WILD BILL: William “Wild Bill” Cantrell won the first points race at Madison in 1953 aboard the Gale IV. The Madison race course was later named in his memory. (Courier file photo)
WILD BILL: William “Wild Bill” Cantrell won the first points race at Madison in 1953 aboard the Gale IV. The Madison race course was later named in his memory. (Courier file photo)
Up until 1953, all of the Unlimited races run at Madison consisted of just one heat and were really just free-for-alls for classes 7-Litre and above. Never more than one or two Unlimiteds ever showed up and nothing counted toward the American Power Boat Association National High Points.

The late Phil Cole, then sports editor of The Madison Courier, was anxious to see Madison advance to the next level with a full-fledged Unlimited race with High Points at stake. For that to happen, a race had to be scheduled for a minimum of two heats with at least four boats making a legal start.

That was easier said than done. In the 1950s, there was no Unlimited circuit per se, because the sport was still very regional. About the only time all of the top Unlimiteds were ever in the same pit area with each other was at the Gold Cup.

The "big city" races, such as Seattle or Detroit or Washington, D.C., were generally well attended. But it was pretty much "catch as catch can" where the smaller communities were concerned. Lots of these had trouble attracting boats during the 1950s. (Including Elizabeth City, N.C.; New Martinsville, W.Va.; and Polson, Mont.)

According to Cole, "All we in Madison could do was try to make friends with the owners and try to persuade them to enter our race."

Phil was determined that Madison would not "die on the vine" as so many other race sites had. By hook or by crook, he was going to recruit a representative field of Unlimiteds for a race that counted for National High Points. And he succeeded! How he went about this was quintessential Phil Cole.

As race day neared for the 1954 Madison Regatta, two teams - the Miss Cadillac and the Dora My Sweetie, both from Detroit - signified their intentions to attend. But the crews let it be known that they were coming to town primarily for a fun weekend and to put on an exhibition. They didn't want to have to go all out and really race anybody.

Cole and his friend William "Wild Bill" Cantrell cooked up a scheme to turn that friendly exhibition into a contested points race. Cantrell agreed to bring the nationally ranked team of Gale IV and Gale V, which he and Lee Schoenith drove, to Madison. But it was important that the Miss Cadillac and Dora My Sweetie teams not know about that plan.

So, Cantrell stored the two Gales at Soupy Ciconett's boat shop in Louisville for a few days and only at the last moment did the "IV" and the "V" pull into the pits at Madison.

Seeing the Gale IV and Gale V arrive on the scene almost gave Miss Cadillac owner Bud Saile cardiac arrest. ("If I had known they were going to be here, I wouldn't have come!" he said.)

But by now it was too late for Miss Cadillac and Dora My Sweetie to gracefully withdraw. They had to put on a real race.

That's how Madison hosted its first-ever National High Points event, which was won by "co-conspirator" Cantrell in Gale IV. Madison has staged a High Points race for Unlimited hydroplanes every year since with the single sole exception in 2013, when the race had to be canceled due to high water on the Ohio River that flooded the pit area.

Only Detroit and Seattle have hosted more points races than Madison.