Hydroplane Memory Lane

Hydroplane fans will get a blast from the past when three boats that dominated the sport in the 1950s and early 1960s - Slo-Mo-Shun V, Hawaii Kai and Miss Thriftway - glide along Lake Washington again.

By Dick Rockne
Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 3, 1994

Unlimited hydroplane fans who regard memory lane as main street are in for a treat this weekend on Lake Washington.

Slo-mo-shun V, Hawaii Kai and Miss Thriftway will revive a magic time in the city's history when the giants of the sport's past are driven in exhibition heat races Saturday (1:15 p.m.) and Sunday (11 a.m.) on the Texaco Cup course.

11-month project for Thriftway

The event will be nothing new for the restored Slo-mo-shun V, winner of the first unlimited race on Lake Washington in 1951, and the replica Hawaii Kai (1957 and 1958). Those boats were re-introduced in past years.

But for Miss Thriftway, which dazzled foes and fans from 1959 to 1963, it will be a re-coming out party, courtesy of the Hydroplane and Raceboat Museum in South Park and the boat's owner, Joe Frauenheim of Seattle.

In 11 months, an all-volunteer cadre of hydro buffs headed by David Williams brought the U-60 back from the indignity of a slow death in a lot off Interstate 5 near Fife to its current persimmon-and-cream state of historical beauty.

"It's beautiful," said Ken Muscatel, 45, a psychologist who as president of the museum will drive Miss Thriftway this weekend as well as his Texaco Cup entry, Pete's Wicked Ale. Mark Evans is scheduled to drive Slo-mo V. Hawaii Kai is to be driven by Chip Hanauer on Saturday and by Mitch Evans on Sunday.

The sight of Slo-mo V, Hawaii Kai and Miss Thriftway together "is going to be astonishing," Muscatel said. "If you like the old boats - the history, the culture - it's going to be wonderful."

Slo-mo's famous flying start

Slo-mo V, owned by the late Stan Sayers, was famous for two things in addition to winning two Gold Cups and a President's Cup in Washington, D.C.: the flying starts driver Lou Fageol made under the west-side high rise of the Floating Bridge, and its flip during a qualifying run before the 1955 Gold Cup on the Lake Washington backstretch.

Muscatel duplicated (sort of) the under-the-bridge start while driving the restored Slo-mo V in an exhibition run during last year's Seafair race.

"I had a safety parachute which engaged by accident and almost dragged me out of the boat when I went under the bridge," Muscatel said.

The Hawaii Kai, which was owned by industrialist Edgar Kaiser, was a power primarily in 1957 and 1958 when it was driven by Jack Regas. The replica, painted tropical rose and coral mist, is the former Breathless Too.

The restored Miss Thriftway is the third (and last) of the series of three boats owned and operated by Willard Rhodes and Associated Grocers and driven by the late Bill Muncey. For two years (1961 and 1962) it raced as the Century 21 in promoting Seattle's World's Fair.

The first Miss Thriftway was destroyed in an accident during a race at Madison, Ind., in 1957. The second one was wiped out in the infamous south-turn collision with a Coast Guard cutter during the 1958 Gold Cup race on Lake Washington.

Runs again after 31 years

Beginning in 1959, the third (now restored) Thriftway won 14 of 32 races en route to capturing two Gold Cups and three national championships in five years. Its record of finishing 55 consecutive heat races "is still unbelievable," Muscatel said.

It ran for the last time in the 1963 Seafair Trophy Regatta.

And now, 31 years later, it will run again, to the delight of hydro historians who, like Muscatel, recall with fondness what it was like to grow up with the sport.

"There is something about that time in your life that you remember," said Muscatel, who grew up in the family home near the race site on Lake Washington. "The sport back in the 1950s and early 1960s was characterized by few sponsors, colorful boats and colorful drivers."

He remembers how he and so many other neighborhood kids would respond to hearing a hydro engine roar to life "by jumping on our bikes and riding down to the pits" to see what was going on.

"That was part of the magic of it," Muscatel said.

And the magic is going to continue. Next up on the museum's restoration schedule is a Miss Bardahl that the late Ron Musson drove in the early 1960s.

In addition to the Slo-mo V, Hawaii Kai and Miss Thriftway, the hydroplane museum has the restored Slo-mo III and Slo-mo IV (on loan from the Museum of History and Industry), the Miss America III that racing legend Gar Wood drove in the late 1920s, and Atlas Van Lines.

The Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum
5917 South 196th Street - Kent, WA 98032
Phone: 206.764.9453 - FAX: 206.766.9620