Team Mercury – Part 1: Bill Seebold

Team Mercury core drivers (L-R): Reggie Fountain, Bill Seebold, Earl Bentz.
TEAM Mercury tunnel boats featured in the cover of the 1978 Mercury Hi-Performance product catalog.

A recent discovery of classic photos of the Team Mercury outboard tunnel boat race team rekindled my curiosity of the outboard factory war era when Mercury and OMC (Outboard Marine Corporation – parent company of the Johnson and Evinrude brands at the time) battled for bragging rights (and sales) across the globe.

I thought it would be interesting to interview the team drivers to hear first hand what it was like racing for Team Mercury.

#190 – Bill Seebold Jr.

Bill racing the rare Mercury Twistercraft tunnel race boat with T-2X power. Mercury built the boats in Oshkosh, WI.
Bill teamed up with Renato Molinari and Reggie Fountain at the '76 Parker 9-Hour Enduro.

“Those were the golden years of tunnel competition,” the first words spoken by Bill at the start of our phone interview regarding Team Mercury. “Back then, winning prestigious events such as the 6-hours of Paris or 3-hours of Amsterdam had an direct impact on European outboard sales!”, Bill said.

Bill began racing kneel-down “Alky” Pro Outboard hydros in the 1950s.  It was at the 1968 Pro Outboard Nationals in Depue, Illinois that he met fellow competitor John Woods. Bill and John would hear the other drivers talk about their annual trek to Havasu, Arizona to race tunnel boats over the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend. After three years of hearing this – Bill and John decided to team up and buy a 20-foot Ron Jones tunnel boat. Bill owned a large Mercury Outboards dealership at the time in St. Louis, Missouri. Even though he was a dealer, he didn’t know anyone within Mercury Hi-Performance. He placed a call to the late Gary Garbrecht, the Mercury Race Team director, to introduce himself and get the serial numbers on the set of race engines he had on order (they ran twin in-line six cylinder outboards on 20-foot boats back then).

The late Gary Garbrecht - Team Mercury Race Director.
Team Mercury, 1976 (L-R): Ron Anderson, Jim Schuenke, Jim Welton, Bob Herring, Renato Molinari, Dave Baier, Gary Garbrecht, Gene Trichel.

Mercury rigged the boat and took it West for the 1969 Havasu Classic. Bill had never been in a tunnel boat before. The boat was new – never been wet. Bill explained, “The Mercury Team guys gave me a quick run through of the cockpit and the number one thing they said was, ‘never trim beyond this point on the trim indicator.'”

After two days of testing – Bill was ready to go with John Woods doing the co-driving. They started 80th on the dock (incredibly, 105 boats started the event).

“I ran the boat first – with a two hour fuel load before handing it over to John. John ran it for 10 minutes before hooking it in a corner – crashing into another Mercury sponsored competitor, the late Bob Nordskog. Garbrecht went ballistic – and told me to never bring John to a race again!,”  said Bill. A rough initiation into tunnel boats and not so good first impression with Mr. Garbrecht.

Team Mercury raced the revolutionary V-6 "Black Max" a year prior to it's 1976 consumer release.
Bill talks with Reggie as he takes his turn in the cockpit during the 1976 Parker AZ 9-Hour Enduro.

Bill won the 1972 Morgan City, Louisiana race in “Old Blue,” a 17-foot Molinari powered by a Mercury T-2X race outboard. It was a first of many race wins he accomplished for the team.  He built his first tunnel race boat in 1974. It was a SST 120 class boat for independent drivers running in-line six cylinder Mercury Twister II race outboards. Seebold tunnels made their debut as the official Team Mercury boats for the 1975 race season. These were powered by the revolutionary V-6 Mercury T-3  race outboards.

Bill racing a boat of his own design with Mercury T-4 power.

Bill said the 1979 OZ World Championship in Milan, Italy was his most memorable race. Mercury was now campaigning the larger, 3.4 Liter V-6 engine called T-4.  OMC would usually compete with their even larger V-8. They shocked everyone when Renato Molinari showed up with twin V-6 outboards on the transom. The race consisted of four heat races – best overall finish wins.

Bill & Reggie talk race strategies while Jim Schuenke marks a prop.

Bill explained, “It was a clock start race. Renato won the first heat – fair and square. I got second, Earl Bentz finished third. We immediately had a meeting with Gary [Garbrecht] to come up with a race strategy. Earl jumped the gun in the second heat.  Renato was forced inside and hit a buoy – while I went on to win the heat. The Italian officials scored Renato with a second place finish. It took us hours of protests before the officials finally handed down a one-lap penalty. Renato went on to win heat #3 on Sunday, I placed 2nd. I won the final heat. The buoy infraction would end up costing Renato the championship.  This was the ultimate death of twin engine tunnel boat racing. I still have the solid gold OZ World Championship necklace from that great race. I have many fond memories of the people I’ve met and places I’ve been during my Team days with Mercury.”

Next, we’ll hear from Reggie regarding his time driving for Team Mercury.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

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24 thoughts on “Team Mercury – Part 1: Bill Seebold”

  1. How much fun is this. Those were some of the best memories of all times. Happy we can share in them. The best to all involved. Thanks for getting them out there.

