While many know Fort Worth’s sport reputation, from Amon Carter and Dutch Meyer to Byron Nelson and Sammy Baugh, the list of sports personalities with connection to Cowtown is long and continues to grow lengthier every year. However, many have not heard of the husband and wife team, known as, “The Flying Herrings.” They probably should, Marion and Ruth Herring rank as perhaps the most successful husband-wife sporting duo in Texas history.
Marion Herring was born in 1897 and was raised in Fort Worth, receiving his high school education there. After graduating, Herring quit his job working at a local drug store to open a marine motor repair shop on Lake Worth in 1916. Recognized by his customers as a master mechanic, word spread quickly about store.
Ruth Herring (her maiden name was Ruth Sapp) was born in Dallas in 1902 before eventually moving to Fort Worth in 1920. After meeting Marion, the couple was married in 1922. The Herrings certainly weren’t your typical definition of athletes, as neither was a particular imposing figure. Marion stood 5’7” and weighed about 135 while Ruth stood 5’1” and barely eclipsed 100 on the scales. However, their stature was perfect for their sport of choice: hydroplane racing.
While Marion began hydroplane racing in the 1920s he found that his success as a racer complicated the relationships he had with clients. “I was winning races and losing customers. Most of the fellows I was racing against had me working on their motors and they thought it was more than my skill as a driver that was winning me races,” said Marion about giving up his career behind the wheel.
However, the void left by Marion provided a perfect fit for Ruth, who had limited herself to housekeeping and odd jobs around the couple’s shop. Ruth would enter her first race in 1930 but didn’t finish after her boat was ‘accidentally’ swamped by two of her male competitors. At the time outboard racing was considered a man’s sport, leading some of her competition to voice their displeasure in Ruth participating.
Rather than be daunted by the encounter, Ruth was inspired. She faced her next competition with new resolve and soundly beat both of the men responsible for the swamping her. She would go on an incredible win streak after that, finishing first in 17 of her next 25 races, including the 1931 Southwest Championship.
Ruth would continue to set records and make her name well known over the rest of her career. Ruth would only race six seasons, retiring in 1935, but in that short span she set four world records and won over 100 match races.
One of her world records came as a spectacle at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. In front of an international audience, Ruth set the world record for the 1-mile straight-away race at 48.259 miles per hour. That record would stand for nearly a decade.
In another competition, Ruth was thrown with such force from her cockpit that her head punched a hole through a deck. She said she was ok and the couple patched up the boat. She reentered her craft with a bandaged head to win first place the very next day. Once back in Fort Worth, it was discovered that she had a skull fracture.
Marion and Ruth made the perfect team. Ruth’s fearlessness allowed her to race with the gas throttle almost always completely open, while Marion’s skill as a mechanic provided Ruth with the best equipment possible. Ruth always said that knowing the boat was set up by Marion inspired her to get as much out of it as she possibly could.
When at home the Herrings would work 18 to 20 hour days together in their shop, the rest of the time they would travel around the country together to participate in competition. The hard work and dedication would pay off. When they first married, the Herrings called their work shed home which basically amounted to a tent with a wood floor. By the end of their careers they had moved in a million dollar establishment at Eagle Mountain Lake where they sheltered 400 boats in covered stalls.
Ruth and Marion are without question deserving of their place in the annals of Texas history. The challenges they faced as a married couple only made their victories that much sweeter.