The Madison Regatta - 50 Years of Thunder
By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
For 50 years, the city of Madison, Indiana, has played host to "Water Racing's Greatest Show," the Unlimited hydroplanes-the Thunderboats of the racing world.
Since 1950, the mighty Unlimiteds have occupied center stage at the annual Madison Regatta. The picturesque Ohio River town of 13,000 is second only to Detroit, Michigan, in the number of Thunderboat races run in consecutive years. (The Motor City has been on the Unlimited calendar every year since 1946. But the current sponsoring organization in Detroit wasn't founded until 1962.)
This year's Madison Regatta is scheduled for the weekend of July 1-2.
Madison is steeped in a competitive tradition that dates back to the 1800s when steamboats raced each other on the legendary Ohio. Perhaps because of this, boat racing is very deeply engrained in the public consciousness. The residents of Madison seem to take the sport much more seriously than those in other areas of the country.
Boats with internal combustion engines began racing at Madison as early as 1911. That was when the steamship PRINCESS from Coney Island tied up in the middle of the river. Power launches ran an oval course roughly around the boat. This was one of the earliest examples of competition as it is characterized today around a closed course.
The first boats to be specifically designed for racing appeared in 1919 at Madison. Among these was the famous DAYTON KID, a step hydroplane owned by Pat Parrish. Another popular champion of that era was the HOOSIER BOY, owned by J.W. Whitlock of Rising Sun, Indiana, which is about 50 miles from Madison. In 1924, the HOOSIER BOY set a never to be equaled endurance record from Cincinnati to Louisville and back again-260 Ohio River miles in 260 minutes and 49 seconds.
The premier hydroplane class of the 1920s and 1930s in the Ohio River Valley was the 725 Cubic Inch Class. There was a considerable fleet of the 725s in the Cincinnati and Louisville area. Most of these boats used the venerable Hispano-Suiza ("Hisso") engines from out of the World War I Spad aircraft. The 725 Class evolved into the Unlimited Class in the late 1940s.
A series of races sanctioned by the now-defunct Mississippi Valley Power Boat Association (MVPBA) was conducted at Madison between 1929 and 1936. But then a disastrous flood in 1937 and the onset of World War II brought down the curtain on power boat racing in southern Indiana for many years to come.
A local Madison group staged an unsanctioned "wildcat" race in the fall of 1949 for Limited inboard and outboard hydroplanes. This same group, which is now known as Madison Regatta, Inc., applied for an American Power Boat Association (APBA) sanction in 1950. The sanction was granted and the precedent for the next 50 years was set.
In the last half-century, Madison, Indiana, has become one of the three traditional Unlimited hydroplane race sites, together with Detroit and Seattle, Washington, which started in 1951.
Many other small towns climbed on the Unlimited bandwagon during the decade of the 1950s. These included: New Martinsville, West Virginia; Elizabeth City, North Carolina; Dale Hollow, Tennessee; Windsor, Ontario; Picton, Ontario; Polson, Montana; Chelan, Washington; and St. Clair, Michigan. But none of these lasted more than a few years on the circuit. Only Madison has demonstrated staying power.
In the years following World War II, the Unlimited-or "Thunderboat"-Class of racing hydroplane came into being when the huge supply of Allison and Rolls-Royce Merlin fighter aircraft engines, developed for the war effort, became available for sale to the general public.
The first Unlimited hydroplane to race at Madison was the MY DARLING, from Springfield, Illinois. Powered by a 12-cylinder Allison and driven by owner Andy Marcy, MY DARLING was a step hydro and did not have sponsons. Marcy defeated a field of smaller inboard hydroplanes at an average speed of 76.000 miles per hour. Phil Rothenbusch finished second to MY DARLING in WILD GOOSE, while J.D. Smith ran third with Y-39. Thom Cooper dropped out while leading in TOPS VII when a piece of driftwood lodged itself in the water intake.
Jim Noonan of Louisville served as APBA Referee at the 1950 Madison Regatta. Years later, his sons Mike and Billy Noonan would follow in their father's footsteps as Madison Unlimited referees.
The first four Unlimited races at Madison consisted of one heat of 15 miles in length on a 3-mile course and did not count for National High Points. These were essentially "free-for-all" races in which Limited hydroplanes could also participate.
