joins fellow hydroplane racers Bill Sterett Sr., Billy Sterett, Terry Sterett, Collings Downs Sr., Collings Downs Jr., and Marion Cooper as members of the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame.