The Unlimited Lights - 2000 in Review
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
A total of sixteen teams scored points on the 2000 Unlimited Light Racing Series tour, which started in May at Lake Havasu City (Arizona) and concluded in September on San Diego's Mission Bay in sunny California.
In between were stopovers in Issaquah (Washington), Madison (Indiana), Detroit (Michigan), the Tri-Cities (Washington), and Seattle (Washington).
The standout racing team of the year was the bright red BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC (UL-72), co-owned by Joe Frauenheim and Phil Bononcini and driven by Bononcini. The Issaquah-based UL-72 scored victories in five of the seven UL Series High Point races. This tied the series record for the number of race wins in a calendar year. (Bo Schide won five first-place trophies in Ned Allen's THE ALAMO in 1999.)
BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC totaled 6737 points in 2000, followed by MISS COMP-AIR (UL-110) with 4455, HOPP RACING (UL-15) with 3702, EARL'S PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS (UL-10) with 2730, THUNDER VALLEY RACING (UL-21) with 2670, MISS SHIELD'S AUTO GLASS (UL-38) with 2183, MISS TED'S RED APPLE MARKETS (UL-17) with 1434, MISS VNODE.COM (UL-3) with 1405, SANDERS RACING (UL-136) with 1347, and TEAM PEGASUS (UL-23) with 872 in the top ten.
The UL-72 team's performance was nothing short of amazing. Frauenheim and Bononcini originally came together years ago for the purpose of restoring vintage hydroplane hulls and moved over into the Unlimited Lights as strictly a sideline venture.
In mid-season 1998, Joe and Phil unveiled their new state-of-the-art UL, designed by Ron Jones, Sr., which enjoyed modest success over the next year and a half but never managed to achieve the winner's circle.
At the last race of 1999 in Honolulu, the POCKET MECHANIC suffered major damage. The boat barrel-rolled and landed hard on the port side. Fortunately, Bononcini escaped serious injury.
After a long hard winter of rebuilding, an improved UL-72 was ready when the starting gun fired at Lake Havasu in 2000. And they won the race! POCKET MECHANIC outran Charley Wiggins in EARL'S PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS and Randy Haas in MISS COMP-AIR in the Final Heat.
From then on, there was no stopping the Frauenheim/Bononcini combination. They won the Tastin' 'N' Racin' Regatta on Lake Sammamish in their hometown of Issaquah. But they had to work for it. POCKET MECHANIC started behind but finally overhauled Terry Troxell and the STINGER to take the checkered flag.
After skipping the Madison Regatta due to a family commitment, the UL-72 next appeared at Detroit where a new co-sponsor (in addition to Coast Cutlery Company) was acquired by the team: Anheuser-Busch. From then on, the boat was officially known as the BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC.
Driver Bononcini brought home a pair of trophies from the Motor City. In the UL High Points race, he outran Haas in MISS COMP-AIR, Jerry Hopp in HAPPY GO LUCKY (UL-15), and Greg Grenier in MISS AUTHORIZED CELLULAR (UL-141).
BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC also won the special one-heat exhibition race for the Automotive Gold Cup at Detroit. Despite very rough water, UL-72 averaged 80.615, compared to 75.713 for UL-15 and 70.118 for UL-141.
Frauenheim and Bononcini made a clean sweep of the two Pacific Northwest events that followed Detroit. BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC averaged 110.029 in the Final Heat at the Tri-Cities, compared to 106.026 for second-place Dave Bender in MISS SHIELD'S AUTO GLASS.
The finale at Seattle was a barnburner with BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC edging out MISS COMP-AIR/FREDDIE'S CLUB, 105.871 to 104.590.
The UL-72 missed a perfect season on account of a penalty lap at San Diego. But what a season it was! The BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC stands in a tie for team career wins with Kim Gregory's WILDFIRE, which won five races in 1997-98. Only WIGGINS RACING with eight wins and THE ALAMO with twelve have more victories than the UL-72 team.
The BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC is one of the new generation of Unlimited Light hydroplane hulls. It measures 24-1/2 feet and is powered by a 509 cubic inch Chevrolet automotive engine with Brodix heads and a Holley Dominator carburetor, which produces 833 horsepower at 7500 revolutions per minute. This translates to straightaway speeds of over 150 miles per hour.
The father and son team of Carl and Randy Haas was plagued with mechanical breakdowns but still managed to take second in UL series points. MISS COMP-AIR finished third at Lake Havasu City, second at Detroit, third at the Tri-Cities, second at Seattle, and fifth at San Diego.
At Madison, the race started with a bump in the river for the UL-110. As Randy sprinted toward the first turn, the boat hit the bottom of the shallow Ohio and sucked in a lot of mud and muck. The boat was immediately pulled out of the river and the engine flushed of the sludge.
Other mishaps incurred by MISS COMP-AIR included a blown engine at Detroit and a hole punched in the right sponson at Seattle.
The team with the oldest hull (HOPP RACING) made it into five Final Heats in 2000 and finished third in season points. The 27-year-old UL-15--a Ron Jones creation--finished fourth at Issaquah with Greg Hopp at the wheel. Greg's Dad, Jerry Hopp, took third at Detroit, fourth at the Tri-Cities, sixth at Seattle, second at San Diego, and second in the Automotive Gold Cup.