A perpetual trophy was introduced in 1951-the Indiana Governor's Cup-which could be won outright by any owner registering three victories with a 7-Litre or larger class of hull. Two boats of that description appeared in 1951: the Unlimited Class GALE II driven by Lee Schoenith and the 725 Class IT'S A WONDER handled by George Davis. Due to the sparseness of the field, boats from the smaller classes were invited by the race committee to "step-up" to race for the Governor's Cup. These included the HORNET, a 266 Class hull, owned and driven by Marion Cooper of Louisville. HORNET ultimately won the race at 65.886 when the larger boats experienced mechanical difficulties.
The victorious Cooper would, in later years, achieve fame as the original pilot for the community-owned MISS MADISON Unlimited hydroplane.
The 1952 and 1953 Indiana Governor's Cups were dominated by a 7-Litre Class hydroplane-the WILDCATTER, owned and driven by the father and son team of Burnett Bartley, Sr. and Jr., from Pittsburgh. Oliver Elam and the 7-Litre MERCURY ran second to Bartley, Jr., in 1952, while Ralph Manning in the Gold Cup Class OLLIE'S FOLLY finished runner-up in 1953. Claiming the third-place prize on both occasions was IT'S A WONDER with owner/driver George Davis twice duplicating his 1951 performance in the Hisso-powered pre-war contender from Vine Grove, Kentucky.
As the first two-time consecutive winner in Governor's Cup history, WILDCATTER posted average speeds of 70.866 and 71.599.
Beginning in 1954, the Madison Regatta's main event became an exclusive Unlimited affair. This was also the first year in which a multi-heat format was used and APBA National High Points were at stake in the Indiana Governor's Cup.
Popular "Wild Bill" Cantrell won the 1954 race with Joe Schoenith's GALE IV, an Allison-powered craft from Detroit. Cantrell won the Final Heat at 91.556 in spite of a large hole in the port sponson, followed by Jack Bartlow in DORA MY SWEETIE, Lee Schoenith in GALE V, and Bud Saile in MISS CADILLAC.
Cantrell's 1954 victory was his fourth in Madison. Back in the 725 Class era, Bill had won the top prize there with BIG SHOT in 1934 and 1935 and with WHY WORRY in 1936.
The first heat to be timed at over 100 miles per hour in Ohio River history was recorded in Heat One of the 1955 Governor's Cup. Danny Foster did the honors with bandleader Guy Lombardo's TEMPO VII, a Les Staudacher-designed hull, at a speed of 102.079.
The 1955 race had to be postponed two weeks on account of rain. Foster won all three heats and was clearly the class of the field. For the benefit of the spectators, Danny throttled way down to 84.945 and 84.230 in Heats Two and Three to outdistance second-place GALE V over the finish line by a narrow margin.
Speeds were down in 1956 but the reliability was extraordinary with all five boats finishing all three heats. Fred Alter, driving the original MISS U.S. 1, placed second, first, and first to claim the first of two Indiana Governor's Cups for owner George Simon.
Bud Saile's twin-Allison-powered MISS WAYNE took an overall second and scored an unexpected victory over Alter in Heat One by an incredible six feet at the finish line.
Third-place that year went to Doc Terry in Horace Dodge, Jr.'s DORA MY SWEETIE, followed by Marv Henrich's WHA HOPPEN TOO and Gordon Deneau's WHAT A PICKLE.
Record speeds and a record entry list highlighted the 1957 classic, which saw Jack Regas score a sensational victory over eight other contenders with Edgar Kaiser's "Pink Lady" HAWAII KAI III.
The KAI was arguably the best race boat of the 1950s and was the epitome of the all-conquering Ted Jones design.
Regas posted a three-heat/45-mile average of 106.061. Rookie Bob Schroeder in the former GALE IV (renamed WILDROOT CHARLIE) was runner-up and defending champion Alter checked in third with a second-edition MISS U.S. 1.
The most spectacular performance of the weekend was the incredible showing by Bill Muncey in the original MISS THRIFTWAY. On Saturday, September 28, in Heat 1-A, the Willard Rhodes entry from Seattle turned an unprecedented 112.312, a world competition record for the 15-mile distance that would stand until 1963.
On Sunday, September 29, however, the newly crowned speed champion was a splintered wreck and the driver was badly injured. MISS THRIFTWAY had disintegrated while leading in Heat 2-A at 160 miles per hour at the start of lap two. MISS WAHOO pilot Mira Slovak saw the accident, stopped his boat, and went to the aid of the stricken Muncey.
The 1958 and 1959 races were lean years both in the number of participating boats and in the area of regatta finances.
