Friday, July 31, 2015

Seafair's Nemesis - Once known as the Atomic Cup Celebrates Unlimiteds History in 2015

The late, great Dean Chenoweth at the controls of the U-12 Miss Budweiser in 1982. (Image source:
While arguably Seattle's Seafair dwarfs its other side's Hydroplane race in the Tri Cities, nonetheless, the Gold Cup still remains the sport's most prized trophy...

Over one-half century ago during a time when Unlimited Hydroplane racing ruled the roost as the Top sporting event in the Pacific Northwest, most notably Seattle; before any of its current day "Stick & Ball" Professional Sporting Franchises, i.e.; Seattle Supersonics, Sounders, Seahawks, Mariners or the Storm existed, a different type 'O sport introduced the nation to what was then fondly known as the "Jet City" upon wresting control of the Unlimited Hydroplane's prestigious Gold Cup away from its then predominant home of Detroit.

The Gold Cup was first awarded in 1904 as the American Power Boat Association's (APBA)  Challenge Cup - shortly thereafter reverting to its current nom de plume, aka the Gold Cup.

The race was first held in Detroit in 1916, which had been preceded by legendary boat builder Christopher Columbus Smith of Chris-Craft fame being the first to break the 60mph barrier.

Shortly thereafter the legendous' Gar Wood obliterated  the competition en route to five successive Gold Cup victories between 1917-21 before the rules were changed to stop Wood's stranglehold!

After World War II, along with its surplus of Allison and Rolls royce aircraft engines - plus the revolutionary design work of Ted Jones and company, a unique craft prowled the shores of Lake Washington and beyond flying the flag for the Seattle Yacht Club.

Simply known as Slo Mo, boat owner Stan Sayres went to Detroit and shocked the boating world when his revolutionary Unlimited Hydroplane, the Slo Motion IV, the first to capitalize upon the three point design of skimming along the surface on its sponsons with Ted Jones at the controls captured the 1950 Gold Cup. Seeing Sayres take the Unlimiteds "super Bowl" trophy back to Seattle, which would become its status symbol the next several years pre Professional Sports.

As I'm not really sure why I'd never made the connection before, having read previously the name Fageol when penning my monstrous Blue Crown Spark Plug Specials Saga tome...

As I marveled over the oddity of the double Offenhauser engine vehicle starting second in the 1946 Indianapolis 500 named the Fageol Twin Coach Special with Paul Russo at the controls, but that's another story for a different day.

Yet, it seems like I should have made the connection, especially after hearing No Fenders "Papa Bear" Tomas Sr. marvel over Miss Slo Motion for years now.

Shuhzamm! Whilst I'm supposed to be reading Donald Davidson's Autocorse Official History of the Indianapolis 500, instead I'm scribblin' once again about a different subject...

Cutting to the chase, Sayres had a new & improved Slo Mo V built the next year for which Lou Fageol thoroughly decimated the Gold Cup competition, the first of his two outright victories, whilst relief driving in a third. Since the race was now being run on Lake Washington for the very first time ever.

Stan Sayres, along with various drivers including the aforementioned Fageol would win the prestigious Gold Cup five years in-a-row, (1950-54) tying Gar Woods record before Fageol flipped the Miss Slo  Motion V in 1955 on Lake Washington in the first ever barrel-roll by a Hydroplane! And although Fageol survived, he'd never race again!

Until 1963, the Gold Cup was held at the defending winner's home circuit and since has been held mostly in Detroit, its spiritual home, albeit both Tri Cities and the Seattle Seafair race have been included numerous times with the likes of legendary pilots Bill Muncey, Dean Chenoweth, Chip Hanauer and Dave Villwock to name just a few. Not to mention boats named Miss Budweiser, Atlas Van Lines, Miss Bardahl, Miss Thriftway, the Hawaii Kai III and Miss Century 21 all capturing the cup.

In 1966 the very first race known as the Atomic Cup was held in Tri Cities, Washington on the "Mighty Columbia" (River) in deference to the bright lights  of its Hanford Nuclear Reservation, with the cup lasting 'til 1972.

