1967 Miss Budweiser Joins Museum Fleet
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Light Historian
The Hydroplane And Raceboat Museum has a new restoration project underway, Executive Director David Williams recently announced.
“The museum staff has taken delivery of the famed 1967 Miss Budweiser,” Williams revealed. “This is the boat that did so well with the late Mike Thomas driving and scored an upset victory over Miss Bardahl in the British Columbia Cup at Kelowna, B.C.”
Miss Budweiser, which started life in 1962 as Notre Dame and last appeared in 1980 as Evergreen Roofing, is the latest in a series of classic hulls that the museum group has put back in the water. Previous restorations include Slo-mo-shun IV, Slo-mo-shun V, Hawaii Kai III, Miss Thriftway, and Spirit of South Park.
The restored “Beer Wagon” is scheduled for an exhibition appearance at the 1999 Texaco Cup on Seattle’s Lake Washington.
The future Miss Bud was originally built on speculation by designer Les Staudacher of Kawkawlin, Michigan. She was constructed at the same time as another member of the Unlimited hydroplane class of 1962, the $ Bill.
Notre Dame made her competitive debut at the 1962 Diamond Cup at Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. She was the Allison-powered entry of owner Shirley Mendelson McDonald, who was one of the wealthiest women in America. Her father, the late industrialist Herb Mendelson, had raced a successful series of Gold Cup Class boats, also named Notre Dame, between 1935 and 1947.
The new boat and rookie driver Warner Gardner immediately established themselves as a viable combination in Unlimited racing. At the 1962 Diamond Cup, they ran head-to-head with veteran Russ Schleeh and Tahoe Miss in Heat 2-A. Gardner and Schleeh battled down to the wire for second-place with Notre Dame taking it, 96.704 miles per hour to 96.670.
During her two seasons as Notre Dame, the craft participated in thirteen races and placed fourth and fifth in National High Points. Using essentially stock equipment, Notre Dame finished in the top-three on four occasions. She was second in the 1962 Spirit Of Detroit Trophy, and third in the 1962 APBA Gold Cup, the 1963 Alabama Governor’s Cup, and the 1963 President’s Cup.
After burning in a December, 1963, test run on Lake Washington with Bill Muncey driving, the boat was retired by Shirley McDonald, who ordered a new hull from Staudacher for 1964. The 1962 hull was converted into a two-seater and renamed Shu-Shu for 1965, but never qualified for competition.
Acquired in 1967 by Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little as a display vehicle, the ex-Notre Dame might have ended her days in obscurity if not for a tragic accident in the 1967 season-opener at Tampa, Florida.
While leading in the first heat of the Suncoast Cup on Tampa Bay, Miss Budweiser flew into the air, crashed, and disintegrated. Driver Bill Brow was fatally injured.
Solemn but undaunted, Little activated the display hull and refitted her with a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. She would finish the 1967 campaign until a new Miss Budweiser could be readied for 1968.
Replacing Brow in the cockpit of the stand-in Budweiser was rookie Mike Thomas, who had earned an enviable reputation in the 7-Litre Limited ranks with a boat called Miss Dodge Rebellion.
Thomas made the transition to the Unlimiteds with ease and quickly became a fan favorite. Mike passed his Thunderboat driver’s test at Madison, Indiana, and appeared to be on the threshold of a long and distinguished Unlimited career.
Thomas unfortunately was killed in a construction accident in the Fall of 1967 and never fully realized his Thunderboat ambition. But for a man who wasn’t around for very long, he certainly made a positive impression
Mike and the Miss Budweiser finished first in their very first heat of competition together. And despite having missed the first two races of the season, Thomas guided the Bud to fifth-place in a field of 23 boats in the 1967 National High Point Standings. The team, led by crew chief George McKernan, also took fourth in the Gold Cup at Seattle and second in the Sacramento Cup.
But it was in the British Columbia Cup on Okanogan Lake where Mike Thomas and Miss Budweiser made their claim to fame.
Going into the Final Heat at Kelowna, the Bud had 625 accumulated points to Miss Bardahl’s 700. The Bardahl and driver Billy Schumacher had so far dominated the 1967 season. They had four victories in the first five races and had all but clinched the National Championship.
Miss Budweiser was not highly regarded to win the British Columbia Cup. After all, she was only a back-up hull and had never been more than an average boat as Notre Dame.
But when the starting gun fired for the Final Heat, Miss Budweiser came alive. She ran head-to-head with Miss Bardahl for five heart-pounding laps. Thomas and Schumacher were driving the race of their lives, while the crowd roared its approval. This was what Unlimited racing is all about. The duel foreshadowed the many great Pay 'n Pak/Miss Budweiser duels of the 1970s.
On the backstretch of lap-six, Thomas pulled to a clear lead. Schumacher’s Rolls engine started popping. Miss Bardahl began losing speed, one mile from the finish line. And Miss Budweiser was on her way to the bank.
The Bernie Little team had rebounded from their Tampa tragedy and had done so in championship fashion. Their winning performance on Okanagan Lake would long be remembered as one of the classic duels in Unlimited history.
Miss Budweiser’s fine showing under difficult circumstances on the 1967 Thunderboat tour marks her as a worthy candidate for restoration by the Hydroplane And Raceboat Museum.