When one less than the minimum number of four entries was received in 1958, industrialist Samuel F. DuPont came to the city's rescue with his new and unprepared NITROGEN from Wilmington, Delaware. With assistance from other boat crews, the DuPont craft did more than just start the race. It finished in second-place and scored a victory in the Final Heat with MISS SUPERTEST II pilot Bob Hayward pinch-hitting in the cockpit. Redheaded Don Wilson and MISS U.S. 1 were the overall Governor's Cup winners with 1100 points, compared to NITROGEN's 925. Then came Slovak in MISS BARDAHL and Schroeder in WILDROOT CHARLIE.
Two years later, Mr. DuPont would make an outright gift of the NITROGEN to the city of Madison. This is the boat that became the original community-owned MISS MADISON in 1961.
A quartet of challengers appeared for the 1959 regatta. The late great Ron Musson in his first season as an Unlimited hydroplane jockey took all three heats at an average speed of 102.939 aboard HAWAII KAI III, which was owned at that time by Joe Mascari of New York. DuPont's NITROGEN finished runner-up again but with Norm Evans at the controls this time, ahead of Bill Brow in MISS BARDAHL and Bob Gilliam in KOLroy.
Helping out on the HAWAII KAI crew in 1959 was Musson's good friend Graham Heath of Madison. Heath later served as crew chief of MISS MADISON from 1961 to 1965 and of MY GYPSY from 1966 to 1968.
Two months prior to the 1960 Indiana Governor's Cup, the regatta was badly in debt and in immediate need of administrative surgery. Leadership of the race decided that private capital was needed to keep Madison on the Unlimited calendar. A $5000 bank loan, over 20 local groups, and over 150 individual members all figured in the organizational retrenchment. And it proved to be the salvation of the Madison Regatta.
The 1960 race was run as scheduled-and so were the next 40 years of races at Madison-in a tradition that continues to the present day.
The 1960s were a decade of change in Unlimited hydroplane racing. Cash prizes became mandatory. And boats with commercial names--rather than nicknames--became the rule rather than the exception.
The Madison Regatta, having been plagued in recent years with financial woes and sparse entry lists, had its administrative house in order in 1960 and was back on a firm financial footing.
Eight Unlimiteds showed up in 1960, compared to only four in 1958 and 1959.
Bill Muncey became the first three-time consecutive winning driver in Indiana Governor's Cup history in 1960-61-62 with MISS THRIFTWAY. A Ted Jones-designed hull, the persimmon-and-white MISS THRIFTWAY was renamed MISS CENTURY 21 during 1961-62 to publicize the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.
During those three pinnacle years, Muncey entered nine heats at Madison, won eight of them, and finished second once. He was also National High Point Champion during those same years.
Ron Musson claimed the runner-up honor twice during the MISS THRIFTWAY era. He did it in 1960 with NITROGEN TOO and in 1962 with MISS BARDAHL. Both were new boats in their first year of activity.
Bill Cantrell took second-place in 1961 with GALE V and was the only driver to ever defeat the victorious MISS CENTURY 21 in a heat of competition on the Ohio River.
The 1961 and 1962 races featured the added attraction of a hometown entry when the first community-owned MISS MADISON made her debut. A gift to the city from Sam DuPont, the three-year-old former NITROGEN took fourth in an eleven-boat field the first year and third in a ten-boat contingent the next time around. Driver Marion Cooper and crew chief Graham Heath did a fine job on a shoestring budget in a sport dominated by millionaires.
A new Indiana Governor's Cup perpetual award was offered in 1963, when the previous trophy became the permanent possession of MISS THRIFTWAY/MISS CENTURY 21 owner Willard Rhodes after his third win the previous year. In accordance with Governor's Cup rules, the trophy could be won outright by any owner who scored three victories.
Bill Brow won the initial contest for the replacement cup with MISS EXIDE, owned by Milo and Glen Stoen, at a speed of 106.754 miles per hour for the three 15-mile heats. Bill Cantrell and GALE V took second-place but posted the fastest 45-mile average of the day with a speed of 106.867 around the 3-mile oval course.
MISS BARDAHL ran third in 1963 with Don Wilson substituting for Ron Musson who had been injured when he flipped the "Green Dragon" several days earlier during a practice run.
Walt Kade finished fourth with BLUE CHIP, followed by George "Buddy" Byers and the former NITROGEN TOO, which was in its first race as the second MISS MADISON.
This was after the original MISS M had been destroyed at the 1963 APBA Gold Cup Regatta on the Detroit River, two months earlier. MISS MADISON the second would continue to carry the City of Madison's banner into competition through the 1971 racing season. Her drivers would include Byers (1963-64-65), Jim McCormick (1966-69-70-71), and Ed O'Halloran (1967-68).
