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The Jim McCormick Story

Film crew to recreate
Madison's magic moment

By DON WARD
Editor


MADISON, Ind. -- Madison means many things to many people, but to Mike McCormick, Madison means memories.
Lots of beautiful memories.

Miss Madison

Photo by Don Ward

David Williams cruises down the Ohio
River in the vintage look-alike Miss
Madison during last month's Madison
Regatta as part of filming for a
movie based on the boat's
1971 Gold Cup victory.

It's not the architecture or the antiques or the scenic beauty that attracts him.
It's the river. For it was here on the Ohio River that his father, the late Jim McCormick, won the 1971 Gold Cup in dramatic -- and now historic -- fashion.
"I can't even tell the story today without tears coming to my eyes, it was such a wonderful experience," said Mike McCormick, 38, and himself a hydroplane owner and driver from Owensboro, Ky.
McCormick was only 10 years old at the time, but he hasn't forgotten a single detail of the race or the celebration in the pits afterward. He says he still watches the ABC-TV footage of the race "about three times a year."
But Mike McCormick won't have to tell the story much longer. A new movie, tentatively called "Madison," is being filmed on location over the next two months to recreate the sights and sounds of that storybook summer.
Written by brothers William and Scott Bindley of Indianapolis and directed by William Bindley, an independent filmmaker, "Madison" will focus on the McCormicks’ father-and-son relationship, culminating with the Gold Cup victory.
"It's a true-to-life story that Bill has written after talking many times over the years with dad and me," Mike McCormick said. "But dad was the main storyteller, because it's his story."
The against-all-odds victory before a crowd of 100,000 was Jim McCormick’s first as an unlimited hydroplane pilot. Averaging 101.522 mph, McCormick and the underfunded Miss Madison team outdueled the rich Miss Budweiser, Atlas Van Lines II, Notre Dame and Pride of Pay ’N Pak. Famed hydroplane driver Bill Muncey watched from the shore because his boat, Atlas Van Lines, was one of three that had sunk during earlier heats.
Greeting them in the pits afterward were celebrity guests Guy Lombardo and Indiana Gov.
Edgar Whitcomb, as people cheered and cried, and car horns blasted along Vaughn Drive and throughout Madison.
Adding to the irony, the town was only awarded the Gold Cup that year after having been the only race site to apply for it before the American Power Boat Association’s deadline. The APBA Gold Cup used to rotate among the race sites each year. Today, the Gold Cup race remains in Detroit.
Bindley first approached the McCormicks in 1993 about producing the movie. Jim McCormick died on Feb. 12, 1995, at age 61 from heart failure just days after undergoing emergency open heart surgery.
Bindley has pursued the project, and his company, Addison Street Films, has raised $10 million to produce the film. The company, which has formed Madison Miracle Productions, LLC to produce this project, has also signed 10-year-old actor Jake Lloyd to play Mike McCormick. Lloyd, who attended last month's Madison Regatta and served as the grand marshall of the parade, recently starred in "Star Wars: Episode I -- the Phantom Menace."
The lead role of Jim McCormick has not yet been announced, however, Bindley in mid-July was meeting with actor Jim Caviezel (“Thin Red Line”) for the part. Actor Bill Paxton (“Twister”) turned down an earlier offer. Bindley also approached Dennis Quaid, with no success.
Bindley's film crew has already taken up residence in Madison. The crew has booked several bed and breakfasts for the months of September and October, and in July opened an office on Second Street.
A casting call for extras was scheduled for late July, according to production supervisor Greg Malone, 42, of Indianapolis. In all, the film and boat crews will encompass about 85 people, including about 20 workers to be hired locally.
Once production begins – tentatively set for mid-August – it will take up to seven weeks to complete filming at various locations around downtown Madison, Malone said. Scenes to be shot require fictional locations for McCormicks’ house, the boat garage, a diner, the mayor’s house and the pit area at the riverfront. One scene, depicting the McCormicks’ wedding anniversary party, takes place aboard the Delta Queen steamboat, while another has the father and son talking inside a cave.
“We may go to Clifty Falls (State Park) for that one, or else up to Marengo Caves (in Marengo, Ind.),” Malone said.
The crew may also have to construct its own boat house, since the original one that stood at what is now John Paul Park no longer exists. They also need a large tree, from which the boat engine hung during repairs.
Interestingly, many of the real names are being used in the film – the McCormicks’, racing team manager Tony Steinhardt’s and boat mechanic Harry Volpi’s. Bindley has talked with Madison Mayor Al Huntington and others about playing bit parts in the film.
“We won’t start casting Mrs. McCormick until after we have signed an actor to play Jim McCormick,” Malone said. “We want to make sure the two look like they could have feasibly produced Jake Lloyd.”
“Go or blow”
Hydroplane racing fans got their first look at potential scenes in the movie during last month's Madison Regatta, at which vintage hydroplane boats from Seattle and New York recreated the 1971 Gold Cup race while a helicopter hovered above with a movie camera.
A vintage boat painted to look like the old Miss Madison retraced McCormick's run around the Ohio River with vintage boats depicting the Atlas Van Lines and Miss Budweiser in close pursuit. The scene brought back memories for many race fans, especially those involved in the real event 28 years ago.
