The theme of this year’s vintage hydroplane exhibition could be ‘Rolls-Royce’s Revenge”. The 2017 Columbia Cup hosts a trio of Rolls-Royce powered vintage unlimited hydroplanes. These boats dominated the sport from 1973 to 1981. Overall, they have won 68 races, 7 gold Cups and 9 national titles. While they were on top, few could challenge them.
1973 Pay n’ Pak
Pioneering race hull nicknamed the “Winged Wonder” due to its unique silhouette with the rear stabilizer. The Pak was the first hydroplane to be built primarily of honeycomb aluminum. She won 4 races in her first year and a national title. The Pak was also leading the 1973 Gold Cup in Tri-Cities before a propeller failure in the final heat. After winning three national titles and two Gold Cups, Owner Dave Heerensperger retired from the sport. He sold the “Wonder” to Bill Muncey, who raced it to another national title in 1976. The hull won 21 races, two Gold Cups, and four national titles in its first four seasons. After a brief curtain call in 1977, the boat was sold to Madison, Indiana. The Madison team switched the hull to a turbocharged Allison engine and it campaigned for 11 years as the Miss Madison. The hull eked out one last victory in 1983 at Lake of the Ozarks.
The hull won 21 races, two Gold Cups, and four national titles in its rst four seasons. After a brief curtain call in 1977, the boat was sold to Madison, Indiana. The Madison team switched the former Pak to a turbocharged Allison engine and it campaigned for 11 years as the Miss Madison. It eked out one last victory in 1983 at Lake of the Ozarks.
The Pak was part of Dave Bartush’s collection during his attempt to start a hydroplane museum in Detroit. It was frequently on display during the Gold Cup in Detroit. Ken Muscatel purchased the hull in 2012. Ellstrom Racing crew chief Mike Hanson led the restoration effort and now the PAK is truly back.
1977 Atlas Van Lines
The 1977 Atlas Van Lines, the original “Blue Blaster”, was one of the most dominant hulls in the history of Hydroplane racing. Muncey and the “Blaster” were nearly unbeatable between 1977 and 1979. It carried driver Bill Muncey to twenty-four victories, including three straight Gold Cups and two National Championships. Only in 1980, with the emergence of the griffon-powered Miss Budweiser, would Muncey and the Atlas be challenged.
After losing five straight races to the Bud in 1980, Muncey rallied to win the Columbia Cup in record fashion. But the hull’s best days were behind it. Muncey and the Atlas were thoroughly thrashed for the majority of the 1981 season by the Budweiser. Despite being overmatched, Muncey continued to race hard. While leading the World Championship race in Acapulco, Mexico, Bill Muncey was killed in a blowover accident. The hull was cosmetically repaired for display after the accident, but sat in storage for a number of years until it was acquired by the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum for restoration.
1980 Miss Budweiser
Bill Muncey’s nemesis and the hull that he lost his life pursuing was the 1980 Miss Budweiser. This was the second of Bernie Little’s Griffon powered hydroplanes, the first being destroyed in a speed record attempt in 1979. To house the huge Griffon engine, the new Miss Budweiser had to be larger and heavier than its contemporaries. The new hull was an intimidating sight, earning the nickname ‘The Juggernaut.’ With driver Dean Chenoweth behind the wheel, it debuted in 1980 with five straight wins and did not lose a single heat until the final in Tri-Cities. A lost rudder in Seattle sidelined the boat for the remainder of 1980, but it came back ever stronger the next year. In 1981, the Budweiser and Chenoweth were nearly invincible, winning six of eight races. But as with Muncey and the Atlas, Chenoweth and the Miss Budweiser suddenly found their dominance challenged in 1982.
Chenoweth was killed at the 1982 Columbia Cup when the Bud blew over backwards while trying to set a qualifying record on Saturday. After losing the sports two winningest drivers just six months apart, major safety changes would eventually lead to the modern Unlimited Hydroplanes you see today. Only one driver has lost his life since that dark day in 1982.
The 1980 Miss Budweiser would be repaired and race for several more years. It eventually won 22 races, two Gold Cups and three national titles. Ironically, it was never able to win on the Columbia River. After 1984, the writing was on the wall that the future of the sport was the turbine engine. So, in 1985, Bud owner Bernie Little sold the boat. The hull raced the remainder of its career as a backmarker, and eventually found its way to the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum for restoration.