The 1963 Madison Regatta is significant as the only Unlimited hydroplane race ever driven by Indy car legend Eddie Sachs. Sachs took a turn at the wheel of Jack Schafer's huge twin-Allison-powered SUCH CRUST IV, which finished seventh in a ten-boat field at Madison. Eddie planned to return the following year with the Schafer team, but this was not to be. Sachs was fatally injured in a fiery crash at the 1964 Indianapolis "500."
Casino owner Bill Harrah from Reno, Nevada, became the second owner in four years to retire the Governor's Cup with three consecutive wins, after his TAHOE MISS proved to be the class of a thirteen-boat field in 1964, a fourteen-boat gathering in 1965, and a ten-boat contingent in 1966.
Driver Chuck Thompson claimed the first two victories at 105.372 and 105.503 respectively, while his successor Mira Slovak tied down the third "leg" on the trophy with a speed of 97.790.
Cantrell was runner-up again in 1964 with the new MISS SMIRNOFF, owned by the Gale Enterprises team from Detroit. "Wild Bill" won the Final Heat at 105.633, followed by TAHOE MISS at 101.963 and Byers in MISS MADISON at 101.332.
Musson, nearing the end of his brilliant career, posted the fastest heat of the 1965 race with MISS BARDAHL at 106.867. Musson and Thompson both won their respective preliminary heats and were rated as co-favorites for the Governor's Cup going into the Final Heat. MISS BARDAHL, however, was penalized an extra lap for an illegal lane change and had to settle for second-place overall.
An accident involving popular Bill Cantrell marred the 1965 regatta when MISS SMIRNOFF encountered the wake of an illegally moving MISS LAPEER at the start of Heat 2-A. Cantrell lost control when the boat fell into a "hole" and he was pitched into the water. Incredibly, no official action was taken against MISS LAPEER pilot Warner Gardner who had caused the mishap. "Wild Bill" recovered from his injuries and continued as a driver for another three years.
Sadly, the 1965 Madison Regatta marked the final Ohio River appearance of several of the sport's most respected chauffeurs.
Chuck Thompson was killed driving SMIRNOFF at the 1966 Gold Cup in Detroit.
Ron Musson suffered fatal injuries in an accident at the 1966 President's Cup in Washington, D.C., while driving a revolutionary new cabover MISS BARDAHL.
Rex Manchester died on the same day as Musson when NOTRE DAME collided with Don Wilson driving the MISS BUDWEISER. Wilson was also killed.
Thompson, Musson, and Wilson, between the three of them, accounted for four Indiana Governor's Cup victories in 1958-59-64-65. Manchester had finished third in the 1965 Madison Regatta with NOTRE DAME.
In the 1966 Governor's Cup race, Slovak and TAHOE MISS took second-place in Heat One to Gardner and MISS LAPEER. But Mira rebounded to beat the LAPEER in Heats Two and Three to claim the title.
The new MY GYPSY, owned and driven by Jim Ranger, took third in 1966. One of the most popular race boats of the 1960s, the GYPSY had Madisonian Graham Heath in the role of crew chief.
After finishing ninth in the 1965 Governor's Cup, the community-owned MISS MADISON qualified for the Final Heat and finished fourth overall in 1966 with rookie Unlimited jockey Jim McCormick in the cockpit. McCormick had scored a victory in a Limited race at the 1964 Madison Regatta as driver of the 266 Cubic Inch Class hydroplane, MISS KATHLEEN.
The Madison race course was shortened from 3 miles to 2-1/2 miles in 1967 in the interest of improving spectator vantage points. Also, for the first time in the post-World War II era, the regatta was contested in early July instead of September or October. This established a scheduling precedent that has been adhered to ever since. With the exceptions of 1974 and 1998, all of the Unlimited races run at Madison since 1967 have coincided with the Fourth of July weekend.
Billy Schumacher made his competitive debut at Madison in 1967 aboard the new Ed Karelsen-designed MISS BARDAHL. Schumacher had been the late Musson's hand-picked successor as driver for owner Ole Bardahl's Seattle-based team, which had never before won at Madison.
"Billy the Schu" achieved championship results in both the 1967 and 1968 Indiana Governor's Cup contests. At age 24, Schumacher was one of the youngest winners in Madison Regatta history. But he was already a veteran of the Unlimited wars, having handled CUTIE RADIO and MISS TOOL CRIB in 1961 and $ BILL in 1963-64. Billy had also test-driven the ill-fated cabover MISS BARDAHL during the 1966 pre-season.
