The Tiger Still Roars
March 19, 2022 - 6:48pm
The Tiger roared at Mahogany & Merlot… Photo by John Woodward
By Craig Fjarlie
Sherman Polhamus was a successful inboard racer during the 1960s and ’70s. He lived in Florida and was best-known for his winning ways in the 225 class. Most of his life he had an interest in engines. A gifted mechanic, he was able to take an average piece of equipment and turn it into a top performer.
Polhamus began building engines and racing stock cars in 1951. The following year he switched to motorcycles and enjoyed considerable success for more than a decade. In 1967, he happened to witness an inboard race at Miami Marine Stadium. He liked what he saw and bought a 280 named Viola. Polhamus changed the name to Tiger. The name was based on a type of motorcycle he sold, and also was a nickname he was given by other bike racers who were familiar with his style.
Although Polhamus enjoyed boat racing, he found victory to be elusive in the 280 class. He was a large man and was urged to try the 225 class, which used a more powerful engine. It proved to be a good move and he soon found his way to the winner’s circle. He also had one serious accident, but he recovered and the boat was repaired.
In 1974, Polhamus ordered a new 225 boat from Henry Lauterbach. He consulted with Henry and Larry Lauterbach on specifics of the design and construction. Their effort proved fruitful and the new N-72 Tiger won its first race. Polhamus noted he could run the boat into turns at full throttle. That first year, at Daytona Beach, Florida, Tiger set a kilometer straightaway record for the 225 class at 134.636 mph. The boat earned the class National High Point Championship in 1976.
Polhamus drove his final race at St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1977, and he went out a winner.
Tiger was sold to Jim Derncourt, and later was acquired by Carl Wilson in the late 1990s. The hull was restored by Larry Lauterbach and became an early participant in the Vintage category. Wilson took Tiger to Vintage events until health issues forced him to slow down in 2007. The boat changed hands a few more times, then in 2018 it went to Mecum Auction in Kissimmee, Florida. It was purchased by its current owners— George Leick, Gordy Cole, Duane Yarno, and Doug Sharples. “We all had been involved in boat racing for a number of years,” Yarno explains. Currently, Tiger is based in the Pacific Northwest.
“Doug Sharples got a flyer about the auction,” Cole remembers. He called Yarno and told him about it. “Doug did the bidding for the auction,” Yarno says. “He called me at the end of the day and said, ‘We got it.’”
The first problem the group faced was moving the boat from the auction site. Matt Yarno, Duane’s son, knew an outboard racer in Florida who could pick up the boat and store it for a few days. “We flew to Missouri where George had a farm,” Duane Yarno recalls. It was late January. “We rented a truck, picked up the boat in Florida, and took it to the farm. We went back later and brought the boat to Seattle.” In June of 2018, Tiger was put on display at Prism Graphics in Seattle.
Cole had seen Tiger at Inboard races and was anxious to drive it. “I saw it at Guntersville, Alabama, in 1974, and again at Lake Maggiore, near St. Petersburg, Florida. Those were the wild days of boat racing,” he says. Cole remembers looking at the buoys used on the Lake Maggiore course. “They were inner tubes with a post in the middle. If you ever hit one, you’d tear the sponson off!”
Cole was especially interested in having a Lauterbach hull. “We didn’t have to buy Tiger,” he says, “but I just wanted to be sure that at some time in my life I owned a Lauterbach.”
Cole is the only one of the four owners who has driven Tiger. In recent competition, he had been driving cabover hulls with enclosed cockpits. “I hadn’t been in a conventional for a long time,” he admits. “All that noise and vibration is right there in front of you.” Cole also had to learn how to turn the boat. “Lauterbachs turn differently,” he explains. “Once you figure out how to turn them, they run real well.”
Duane Yarno was hoping he could drive Tiger, but had to yield to better judgment. “My heart doctor said I shouldn’t,” he confesses. The person who has driven it the most is Matt Yarno. He has competition experience in the 2.5 Stock and 5 Litre classes. “It’s totally different than anything I’ve driven,” he says. “I have nothing but respect for those drivers.” He pauses, then adds, “Twelve of them going into a turn! I’m happy to run outside, stay out of the way, and bring the boat back in one piece.” Because Vintage boats only run a few times each season, Matt Yarno says it is difficult to gain experience and hone one’s skill. “You only drive it a few times a year, not every weekend,” he explains, when comparing time in a Vintage cockpit with a competition hull.
The owners of Tiger are receiving help with engine maintenance from Skip Govia. “His family owned inboards, but always hired other people to drive them,” Duane Yarno says. “Skip’s father owned an engine machine shop, and Skip eventually took over the business.” Skip moved from California to the Seattle area about a year ago.
Cole, Yarno, Sharples, and Leick plan to take Tiger to Vintage events in the Pacific Northwest this year. Yarno is cautious about promising that the boat will be at every regatta. “Part of the problem is, we all have other boats, too,” he explains, then adds with a laugh, “We have an abundance of boats, but we don’t always have enough trailer hitches.”
Cole is certain Tiger will be at a Vintage-only event at Entiat, Washington, July 22-24, and at Mahogany and Merlot in Chelan, Washington, September 30-October 2. Anyone who has a desire to see Tiger in action should plan to be there.
Here is a story on the Vintage Hydroplane Page on the Tiger with a lot of information about Sherman Polhamus, the original owner of the Tiger.