    1. I’ve often described Bill as the “Mario Andretti of tunnel boats” but, upon reflection, that’s unfair to Bill. I think he’s won more.

  2. I love these old photos, reminds me of the stellar history that F1/Tunnel boat racing has, and will have again! Thanks Rick and Team Mercury for all the memories, past, present and future!

  3. Hi Rick, Great job! Thanks for documenting an important and exciting period in the history of our unique sport. Also, thanks for starting with the guy who is, unquestionably, the master of our sport.
    Best regards,
    Bob

  4. Actually there is more to the story about John Woods and the Ron Jones tunnel boat. That particular boat had a nasty stability problem that ultimately ended up hurting a driver. Had the other driver maintained his lane when the boat hooked there would have been no collision.

    John owned the tunnel boat “Speculation” and hung twin Johnson OMC’s after the 1969 incident. The rough treatment from the Mercury guy [Gary Garbrecht] drove John to OMC and an affiliation with Charlie Strang [Then President of OMC and former Mercury VP Engineering].

  5. Rick, excellent subject and no better person to start with. Mr Bill is the legend of this sport and an excellent mentor. Please keep these stories coming and the great work! Troy Wood

  6. Hi Bill, I just recently bought a Seebold SST-60 from a boat dealership in Kankakee IL. I’m putting a Johnson 60 HP on it. I can’t wait for spring to try it out.

  7. Hey Rick, I just read your report with Billy. I was disappointed there was no mention of his famous and never to be forgotten races with Renato over here in Bristol UK. One time he had to change power heads to compete in ON and OZ and still came out on top! That race made Billy a legend in Bristol. We have a museum that is hoping to put on an expo about Boat Racing (we had it here for 18 years and Billy and Renato won most of the races between them.) It would be really lovely if you could contact Billy for some comments? Best wishes and I look forward to more interviews!
    H

  8. I bought my first ski boat from Billy back in the 60′s. Billy is a great guy. He sponsored our Ski jump we had on the river in the late 60′s- and early 70′s. He and my father loved to argue over the price of a boat or motor or a case of beer. They truly had a special relationship. Billy tested his race boats by our weekend place near George Winter park in Fenton Missouri. He had a great crew at his boat store. Billy convinced me that Mercury was number 1 on the water. I was also fortune to have met his father who had a boat store in Granite City and was Billy Number 1 go to prop man., Ill. As always, I wish Bill the best.
    Today some 50 years later I am still a Mercury Man. I currently operated with sponsorship on the Mercury Pro Team. I operate fishing charters out of Palm Harbor, Florida.

    1. Capt. John:
      I’m with Billy today. We are filming a documentary on Reggie Fountain at Reggie’s home in Washington, NC. A segment of the film is on the Mercury factory outboard tunnel boat racing team. Earl Bentz is here too. It’s been great to hear the stories from these guys. Look for a blog post on this historic reunion in the near future.
      Rick

  9. My friend Joe Rome and I spent the weekend at Orange, Texas to witness the last checkered flag fall on the Seebold Racing dynasty. I have personally known Billy for almost fifty years…48 to be exact. My Dad Baldy Baldwin and Bill (Billy’s Dad) were very good friends. Bill made lots of good props for us and Marshall Grant (Johnny Cash’s bass guitar player). Billy’s was driving for Marshall when he left alky for good after the 1972 season to drive full time in the OPC division.

    I really enjoyed reading about Billy and all the comments. Some of that info I didn’t know. I actually asked Billy about his favorite race courses less than two weeks ago. I knew he probably would mention DePue and Alex from his alky days, but I was surprised that he told me Bristol was one of his favorites. I told him I thought it was very rough and dangerous, and he proceeded to tell me some stories. I asked him about when Renato Molinari put the brakes on his boat and the transom ripped out and Billy said he was right behind him. He was pointing at a trailer in the pits and said “The Queen Mother was only that far away”. I really have enjoyed reading this, and I look forward to more.

    Wayne Baldwin

    1. Wayne,
      Thanks for sharing. It was great to see Tim retire the Seebold racing legacy with a checkered flag in hand. It has been an honor to have known Bill Senior as well as Billy, Michael and Tim and work with them through the years while supporting the OPC races.
      Rick

  10. Billy Seebold came to Augusta, Georgia in 1985 to compete in the first River Race Augusta on the Savannah River. We soon learned it wasn’t your everyday backyard boat race. I was outdoor editor of The Augusta Chronicle (1964-2000) and staffed all of the races. I survived the first two-seater (set up by Mercury) run and later rode side-by-side with Billy and survived that, too. Billy and sons Mike and Tim were all first class as persons and racers. Billy’s father was alive back then. I think the last River Race was held in 1998. I really miss it, meeting Jon Jones, Michael Werner (who was pulled over for speeding, the cop saying, “This isn’t the Autobahn!” Another favorite was Steve deSouza, who later married an Augusta girl. So, thanks for reviving my memories of great races and times on the river.

    1. Hi Bill. I remember you well. I probably strapped you in the 2-seater a time or two as I was responsible for getting the boat to the various events from 1989 through ’95 or so. Augusta was one of the best races. I remember being on a boat on the course (I believe I was taking pictures) with 20+ F1 boats coming at you at at 120+ mph off a LeMans start. There is nothing like it! I hope you are doing well.

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