MISS BARDAHL posted heat finishes of second, first and first in 1967 to outscore second-place Chuck Hickling in HARRAH'S CLUB (the former TAHOE MISS), 1100 points to 925. This was in the days when winners were determined on the basis of total points, rather than--as it is today--by the order of finish in a winner-take-all Final Heat.
Jim Ranger took third in 1967 with MY GYPSY, followed by fourth-place Jim McCormick with Bob Fendler's WAYFARERS CLUB LA DY.
Schumacher and MISS BARDAHL had to really work for the victory in 1968. Jack Regas and NOTRE DAME had decisively beaten them in Heat Two and had set a course record of 104.026 for the 15-mile distance that was to stand for the next five years.
Then, in the Final Heat, Schumacher made a bad start and had to play "catch-up" for four laps before finally overtaking the front-running NOTRE DAME.
Warner Gardner and MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC wound up second on points to MISS BARDAHL at Madison in 1968. MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC had spent six lackluster seasons, starting in 1962, as Bill Schuyler's $ BILL. But since being acquired by future PAY 'n PAK owner Dave Heerensperger, the "Screaming Eagle" had come alive and was the scourge of the Unlimited Class.
Gardner and MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC won three races in 1968 and were in contention at the Gold Cup in Detroit when the boat took a bad bounce and cartwheeled itself to pieces. MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC was destroyed and Gardner was fatally injured.
An added highlight of the 1968 Madison Regatta was the first of two contests for the Richard C. Heck Memorial Trophy, named after a recently deceased Past-President of the regatta. The one-heat race was for boats not qualifying for the Final Heat of the Governor's Cup.
Tommy "Tucker" Fults won the inaugural running of the Heck Memorial with MY GYPSY and repeated in 1970 with PAY 'n PAK'S 'LIL BUZZARD.
Dean Chenoweth followed Billy Schumacher's lead with a pair of back-to-back victories of his own in 1969 and 1970 at the controls of MYR'S SPECIAL and MISS BUDWEISER.
Dean had been a youthful spectator at the 1954 Madison Regatta when Bill Cantrell won the top award with GALE IV. Fifteen years later, Chenoweth himself was the Indiana Governor's Cup champion astride a contemporary Gale Enterprises hull with none other than Cantrell as his team manager.
MISS U.S. with Bill Muncey driving finished second in 1969 while MISS MADISON ran third with "Gentleman Jim" McCormick back in the cockpit occupied the two previous seasons by Ed O'Halloran.
The nine-boat field in 1969 also included (in the order of finish) Bill Sterett, Sr., in MISS BUDWEISER, Tommy Fults in MISS OWENSBORO, Earl Wham in ATLAS VAN LINES, Leif Borgersen in NOTRE DAME, Mike Wolfbauer in MY CUPIEE, and Walt Kade in SAVAIR'S MIST.
Chenoweth's winning averages were 96.131 with MYR'S SPECIAL and 95.761 with MISS BUDWEISER.
The City of Madison had been in the Unlimited hydroplane racing business for twenty consecutive years. Only Detroit, Michigan, and Washington, D.C., which first appeared on the Unlimited calendar in 1946, had hosted more races than Madison.
By the 1970s, Unlimited hydroplane racing had professionalized itself. A sport that had previously been little more than a rich man’s hobby was now a full-fledged commercial pursuit.
A landmark tax case, involving George Simon’s MISS U.S. racing team in 1963, had established an important precedent. The IRS had upheld Simon’s contention that Unlimited racing was a legitimate business expense within specified guidelines and thereby tax deductible.
This ruling had opened the door to major corporate sponsorship on a scale undreamed of in the past. One of the first corporations to make a sizeable commitment to Unlimited racing was Anheuser-Busch, which introduced the first in a long line of MISS BUDWEISER hydroplanes in 1964.
By 1970, the Unlimiteds were the showcase of the power boat racing world and drew more spectators than any other category. In the quarter of a century since the end of World War II, the boats themselves had evolved remarkably. But the engines of choice were still the Allison and the Rolls-Royce Merlin, originally intended for use in WWII fighter planes. And these were now in short supply.
Automotive power had been tried in the Unlimited ranks and found wanting. Turbine power loomed as a definite possibility but was largely dismissed as science fiction when the 1970s dawned.
