The Awesome Power of an Underdog


We recently watched the 2001 Madison movie featuring Jim Caziezel as a retired driver, Bruce Dern and Mary Macintosh about a hydroplane Gold Cup race in Madison in 1971.  I was a very young boy of about 12 years old but I was at that race.  Highly recommended movie.  Madison is a small historic town of 12,000 people along the Ohio River between Louisville and Cincinnati.

The local community hydroplane was Miss Madison then owned by the residents.

(Oh Boy Oberto (see image) now with a breakfast sausage sponsor and they use turbine engines now.)  The driver is in front of the engines now, in contrast to the old style where the driver is behind the engine.  The current boat wins a lot, in contrast.

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They raced on top of the water in an oval and Miss Madison was a dog.  It was donated by wealthy financier Samuel DuPont in 1949.  They crashed the first one and he donated another.

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With Miss Madison a clear an old heavy outdated underdog – built in 1959, they brought in a specialist on Allison (WWII airplane engines) played by Bruce Dern and tuned it for better performance.

The other top boats (Pay N Pack, Budweiser and Atlas Van Lines) had first class operations, nice uniforms and used Rolls Royce engines from World War 2.

Similar to stock cars, they race in preliminary heats to get points.  Top points determine the Winner Take All Final Heat members.  The final overcomes a tie.

Miss Madison gets one win and two seconds in the early heats, barely making the final heat.

The boats kept blowing up and the driver Buddy Byers quits, but they finally put in a nitrous oxide booster into the boat via a white button on the steering wheel and Jim McCormick drove it.  (Note: Jim McCormick died in 1995 after a short illness, sad to say.)

Two lines of note after that was installed:

  1. “Only push the button if you are racing.” says Bruce Dern
  2. “We are in it to win it.” says Jim McCormick

Shockingly the huge underdog won the race when on the final stretch a boat length behind the powerhouse Miss Budweiser he pushes the button and zooms ahead.  It was covered by Wide World of Sports, which was taped back then before ESPN revolutionized sports coverage with live coverage of sports.  The people of my home town went crazy with bells ringing and horns blowing.

In the Winner Take All final heat Miss Madison was on the final stretch just behind the powerhouse Miss Budweiser and the driver pushed the button.  Miss Madison zooms ahead and wins the race.

Miss Madison wins the 1971 Gold Cup race with the biggest winners budget of the year.  Ironically, Madison had the only filed bid for the Gold Cup.

It is one of the greatest underdog stories in history like the college kids who beat the powerhouse Russian team in the classic movie Miracle.  I suggest you check it out.

Have you seen the movie Madison?  If you, would you like to check it out or share it with friends?  What did you think of  the story? Or watch the young kids beat the Russian pro team on ESPN Classic.