A 1955 crash involving an ambulance in front of Stan Sayres' auto dealership was a harbinger of an unlucky year for the hydroplane racing legend.

Share story

THE TABLEAU of milling pedestrians and crashed cars in front of Stan Sayres’ Moorish “temple” to the American automobile on First Hill was sparked by Sally Jo Nelson, who badly turned her ankle while decamping from a city bus downtown at Second Avenue and Columbia Street.

Shepard ambulance driver George Gagle sped to Nelson’s rescue Friday morning, Feb. 18, 1955, with red light flashing and siren sounding. Barreling west on Madison Avenue, Gagle crossed Madison’s busy intersection with Broadway through a red light with disastrous results. Gagle’s passenger and young assistant, Abel Haddock, was seriously injured in the crash.

The gleaming backdrop to the scene is Seattle Gold Cup hydroplane-racing legend Sayres’ Chrysler-Plymouth dealership. Sayres’ sales career at this corner was, like his racing career, a great success. Sayres’ Slo-mo-shun IV — designed and built by two more legends, Ted Jones and Anchor Jensen — won the American Power Boat Association’s Gold Cup in Detroit in 1950. The victory brought the annual race to Seattle, where it stayed until the year Sally Jo Nelson fell from the bus.

In fact, 1955 was a tough year for Sayres. Days before the Gold Cup in August, the race committee ruled that Sayres was no longer allowed to enhance his starting speed during countdown by passing under the Mercer Island floating bridge along Lake Washington’s western shore. During the race, Sayres’ Slo-mo-shun V flipped and Slo-mo-shun IV, while leading the race, conked out on the sixth lap of the final heat. The Gold Cup race went back to Detroit. A year later, Sayres died of a heart attack in his sleep.

Check out Paul Dorpat and Jean Sherrard’s blog at www.pauldorpat.com.