By Fred Farley - ABRA Unlimited Historian
Scott Pierce grew up in a boat racing family. His father, Laird Pierce, owned several Limited and Unlimited Class hulls. Scott had a long and successful Unlimited driving career, starting in 1981. He won seven races for owners Bill Wurster and Bernie Little and drove Little’s MISS BUDWEISER to the National Championship in 1991.
The Pierce family’s first big winner was a 266 Cubic Inch Class hydroplane named MISS PARCO. The PARCO name was derived from Laird Pierce’s Plastic and Rubber Products Company of Ontario, California.
MISS PARCO was designed by Chuck Hickling, and built by Bob Patterson in 1960-61. The boat was very fast and competitive from the start. In 1965, Randy Meyer drove it and won many races. In 1966, Wayne Thompson won the Inboard Nationals with it on Seattle’s Lake Washington.
Scott Pierce began his racing career driving go-karts. In 1971, he graduated to the seat in the MISS PARCO, which by then was “a tired old horse,” according to Scott. He still managed to win quite a few APBA Region-12 races with his brother Craig as engine builder.
It would be a pleasure to report that the family’s initial venture into Unlimited racing mirrored the success of the Limited program. Unfortunately, it did not. Their first U-boat, MISS DIXI COLA, the former BLUE CHIP of 1965, proved to be a Les Staudacher “lemon” and was quickly retired, although it did manage to finish second in the 1966 APBA Gold Cup at Detroit with Fred Alter driving.
Between 1967 and 1970, two different Unlimiteds named PARCO’S O-RING MISS were campaigned. The first was another Hickling/Patterson collaboration; the second was an Ed Karelsen hull. Both showed promise early on but ultimately failed as competitors. The non-success of the Karelsen hull was especially disheartening for owner Laird Pierce and for 15-year-old Scott Pierce who was a crew member.
“My father had a burning desire to win races at the Unlimited level, and he put his best effort forward for 1970. His great flaw in life was that he trusted and liked everybody. While this would be a noble way to live one’s life, in reality what it meant was that my father was taken advantage of throughout his life. My father’s inability to make the hard decisions cost him his dream of winning Unlimited races.
“If my Dad’s team had been in the hands of, let’s say, Bernie Little, the team would have won a lot of races. In 1970, there was not a team that had better equipment than my father. He just had the wrong mix of people.
“My father died in June of 1972 at the age of 41. He saw me race the Limited about six or seven times before his death. My regret has always been that my father was not here to enjoy the success I was able to enjoy in my career. He was a good man, most likely too good for his own good.
“There is no doubt that I have been more cantankerous in my life, due to my witnessing how my father was taken advantage of. I am just grateful that the Pierce name finally made its way to success in the Unlimited Class.”
Scott made his Unlimited debut with Wurster’s U-8 racing team and went on to share Co-Rookie-of-the-Year honors for 1981 with PAY ‘n PAK driver John Walters. Pierce drove the former turbine-powered U-95, re-powered with a Rolls-Royce Merlin. He finished fourth in National High Points and took second in the Silver Cup at Detroit with the U-8, racing as MISS NORTH TOOL.
Pierce had an on-again/off-again relationship with owner Wurster over the years. Between 1982 and 1984, Scott saw action with a number of other teams but met with infrequent success. He drove Mary Anglewicz’s GILMORE SPECIAL Fred Leland’s TEAM VELOCITY, Chuck Hickling’s TEMPUS, and John Still’s BUDWEISER LIGHT. Pierce’s best finish during those years was a second-place in the 1982 UIM World Championship Race at Houston, Texas, with BUDWEISER LIGHT.
Scott has especially fond memories of his involvement with the Hickling team. Here’s the story. And it’s quintessential Scott Pierce.
Hickling was very upset with Scott at the 1983 Emerald Cup in Seattle. Chuck had instructed him to take it easy during qualification in order to be placed in the "slow" flight against boats of comparable speed. Instead, Pierce poured on the coal and qualified TEMPUS for the "fast" flight against all of the "hotdogs." Needless to say, on race day, the Hickling team got trounced, although they did end up with an overall fifth-place.