The first Madison Regatta of the new decade saw Dean Chenoweth of Xenia, Ohio, repeat as Indiana Governor’s Cup champion with Bernie Little’s MISS BUDWEISER. (Chenoweth had won the 1969 Governor’s Cup with Joe Schoenith’s MYR’S SPECIAL.)
Billy Sterett, Jr., finished second in the 1970 Madison race with MISS OWENSBORO, which was the former automotive-powered MISS CHRYSLER CREW, now repowered with an Allison engine borrowed from MY GYPSY. Then came Leif Borgersen in NOTRE DAME, Bill Muncey in MYR SHEET METAL, and Jim McCormick in MISS MADISON.
NOTRE DAME was an early leader in the Final Heat with MISS BUDWEISER in hot pursuit. But then Chenoweth moved ahead of Borgersen on lap-two and went on to the checkered flag to claim owner Little.s first-ever victory in Madison, Indiana. It would not be his last.
The community-owned MISS MADISON took first-place in Heat 1-B of the 1970 Madison Regatta. But she dropped from contention when she stalled and restarted in the Final Heat and had to settle for a distant fifth.
But the next year would be a different story.
Precious little can be said of the fabulous 1971 Madison Regatta that hasn’t already been. The city’s 60 th boat racing anniversary story would amaze a fiction writer. No publisher would accept a make-believe script on the race.
For the first time since 1951, the Indiana Governor’s Cup took second billing to the APBA Gold Cup—power boating’s Crown Jewel—which had never before been run in so small a town. Due to a technicality and a misunderstanding, the $30,000 bid for the race by Madison Regatta, Inc., was the only one submitted in time.
For ten years, the volunteer MISS MADISON crew had tried to win the hometown race without success. They requested and received assistance from two of the finest Allison engine specialists in the sport-Harry Volpi and Everett Adams-who flew in from Reno, Nevada, and went to work along side regulars Tony Steinhardt, Bob Humphrey, Dave Stewart, Keith Hand, Russ Willey, and pilot Jim McCormick. Volpi and Adams are credited with sorting out the team’s water-alcohol injection system, which resulted in some additional miles per hour for the MISS M that proved to be crucial on race day.
Down to their last engine after having blown the other during practice, the U-6 team was at a distinct disadvantage at the outset of the race. McCormick and MISS MADISON ran cautiously in their three elimination heats and finished just high enough to qualify for the final 15-mile moment of truth.
Entering their last heat of the afternoon, McCormick and company had 1000 points (based upon one first and two second-place finishes). That was 100 points less than the combination of Terry Sterett and ATLAS VAN LINES II, which had bested MISS M twice in the preliminary skirmishing. In order to win the Gold Cup, MISS MADISON would have to win the Final Heat with ATLAS VAN LINES II finishing second. That would put McCormick and Sterett in a tie on points with 1400 apiece. According to Unlimited Class rules, a tie in points is broken by the order of finish in the Final Heat.
MISS M moved to the inside lane prior to the start, thereby forcing the rest of the field to run a wider and longer track. ATLAS II, in lane-two, crossed the starting line first and led around the first turn. MISS MADISON, in lane-one, entered the first backstretch in second position. Then McCormick made his move. He thundered past Sterett as if his rival was tied to the dock and streaked to victory with fast pursuit from ATLAS, Dean Chenoweth in MISS BUDWEISER, Billy Schumacher in PRIDE OF PAY ‘n PAK, and Fred Alter in TOWNE CLUB.
The hometown favorite crossed the finish line 16.3 seconds ahead of ATLAS VAN LINES II before 110,000 partisan fans and added a new chapter to American sports legend.
It was the biggest day in the history of Madison, Indiana. It was Unlimited hydroplane racing at its best. It was a victory for the amateur, for the common man, a triumph that everyone could claim as his own. And not since the SLO-MO-SHUN days in Seattle during the 1950s had such an outpouring of civic emotion occurred at a Gold Cup Race with people celebrating in the streets until 10 o’clock that night.
The MISS MADISON’S richly sentimental triumph on that memorable July 4 was an historic one on several counts. Not since the 1965 Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, had the sun-bleached MISS M scored a victory. It was pilot Jim McCormick’s first win ever in the Unlimited Class. The MISS MADISON was built in 1959 and first entered competition in 1960, thereby making her the only Unlimited hydroplane ever to win a Gold Cup eleven years after its competitive debut. Not since mandatory qualifications began in 1949 had a Gold Cup winner placed lower than fourth on the qualifying speed ladder. (MISS M was seventh.)
