“My racing days hold many fond memories for me. Being part of the Mercury Racing Team made it possible for a young country boy from South Carolina to go places, do things, and meet people from all over the world that would have otherwise never happened.” wrote Earl Bentz, regarding his time driving for Team Mercury.
Earl credits his uncle, D.F. Jenkins [Jenkin Outboard, Charleston, SC]. for getting him into racing. He ran his first race at age 16 on Lake Murray, South Carolina. “Blue Goose” was the name of the boat, a 100 h.p. Mercury-powered deep-vee.
“My uncle bought me my first tunnel boat over the Winter of 1968-69. It was a Galaxie tunnel boat powered by a stock V-4 Johnson that qualified me for Sport J class. One of my all-time favorites was the ‘Wild Geechee’. It was a kneel-down tunnel with a ‘crash’ throttle. We probably won 80% of the races we entered. One year in particular, we won 20 consecutive races in classes from Sport J all the way to U and S class [unlimited single engine outboard],” said Earl.
“I first met Reggie [Fountain] racing at local races. I could beat him with the single engine. I couldn’t touch his twin engine Glastron,” said Earl. Earl’s success with competitive power was getting noticed by Mercury. His racing career came to an abrupt stop in 1973 when he endured a near fatal crash at the Outboard Performance Craft Championships in Eufaula, Alabama.
Earl explains, “It was a bad crash. I broke my back in three places. I was in the hospital for a month. I was supposed to meet with Mercury [Gary Garbrecht and Jim Mertin Sr.] while in Eufaula. Garbrecht called while I was recovering to ask if I was still going to race. He told me they were getting ready for Europe and wished I could come along.”
Earl would eventually meet with Garbrecht and Mertin and sign on with Team Mercury. “I was 22 when I moved to Oshkosh in November of ’73. I still had my back brace on,” said Earl.
Reggie Fountain was Earl’s teammate and roommate when they raced in Europe. “Reggie has always been very kind to me. Earl came down with a wicked flu virus while staying in London one year. Reggie took care of me. He would run and get me orange juice – medicine – he nursed me back to health.”
Some of Earl’s fondest memories are of testing on Lake Butte des Morts in Oshkosh. “Mercury went above and beyond to prepare for races. Dave Beier, Jim Schuenke, Jim Welton, Bob Hetzel, Les Cahoon. These guys put forth the effort to win. Even Jack Reichert, who was the CEO of Brunswick at the time, supported the team. Jack would say, ‘If you finish second, you lost. Don’t lose.” We tested all day long. If needed – the guys would work all night de-rigging a boat, replacing the running pads – doing whatever it took to win.” We got more seat time than anyone. The OMC [Outboard Marine Corporation] guys would come to the local park with binoculars to spy on us,” Earl said.
The team was great at keeping secrets too. “We were testing at Renato Molinari’s shop on Lake Como, Italy in 1974 when we encountered some engine issues. This was the first year of racing the fuel-injected V-6 T-3s. Billy [Seebold], Reggie and I were all mechanically inclined. Even so – the Mercury guys were very secretive. We had no clue what was back there. They would ask us questions to try and diagnose the problem. Hours went by before they finally let us take a look and together we fixed the problem,” Earl said.
“Not many people know this – but Billy and I were the only two drivers to race experimental “Big Bore T-4″ outboards. We ran them at the 1980 Bristol, England race. These were hand-built, fuel injected 4.0 Liter V-6 engines. We won the race and set a record that lasted for a decade.” said Earl.
Like Reggie, Earl has a fond memory of the OZ World Championships in St. Louis. Earl won the 1977 event. “This was the first year we used the brakes. They ran off nitrogen cylinders that shot rods into the water, off the transom. We had two, foot switches. The engine-up trim button was on the left, the brake button was on the right. The brakes would allow you to run up to a turn wide open without backing off the throttle, hit the brake button and hold on. The left hand rotation prop would carry you through the turn. The g-forces would put you on the verge of unconsciousness. It was incredible,” exclaimed Earl. OMC driver Jimbo McConell said at the time, “I wish we could just sit on the beach and watch you guys all day.”
Earl summed up his Team Mercury experience by saying, “I give Mercury the credit for the success that I have enjoyed building boats [Stratos & Triton] for the past 37 years. Guys like Gary Garbrecht taught me the rewards of hard work and being prepared. For more reasons than you can count, I shall always be indebted to Mercury.”
Earl currently resides in Nashville, TN with his wife Janet and three daughters.