“Chuck was a part of my life for many years,” Scott recalls. “It is true Chuck was so mad at me he couldn't even speak, and his wife Mel was even more sore with me. They knew what they needed to do to make money for the boat, and I didn't follow the script. I was so proud to qualify the boat faster than she had ever gone before. Bill Muncey had driven the boat at one time, and he went quicker than any other driver had been able to go. I was determined to go faster than Bill. And I did.
“My reasons--besides being nuts--were that Bill was--and is--my hero. I was there the day he died. And this was my way of offering a tribute to Bill. Needless to say, Chuck and Mel didn't buy my story. But that’s my story and I am sticking with it. Fortunately, the Hicklings and I remained close until they left us. And I miss them.”
Scott’s triumphant return to the Bill Wurster organization in 1985 was highlighted by a victory in the season-opener at Miami Marine Stadium with EXECUTONE, a Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered Jim Lucero-designed hull. Pierce’s first thoughts when he crossed the finish line were of his late father.
“Imagine the joy he would have had when I won my first Unlimited race at Miami with EXECUTONE. I assure you, I had tears in my eyes when I took the checkered flag. He would have been over the moon in 1991 when we won the National Championship with MISS BUDWEISER. But he wasn't. Even after all these years, I still miss my Dad.”
The Wurster/Pierce combination won three more races, all sponsored by MR. PRINGLE’S, with turbine power. These were at Detroit in 1987, at Madison in 1988, and at Miami again in 1989.
In 1986, at three races in which the Wurster team was not entered, Scott affiliated with MISS BUDWEISER. Owner Little was undecided whether or not to stay with his tried and proven Rolls-Royce Griffon program or to go with a Lycoming turbine. Little started the season with two boats: the turbine-powered MISS BUDWEISER (U-11) driven by Jim Kropfeld and the Griffon-powered MISS BUDWEISER II (U-12) driven by Pierce.
The U-11 went on to win three races in 1986 and emerged as High Point Champion. Scott steered the U-12 to an overall third at each of the first three races of the season (Miami, Detroit, and Madison). Following the Madison Regatta, Little retired the MISS BUDWEISER II and chose to concentrate on the turbine U-11. Pierce then returned to the MR. PRINGLE’S team.
Scott survived a number of horrific crashes during his career but luckily survived each of them with minor injuries. He flipped twice in 1989 at Detroit and Syracuse.
His most serious crash occurred at Miami in 1988 when MR. PRINGLE’S collided with Kropfeld and MISS BUDWEISER in the first turn of the Final Heat and flipped upside-down. Pierce ingested salt water into his lungs but emerged relatively unscathed, while Kropfeld fractured a vertebra and was through for the season.
The recently mandated F-16 safety canopy was credited with saving both men’s lives.
Bill Wurster and Scott Pierce parted company one final time after 1989. But Pierce wasn’t idle for long. Bernie Little signed him in 1990 to be the back-up driver for MISS BUDWEISER pilot Tom D’Eath.
For a year, Scott waited in the wings, ready to step into MISS BUD’s cockpit at a moment’s notice should the need arise. The moment arrived a few days prior to the start of the 1991 season.
D’Eath ill-advisedly participated in a NASCAR race at Charlotte, North Carolina, over the Memorial Day weekend. Tom was involved in an accident and suffered a broken neck, which effectively ended his driving career. Pierce was called upon to replace him.
Scott had occasionally test-driven the MISS BUDWEISER but lacked the sharpening of a recent race competition as the 1991 Unlimited season got underway. Pierce nevertheless proved his mettle by scoring victories at Evansville, Seattle, and San Diego and finishing second at the Tri-Cities and Honolulu. Moreover, Scott earned the distinction of being the fastest qualifier at every race during 1991.
Thanks to Pierce, the MISS BUDWEISER team won the honor of wearing the cherished U-1 numeral during 1992 as befits the defending Unlimited Class National Champion.
Scott continued in Unlimited racing on a part-time basis as late as 2001 with owners Ron Jones, Jr., Fred Leland, and Jim Harvey. But his 1991 season with MISS BUDWEISER would be the high water mark of his career. He demonstrated that not even a last-minute change of drivers could derail the competitive momentum of a top-notch team such as the MISS BUD.
Now retired from competition, Pierce keeps busy as an executive for a pleasure boat company in the Pacific Northwest. And he sometimes provides expert commentary for media broadcasts of the Seattle Seafair Regatta.