Speed Boat Racing
Bill Seebold spent nearly five decades as a leader in the world of professional powerboat racing. He retired as the most successful driver in the sport’s history and remained active in boating as a championship team owner. He and his family also built custom powerboats for many of the sport’s premier drivers. Bill spent much of his career as driver, owner and later manager of the renowned Bud Light Racing Team based in St. Louis.
At the age of 12, Seebold won his first race as a kid growing up in Granite City, Ill. He retired from driving following the 1997 season after compiling one of the most successful careers ever achieved in boat racing. Seebold won more than 900 races and 69 championships, including eight world titles in international Formula One racing.
Early in his career Bill campaigned a boat owned by famed singer Johnny Cash and band member Marshall Grant. In one weekend, Bill and the team won six world championship races. A member of the crew that weekend was famed rockabilly musician Carl Perkins, who was best known for singing his hit “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Bill won Formula One boat world championships in 1982, 1987 and 1990 and North American championships in 1989, 1993, 1994 and 1997. He was a seven-time winner of the Bud Light St. Louis Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious events in powerboat racing held annually at George Winter Park and later Creve Coeur Lake.
His son Tim was the 2007 ChampBoat Series champion. His other son Mike won championships in his father’s Formula One boats in 1982, 1992 and 2000. Race strategy and technical innovation now satisfy Bill’s competitive longings, he said. “Nothing replaces driving – it was such a thrill to stomp on the throttle of one of these things and feel it take off. But it’s still a thrill to watch Tim and Mike go out and run these races.”
Few people walking along a river or lake can match Bill Seebold’s knowledge of race boat construction and set-up. “It’s a total combination of boat, engine, propeller, set-up and driving that wins the race,” Bill said. “Computers have become a big factor in giving us better testing data. In the last couple of years propeller and boat design have been the biggest areas of change.” The tiniest tweaks separate success and failure. For example, Bill points to the hull in which Tim won the 2007 ChampBoat title. Except for one slight modification to the bottom running surface, it was the same hull that could not get out of its own way in 2006.
“When we designed that boat we thought it was going to be the greatest thing. We couldn’t get it out of third place. We had the worst results we had ever had – Team Seebold hadn’t gone a season without winning a race in 25 years,” Bill said. “Last spring we made one little change to the running pads and the boat came alive. We were the fastest qualifier in three or four races and won three races and the championship. We were running the same engines and propellers as the year before. All we did was shorten the running pads six inches. That reduced the wetted surface, raised the engine and let the boat run better in rough water.”
In 1999 Bill was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in Detroit, Mich., as its first Missourian and 10th representative of powerboat racing. In 2004 he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. His achievements included the Duke of York trophy, which he won in England six times. He received the Union of International Motorboating’s Medal of Honor in 1992. He was inducted into the Gulf Marine Hall of Fame when he was only 25. He claimed his final championship — and seventh Bud Light St. Louis Grand Prix trophy – at the age of 57.
He was named one of the Top 100 St. Louis Sports Figures of the 20th Century. He was first member inducted into the Union of International Motor boating Hall of Fame in 2010. Since retiring from driving, Bill says, “I tried to put something back in the sport that was so good to me.”