The 1971 event also marked the first and only time that a community-owned boat has ever won the Gold Cup. Not since 1966 had the American Power Boat Association’s Crown Jewel been won by a boat with Allison—rather than Rolls-Royce—aircraft power. The MISS MADISON of 1971 also represented the end of an era. (She was the last Unlimited hydroplane with the old-style rear cockpit/forward engine/ shovel-nosed bow configuration to ever achieve victory.)
And to prove that the hometown performance was anything but a fluke, MISS M captured first-place honors in the Tri-Cities Atomic Cup three weeks later on the Columbia River at Kennewick, Washington.
A World Championship Race, sanctioned by the Union of International Motorboating in Brussels, Belgium, was the headline event for the 1972 Madison Regatta, which unlike the previous year was plagued with more problems than an arithmetic book.
The flood-swelled and debris-filled Ohio River very nearly forced cancellation of the race, which was run on Independence Day instead of July 2 as originally scheduled. Qualifications had to be scrubbed and Referee Ken Wright declared the race a contest after two sets of elimination heats. No Final Heat was run on account of impaired visibility and the renewed appearance of driftwood and debris stirred up when the DELTA QUEEN made an unexpected appearance and plowed through the race course.
Joe Schoenith’s ATLAS VAN LINES easily won Heats 1-B and 2-B to claim that team’s third Madison victory since 1954 and driver Bill Muncey’s fourth since 1960. Terry Sterett finished runner-up for the second year in a row at Madison—this time with MISS BUDWEISER, which outdistanced third-place GO GALE with Tom Sheehy over the finish line by one tenth of a second in Heat 1-A.
The initial hometown appearance of a newly constructed MISS MADISON did not materialize at the 1972 Madison Regatta. This was because the craft suffered extensive damage and sank the previous week at Detroit with rookie driver Charlie Dunn at the controls.
The Indiana Governor’s Cup returned to the top of the shelf in 1973 and was won that year by Dave Heerensperger’s new super-fast PAY ‘n PAK, which utilized a horizontal stabilizer wing and was nicknamed the "Winged Wonder." Designed by Ron Jones, the 1973 PAY ‘n PAK was wider and flatter than most of her contemporaries and represented the next generation of hull design, which was to dominate Unlimited racing for the next several years.
Although not significantly faster on the straightaway than the other post-World War II Unlimited hydroplanes, the PAK could corner better and faster than any boat ever built up until that time.
PAY ‘n PAK with Mickey Remund driving re-wrote the record book at the 1973 Madison Regatta with a lap in qualification of 116.580 and a lap in competition of 112.080.
Remund and the PAK outperformed second-place Dean Chenoweth in MISS BUDWEISER and third-place Danny Walls in LINCOLN THRIFT’S 7-1/4% SPECIAL.
Mickey experienced some anxious moments in the Final Heat when the PAY ‘n PAK’s aluminum steering wheel broke apart in his hands prior to the start and two of the three spokes of the steering wheel came loose. Remund managed to win by firmly gripping the one spoke and the base of the wheel in the hope that it would all hold together.
The PAY ‘n PAK team returned in 1974 with George Henley as driver. George duplicated Mickey’s achievement of the year before with victories in all three heats and another batch of local speed distinctions, which included a competition lap of 114.796.
Dean Chenoweth again occupied the runner-up spot with MISS BUDWEISER, while third-place in 1974 went to MISS MADISON with promising rookie driver Milner Irvin at the wheel. Irvin would see intermittent duty with the MISS MADISON team over the next decade.
The 1974 regatta was conducted in October after tornado damage in the spring of that year prompted cancellation of the traditional Fourth of July weekend date.
For pure boat racing, the 1975 Indiana Governor’s Cup ranks right up there with the greatest Unlimited races of all time. Seldom has the sport witnessed a more action-packed contest on the Ohio River or anywhere else.
George Henley and the "Winged Wonder" PAY ‘n PAK emerged victorious once again—but only after a titanic struggle.
Heat 2-A was an absolute classic when Henley and the PAK ran deck-to-deck with Billy Schumacher and the WEISFIELD’S for five heart-stopping laps. George outmaneuvered Billy over the finish line at a record-breaking 115.148 miles per hour to 115.060 for the 12-1/2-mile distance. It doesn’t get much closer.
The 1975 racing season is seen as the last hurrah for the old-style Thunderboats with their traditional World War II fighter aircraft engines. The once-plentiful supply of Allison and Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 power plants was now badly depleted. In general, the late 1970s and early 1980s were not vintage years for Unlimited racing. Not until the turbine revolution of 1984 would the sport experience a renaissance.