For '73 the race in Eastern Washington was the home of the APBA Gold Cup, the first of its three bi-yearly hosting's, i.e. 1973-75-77. In-between the race took turns being the APBA World Championship in 1974 before becoming christened the Columbia Cup in '76.

Two years later the race reverted back to permanently being known as the Columbia Cup thru 1983.

Next, from the early 1980's to the new millennium, (1984-2005) the event became simply known as the Budweiser Columbia Cup, albeit in 2006 the Atomic cup moniker returned one final time. Perhaps in a nod to the races fortieth anniversary?

Nah, Me Thinks it was due to Budweiser pulling its two-decades sponsorship as organizers scrambled for a title sponsor replacement.

Meanwhile, as noted by the three previous races in the Tri Cities, from 1963 to 1990 the Gold Cup rotated locations before becoming a permanent fixture in Detroit, although the race looked set to end its century-plus connection with Detroit this year after the Detroit River Regatta Association (DRRA) ceased operations this past February 28th after  having run a deficit for years.

Hence, the storied Gold Cup race was transferred to Pasco, Washington's Water Follies festival celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year - becoming this year's HAPO Gold Cup event, having just taken place last weekend (July 24-26) and becoming the golden cup's new home for the time being, since naturally H1 Unlimited, the sanctioning body wouldn't wish to have its Super Bowl event missing from the calendar! While thankfully, wiser heads have prevailed in the "Motor City" and Detroit's race has been saved.

Although it's great news that the Detroit race has been rescued and now will take place Aug 22-23, nevertheless, the H1 Unlimiteds schedule seems tenuous at best, with possibly Detroit being the season finale - when I began scribbling this.

Yet the official 2015 schedule currently lists five races: Madison, Tri Cities, Seattle, Detroit  and San Diego appear to be the only likely events this year. As it would be somewhat appropriate to finish the season this September with the Bill Muncey Cup stateside after all...

Alas, in typical fashion, Y'all don't have a boat race unless you've got two great combatants jousting to be supreme. As a quick scroll thru the roll call of Gold Cup winners denotes the likes of Billy Schumacher, George, NOT Don  Henley, Dean Chenoweth, Tom D'Eath all being winners.

As fabled Blue Blaster chauffer Bill Muncey became the first to eclipse Gar Wood's record of five victories, with Muncie going to his grave having won the trophy a then record eight times!

Next, Muncey's protégé, the young Seattleite Chip Hanauer, who appropriately replace his mentor in the Atlas Van Lines reeled off a record seven 'W's in-a-row from 1982-88 before later retiring from driving with an unheard of eleven Gold Cup victories and one less career victory overall than then record holder Muncey's 62. As Hanauer currently ranks as the sport's third winningest driver ever with 61-victories.

 Yet, to put Hanauer's accomplishment into comparison, think of how multi-times National High Points Champion Steve David has the dubious honour of finishing runner-up twelve times while never being able to "Close-the-Deal" at the Gold Cup!

As the recently retired "Boat Jockey" (Steve David) stands as a mere sixth in all-time Unlimited victories, with 18, behind the Top-3 drivers along with the deceased Budweiser greats Chenoweth; 25-wins and Jim Kropfeld's 22-wins respectively

A third name next came to prominence during the late 1990's thru  the 2000's, when now the sport's winningest driver ever, Dave Villwock captured ten Gold Cups mostly in the iconic Beer Wagon simply referred  to as "The Bud," aka Miss Budweiser and later the Spirit of Qatar - surpassing the late Bill Muncey's career win tally in 2011 and currently sitting on 67-career wins.

As although I don't think I've heard an official re-retirement from the sport, Villwock seems to have disappeared from the cockpit - most likely hanging up his helmet for good? Along with Steve David, and now the Gold Cup as well as the contenders for the throne of H1 Unlimiteds' next dynasty falls upon the shoulders of Jimmy Shane, Jean Theoret and J. Michael Kelly, with the Oh Boy Oberto, Ellstrom Elam Plus and the Graham Trucking teams all vying for their turn in history!

For the conclusion of this epic two part Seafair tome, see; SEAFAIR 2015: Famous Names from the Golden Ages of Powerboat Racing and Beyond weave Roostertails in Seattle