H2O Racing
Union Internationale Motonautique


April 25, 2024


Thursday, April 25:  Back in the 1950s and 1960s where racial prejudices still existed and diversity and equal rights were things of a distant future world, Arthur Kennedy Junior emerged as the first Afro-American driver to burst on to the world powerboat scene. He took part in several Grand Prix in the F1H2O World Championship.


He joined the international F1H2O racing scene in 1985 and used a Molinari hull powered by an Evinrude V8 engine for the Concrete Coring/Nordica Team. After racing in F1H2O events in the USA, his season in the international series saw him finish third in Sacramento, sixth at the Montreal race in Canada, fourth at the London Grand Prix on Victoria Docks and sixth at Antwerp in Belgium. Those results were sufficient for the Missouri racer to be classified 12th overall in the World Championship in a year where Argentina-born Briton Bob Spalding claimed his only world title.


From a very young age, Arthur Kennedy Junior was interested in boats and boat racing. He had a need for speed and was one of the very first Afro-Americans to become involved in power boat racing. His father, a businessman, was also interested in boats but didn’t pursue it with the same passion as his son, although he was the first Afro-American member of the Outboard Drivers Association and a former Tuskegee football star, who began racing in 1947.


Born in June 1943, Arthur ‘Butch’ Kennedy Junior was a graduate of Sumner High School and the son of the sheet metal business owner – a business that later diversified into a heating and cooling operation.


The youngster began driving water craft in 1951 from the age of eight and cut his teeth in a local JU 5hp class with a boat called ‘Judy Pie II’ that ran a maximum of 45 mph and was named after a girlfriend. The youngster saved up $80 selling newspapers to buy that first boat but, by the time he graduated from Sumner High School, he had already been racing a decade and owned a $1,300, 75bhp boat. He picked up the early nickname of the ‘Kid Speedboat Racer’.


In St. Louis, there were very few places for Kennedy Junior to hone his racing skill. But he managed by running his boats in flooded quarries, Creve Coeur Lake and the Mississippi River.


By the end of his career, Arthur Kennedy Junior had broken 11 national records, achieved one UIM world record and was regarded as one of the top racers on the planet running against the likes of Bill Seebold and Earl Bentz. He was able to keep the family business, Kennedy & Sons, afloat during his racing and also served in the army between 1968 and 1974.


Amongst his considerable list of honours Stateside were NOA High-Point Championships, the Bermuda Four-hour Tart Marathon, the Schaeffer Cup Regatta on three occasions in the Mod U class and several speed records. In 1982, he also won the back-to-back Parker nine-hour Enduro and the Havasu Classic and was fastest in the time trials at Minneapolis and Pittsburgh, despite injuring his leg at a race in Huntington.


Arthur Kennedy Junior retired from power boat racing in 1989 and, sadly, died from a heart attack at the age of just 48. It was a short life but one lived at full throttle.