"It was a very emotional day," Steinhardt recalled. "There was a group of five of us who had worked a long time to be able to attempt to win a major race, and it all came together in Madison."
Steinhardt's crew included Bob Humphrey, Dave Stewart, Keith Hand and the late Russell Wiley, along with expert mechanics Volpi and Everett Adams of Reno, Nev., members of McCormick's former Harrah’s Tahoe Miss team.
"As the race developed that day, we realized we had an opportunity to win, and Jim took full advantage of it," Steinhardt said. "He was probably the best (clock) starter I've ever known."
Despite Jim McCormick's knack for timing his starts, Mike McCormick recalled that rookie driver Terry Sterett in the Atlas Van Lines II took the lead into the first turn that day and opened a three-boat-length lead on the backstretch.
"Then dad hit the nitrous oxide (a powerful fuel mixture that instantly generates an additional 400 horsepower) and passed him," Mike said. "After the first lap, dad was three-quarters of a lap ahead, and he just coasted the rest of the way.
"People were screaming and going wild. It was the most amazing thing that has ever happened in my life. When he came into the pits, everyone was crying and hugging each other. I get goose bumps just thinking about it."
Steinhardt recalls his last words to McCormick before the race as being prophetic: “When he left the dock, I remember telling Jim to ‘get the boat straight in the water and hold on tight because when you hit those two (fuel injection) buttons, she’s either going to go or blow.’ ”
Steinhardt remembered seeing the boat momentarily lift out of the water when McCormick hit the fuel injection buttons to the single Allison aircraft engine. “Then he just took off.”
McCormick proved his victory was no fluke when, the following week, he won at the Tri-Cities race in Washington. By the end of the season, McCormick's poorly financed racing team fell just 69 points short of a national championship.
Steinhardt recalled McCormick as being a professional driver in every respect. "Jim was a very articulate individual who was precise in his racing attitude and had a very strategic mind."
Steinhardt, who has read the movie script and helped coordinate the Regatta weekend filming, has loaned to the production crew much of his Miss Madison memorabilia -- race team uniforms, photos, articles and race notes.
Steinhardt said the script was "very good" and blended fiction with fact to make it into a movie. Asked if he would be playing a part in the movie, he replied, "I would love to, but I haven't been asked."
The vintage boats are expected to return to Madison in September for more filming, according to David Williams, executive director of the Hydroplane and Race Boat Museum in Seattle.
Williams was instrumental in getting the vintage boats to Madison in July, and he piloted the vintage Miss Madison during its recent visit.
While the boats circled the course, Bindley's film crew staged various scenes along Vaughn Drive in Madison, using classic cars and extras dressed in clothing of the era as the backdrop.
Meanwhile, the young actor, Lloyd, took in the action in the pits along with his parents, Bill and Lisa, and his sister, Madison. Lloyd even climbed into the cockpit of Mike McCormick's 5-litre boat and posed for pictures.
"He seemed as enthusiastic about the sport as I was at his age," said McCormick, who exchanged autographs with the young star.
Young "Star Wars" movie fans hounded Lloyd the entire weekend in search of autographs and photos. Race announcer Dave Taylor on Saturday interviewed Lloyd over the loudspeaker while standing in front of the judge's stand.
In fact, Lloyd's visit and vintage hydroplanes nearly upstaged Miss Pico driver Chip Hanauer's victory late Sunday in the final heat of the 49th annual Indiana Governor's Cup race. That race included a dramatic flip of the Miss Budweiser in the first turn, but Bud driver Dave Villwock emerged safely from the escape hatch of the overturned vessel.
Economic impact
For most towns, the arrival of a movie production company is a dream come true, primarily because of the potential economic impact and longterm publicity. In fact, Madison plans to hold a new event this Labor Day weekend to mark the 40th anniversary of the movie, "Some Came Running," filmed here in the fall of 1958.
In 1982, state officials created the Indiana Film Commission as a way to promote economic development by luring independent and major motion picture film crews to Indiana. Since then, 42 films have been shot in the state, the most notable of them being "Hoosiers," filmed in central Indiana, and "A League of Their Own," filmed in Evansville.
"Any time a production of this size comes to Indiana, it brings with it a large economic impact," said commission director Jane Rulon. "It's always exciting for the citizens, and it's a memorable experience because it's so unusual."
In addition to boosting tourism, the movie "Madison" should also boost the town's image as a desirable film location for future projects, Rulon said.
"The film industry is such a word-of-mouth business that if they have a good experience, the word gets out and others will want to come," Rulon said. "It truly shows off Hoosier hospitality, and it's great advertising for our state."
Madison tourism officials have recently begun promoting the town in film circles by producing a "scene catalog" and by attending film industry trade shows.
“quotes by Linda Lytle”
Other towns that have served as movie sites have experienced boons to their tourism long after the production crews have gone, Rulon said.
"It's an exciting time for Madison," she said. "I guess it was just a matter of time before a movie company came to Madison to film because the town has so much to offer."
And McCormick's winning a boat race in 1971 didn't hurt.

Back to August 1999 Articles.

 

 

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