For thousands of movie-goers,
watching Miss Madison ride to its victory in the 1971 Gold Cup race in
Madison will be their first introduction to the sport of the
Unlimited hydroplane racing. Likewise, it will perhaps be the first time
theyve ever heard of Gentleman Jim McCormick, who piloted
the underfinanced, community owned boat to its Cinderella victory that
Fourth of July on the Ohio River.
But for Tony Steinhardt, visions of that historic day continue to play
through his mind and soul. The memories have lingered for 34 years.
Now they are about to be displayed in theaters around the country for
all the world to see. MGM plans an April 22 limited national release of
the movie Madison.
courtesy of Tony Steinhardt
Steinhardt (second from left) is pictured in this 1971 photo with
Miss Madison teammates (from left) Russell Wiley, Dave Stewart (in
back), Jim McCormick and Bobby Humphrey. Teammate Keith Hand is
Steinhardt was not only there, he was the team
manager for the 1971 crew and served as board chairman of Miss Madison
Inc. that season. Youll see a thin, 27-year-old Steinhardt and team
member Dave Stewart hopping onto the nose of the Miss Madison hull to
hug and congratulate McCormick during the ABC Wide World of Sports
actual black-and-white footage that is shown during the credits at the
end of the movie.
Thats a famous shot, you know, Steinhardt says, pausing
as he thumbs through his enormous scrapbook of newspaper articles, photos
and memorabilia from 1971. He taps the photo a few times: See, theres
Jims helmet right there on the dashboard. He always took it off
and set it there before coming off the boat.
Some photos show Steinhardt donning his trademark cowboy hat, which he
also points out. Another shows the boats piston valve cover painted
gold, which the team did for inspiration prior to the Gold Cup race. In
the movie, theyre yellow, but they were really painted gold.
Its those small details Steinhardt recalls in his story that really
illustrates his love for the sport and the team that pulled off a miracle
that day in beating the more heavily financed race boats of the day namely
Miss Budweiser and Atlas Van Lines II. Steinhardt loves telling it. And
over the past six years, he has had several opportunities to do so with
the impending and hopeful release of the independent
film made about the true-life story of McCormicks against-all-odds
In April 2002, Steinhardt, in dramatic fashion, told his story to a packed
crowd of Madison Area Chamber of Commerce members at its Business Expo
luncheon. The event also featured appearances by Madison co-scriptwriter
Scott Bindley of Indianapolis and actor Frank Knapp of Nashville, Tenn.
Bindleys brother, Bill, co-wrote and directed the film.
curtesy of Tony Steinhardt
Steinhardt, left, is played by Brent
Briscoe in the movie "Madison."
The movie version bases its account on a strong
father-and-son relationship between McCormick and his then 9-year-old
son, Mike. But in his presentation, Steinhardt tells another side
that of the determination and hard work he and fellow team members Stewart
(a truck dispatcher), Bobby Humphrey (an auto electric serviceman), Keith
Hand (a clothing store owner) and Russell Willey (a retired Army sergeant)
exerted to get the boat in a position to win. (Steinhardt and Stewart
are the only surviving members of the Miss Madison team.)
Dave Stewart and Bobby Humphrey worked all night on that Allison
engine. The whole team put in thousands of hours. It was also a real sacrifice
by our wives and families, said Steinhardt, 60, who served as the
movies technical adviser.
The 1971 team was aided by fuel injection specialist Harry Volpi of Las
Vegas and his top mechanic Everett Adams with what amounted to the secret
weapon a powerful water-alcohol injection system that, upon firing,
propelled the Miss Madison ahead of its opponents, giving it the edge
In the movie, McCormick, in dramatic Hollywood fashion, waits until the
final stretch to push the button that launches the boat forward to win
the race. In reality, McCormick hit the thruster coming out of the first
turn, giving him a commanding lead. When he crossed the finish line six
laps later, he had nearly a half a lap on Terry Sterett in Atlas II.
Steinhardt says he doesnt like discussing comparisons between the
real story and the movie version. Lets not spoil it for everyone
else, he says, smiling. Its a great movie, and well
just leave it at that.
Volpi is played in the movie by veteran actor Bruce Dern. Steinhardt and
Humphrey also are portrayed by name, by actors Brent Briscoe and Knapp,
respectively. Briscoe is a 43-year-old actor and screenwriter from Moberly,
Mo. He was hired through his college relationship with actor Mark Fauser,
a St. Louis native. The two met and became friends while attending the
University of Missouri. Both graduated in 1984. Fauser, who now lives
in Marion, Ind., knew Bindley and was able to land a role in the movie
as Travis, a somewhat mentally challenged fictional character
on the race team. Fauser suggested Briscoe for the part of Steinhardt.
Contacted in Los Angeles by telephone, Briscoe said that because of the
obvious physical differences, he did not try to portray Steinhardt realistically.
In 1971, Steinhardt was a thin 27-year-old food vending salesman. Today,
he owns Steinhardt Heating and Air Conditioning in Hanover, Ind, and has
a heftier stature that is more like Briscoes. He served in the U.S.
Army beginning at age 19 and has compiled 341/2 years of total service
in some capacity. Today, he is a retired colonel in the Army National
Guard, for which he still volunteers his time to counsel young servicemen.
Because of the obvious physical differences, we didnt go down
that road. But I spent a lot of time talking to Tony and learning about
the team and the sport and what they went through.
We watched the old ABC Wide World of Sports footage a few times,
and I caught that old Army sergeant getting misty-eyed, Briscoe
said of his alter ego. I really got a sense of how important it
was, even to this day. To me, it showed just how much that race meant
to people around there, and especially to him.
Im proud of the film and I hope it does well because its
a great story, and they did a nice job with it, said Briscoe, who
has only seen the rough cut.
With the impending release of the movie, Steinhardt has been busy organizing
pre-release activities in town, some of which could generate money for
this years Madison Regatta. He has also attended several pre-release
screenings in various cities.
Briscoe, meanwhile, said he is anxiously looking forward to attending
the premiere and celebrating a reunion of the cast and crew, especially
his alter ego whom he played on the silver screen. As a memento of their
experience together, Steinhardt gave Briscoe his legendary cowboy hat
the same one that Steinhardt is seen wearing in old newspaper clippings
and that Briscoe wore while playing him in the movie.
Its still got the tag in it and everything, Briscoe
says. Pretty cool.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email him at: Don@RoundAboutMadison.com.