The 1976 Madison Regatta was one of the more disappointing in the series. Only seven Unlimiteds showed up to compete for the Indiana Governor’s Cup after a particularly destructive race the week before in Detroit. Two prominent contenders—the MISS BUDWEISER and the OLYMPIA BEER—had sunk and weren’t available to run at Madison, although both teams were represented on the Ohio River by slower back-up hulls.
First-place in 1976 for an unprecedented fourth year in a row was the phenomenal PAY ‘n PAK hull, renamed ATLAS VAN LINES by its new owner/driver Bill Muncey in his fifth winning performance at Madison.
ATLAS and Muncey simply outclassed second-place Tom D’Eath and MISS U.S. ATLAS VAN LINES averaged 109.462 in the winner-take-all Final Heat, compared to 105.783 for MISS U.S.
MISS MADISON finished a solid third in 1976. Jockey Ron Snyder brought the hometown crowd to its feet when he took first-place in Heat 2-A over Tom Sheehy and the substitute MISS BUDWEISER.
The 1977 season witnessed the debut of the fabulously successful ATLAS VAN LINES "Blue Blaster," owned and driven by Muncey. Co-designed by Jim Lucero and Dixon Smith, the "Blaster" became the first cabover (or forward-cockpit) hull to dominate in the Unlimited Class. ATLAS VAN LINES won six out of nine races in 1977 and seemed to be a shoo-in for the National High Point Championship. But this was not to be on account of the boat’s incredibly poor showing at the Madison Regatta.
Muncey and ATLAS had a fourth and a "Did Not Finish" in the preliminary action and didn’t qualify for the Final Heat. The VAN LINES gave up over 1000 points to Mickey Remund and the MISS BUDWEISER that day. This ultimately cost ATLAS VAN LINES the championship (by 904 points) at season’s end.
MISS BUDWEISER owner Bernie Little ended a seven-year dryspell at Madison with a clear-cut victory in 1977. Remund and MISS BUD averaged 102.763 in the finale, followed by Tom Sheehy and ANHEUSER-BUSCH NATURAL LIGHT, also owned by Little, at 99.778. Then came third-place Ron Snyder in MISS NORTH TOOL, Jon Peddie in MISS MADISON, and Bob Maschmedt in DIONYSES.
The ATLAS VAN LINES team of owner/driver Muncey and crew chief Lucero vindicated themselves in 1978 at Madison. They won the Indiana Governor’s Cup hands-down with a speed of 109.489 in the Final Heat. No one else was even close. This was in spite of having lost the horizontal stabilizer in the first heat and having suffered damage to the port side of the hull in a later heat.
Second-place in the 1978 Indiana Governor’s Cup went to THE SQUIRE SHOP, owned by Bob Steil and driven by 24-year-old Lee "Chip" Hanauer. Chip was making his first appearance at Madison. Four years later, Hanauer would replace Muncey as ATLAS VAN LINES pilot after Bill was fatally injured in a "blow-over" accident with the "Blue Blaster" at Acapulco, Mexico, in 1981.
The seventh and final victory by Bill Muncey at Madison, Indiana, occurred in 1979. He won in 1960 with MISS THRIFTWAY, in 1961-62 with MISS CENTURY 21, and in 1972-76-78-79 with ATLAS VAN LINES.
The 1979 Madison Regatta marked the town’s 30 th anniversary as a host for Unlimited hydroplane racing. This was a Gold Cup year and ten teams gathered to do competitive battle. These included a trio of new hulls: the Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered MISS BUDWEISER, designed by Ron Jones, and a couple Merlin boats from the drawing board of Dave Knowlen—THE SQUIRE SHOP and the MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS.
The Ohio River was extremely rough on race day. Going into the first turn of the Final Heat, MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS and driver Steve Reynolds landed in a deep "hole." Reynolds was almost flipped out of the boat and his foot came off throttle. Steve restarted the engine and took off after the front-running ATLAS VAN LINES. But Bill Muncey would not be denied.
At the finish line, it was ATLAS VAN LINES the winner, a full mile ahead of MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS, followed by Hanauer in THE SQUIRE SHOP.
This was Muncey’s eighth victory since 1956 in the APBA Gold Cup. To many sports fans, Bill was to boat racing was Babe Ruth was to baseball and what Red Grange was to football. Muncey was 50 years old in 1979 with 27 months to live.