In a major post-season development, HOPP RACING announced the acquisition of THE ALAMO Unlimited Light hydroplane to be raced as the UL-15 during 2001. The former ALAMO won twelve out of twenty-seven races between 1997 and 1999 and is the all-time winningest UL. Built by Jamie Auld, the former National Champion hull will utilize a Chevrolet engine.
The two teams besides BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC to win a race in 2000 were EARL'S PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS at Madison and SANDERS RACING at San Diego.
EARL'S PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS, owned by Milton Wiggins and driven by his son Charley Wiggins, scored a clear-cut victory at Madison with an average speed of 94.281 in the Final Heat, compared to 84.356 for second-place Tommy Thompson in COUNTRY BOY (UL-2). Then came Tony Stalder in COMBS CONSTRUCTION (UL-83), Scott McGregor in McGREGOR PROPULSION (UL-102), and Denny Jackson in HINKLE'S SANDWICH SHOP (UL-33).
Charley drove in obvious pain after having been injured the previous weekend at Evansville, Indiana, while piloting the MISS MADISON Unlimited hydroplane.
The following weekend at Detroit, Wiggins got hurt again. That's when EARL'S PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS cartwheeled during the UL Final Heat while chasing BUDWEISER/POCKET MECHANIC. The EARL'S PERFORMANCE PRODUCTS did a full 360 and landed right side up.
Charley suffered nothing worse than a bruised right hand. But in the context of two accidents in the space of three weeks, the UL-10 team elected to close up shop for the year and withdrew from further racing activity in 2000.
Heading into the San Diego Bayfair event, the SANDERS RACING entry had to be regarded as a "dark horse." The UL-136 was better known as a National Modified Class hydroplane but met the minimum requirements for the Unlimited Light Racing Series. The driver, Wayne Howard, had been a boat racer for 30 of his 42 years but had only just joined the UL Class. (He had finished seventh in the Seattle Seafair Regatta.)
But everything went Howard's way at San Diego. The UL-136 averaged 91.426 in the Final Heat, compared to 89.936 by second-place Jerry Hopp in the UL-15 and 83.834 by third-place Nick Badolato in the UL-21.
Only one thing marred the joy of driver Howard and owner Dick Sanders at San Diego. Former UL pilot George Stratton was fatally injured in a blow-over accident, which occurred during a test run with the APPIAN JERONIMO Unlimited hydroplane.
Stratton had five UL victories during 1997 and 1998 with WILDFIRE and was in his first year as an Unlimited pilot.
Dave Bender's UL-38 team made its presence felt several times during 2000 with MISS SHIELD'S AUTO GLASS. Bender had his best showing when he finished second at the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup. A veteran of the Unlimited Light wars, Dave has the distinction of having won the very first sanctioned UL High Points race back in 1995. (This was while driving PAY-N-PLAY on Firebird Lake in Phoenix, Arizona.)
Rick Bridgeman had mostly bad luck in 2000 with MISS TED'S RED APPLE MARKETS but did manage a fourth at Seattle. Mechanical difficulties sidelined Bridgeman at Lake Havasu and Lake Sammamish. Rick was disqualified while leading in the Tri-Cities Final Heat for a lane infringement.
Doug Brow, son of the late Unlimited driving star Bill Brow, made only a few UL appearances in 2000 but qualified for two Final Heats. After losing a rudder at Lake Sammamish, Doug guided MISS VNODE.COM to seventh at the Tri-Cities and third at Seattle.
Terry Troxell was one of several drivers who divided his time between the Lights and the Unlimiteds in 2000. On the UL circuit, he campaigned his National Modified hydro, the STINGER, and finished second at Issaquah and fifth at the Tri-Cities. On the Unlimited tour, Troxell handled Fred Leland's ZNETIX II and finished fourth in his debut race at the Tri-Cities.
The distinction of being the Unlimited Light Rookie-of-the-Year for 2000 went to THUNDER VALLEY RACING's Nick Badolato, although the term "rookie" is definitely a misnomer. Nick is a 25-year veteran of the Limited hydroplane wars and is a past Regional and National High Point Champion. In 2000, Badolato guided the UL-21 to third at Issaquah, sixth at the Tri-Cities, ninth at Seattle, and third at San Diego.
The hard-luck boat of the year had to be Bob Larimore's TEAM PEGASUS. Driver J.W. Myers qualified for several Final Heats but was unable to finish any of them due to mechanical difficulties.
Steve Hook's UL-49 didn't fare much better but managed a fifth at Tastin' 'N' Racin' under the sponsorship of LAKE PATEROS MOTOR INN.
Wilsey Hamilton's OVERTIME (UL-20) likewise finished fifth at the Seafair race.
The most unusual Unlimited Light team of 2000 had to be the HINKLE'S SANDWICH SHOP entry, owned by Joe Marshall of Townsend, Tennessee. Marshall's mechanical crew at the Madison Regatta consisted of students from the high school where Marshall is an instructor.
Sponsored by a popular Madison restaurant, HINKLE'S pilot Denny Jackson won the fifth-place trophy for the youthful SEQUOYAH HIGH SCHOOL RACING TEAM, which quickly became a fan favorite.
At season's end came the announcement that the Unlimited Lights will operate in 2001 under the aegis of their own corporate identity--the Unlimited Light Hydroplane Racing Association (ULHRA). Joe Frauenheim is the President and Patty Darling is the Commissioner. The ULs now determine their own destiny apart from the Unlimiteds. But they will continue to appear in conjunction with the "U" boats at selected race sites. These include Detroit, Seattle, and San Diego in 2001.