A Championship Season
By Fred Farley - APBA Unlimited Historian
Very few teams have ever dominated the Unlimited scene as Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser did in 1998.
After ten races on the Ralph's Thunder Tour '98, presented by Las Vegas, Miss Bud and driver Dave Villwock have an unprecedented eight victories for a winning average of 80 percent.
Looking back over the last two seasons, Miss Budweiser has entered twenty races and has thirteen wins--twelve with Villwock and one with 1997 relief driver Mark Weber. That's a winning average of 65 percent.
It is interesting to compare the Bud's performance to that of other dominant teams in the post-World War II era.
In 1947, the Dossin brothers' Miss Peps V, a remodeled former 1930s campaigner, won three of the four races that counted for National High Points. Pilot Danny Foster won the Ford Memorial Regatta, the APBA Gold Cup, and the President's Cup. But the Allison-powered Peps made a bad start and lost the 1947 Silver Cup to Notre Dame and driver Dan Arena.
Bill Cantrell had a great year in 1949 with Horace Dodge, Jr.'s My Sweetie. He won four out of five major races with the John Hacker-designed step hydroplane, including the Gold Cup at Detroit. His only defeat was in the Harmsworth International Trophy, also at Detroit, where My Sweetie experienced mechanical difficulty.
The Dossin brothers' twin-Allison-powered Miss Pepsi, the famous "Mahogany Cigar," won almost everything in sight during the early 1950s with Chuck Thompson as driver. Miss Pepsi won four out of five major races in 1951 and three out of four in 1952. In both years, the Pepsi's only defeat in High Points competition occurred at the Gold Cup in Seattle, where she failed to finish the 90-mile race.
Miss Pepsi nevertheless turned the first-ever heat of the Gold Cup in excess of 100 miles per hour in 1952. Thompson averaged 101.024 for the 30-mile distance in Heat One before blowing a gearbox in Heat Two.
Edgar Kaiser's Hawaii Kai III was fast but not reliable in her first three races of 1957. Then, driver Jack Regas came into his own with five victories in a row in the second half of the season. Following a brief retirement, Regas and the Kai came back for one more race--the 1958 Gold Cup in Seattle--which they won hands down. This was the first time that any boat had ever gone 300 competitive miles at a winning pace.
Hawaii Kai III's record of six consecutive victories was eclipsed four years later by Bill Muncey in Miss Century 21 (also known as the third Miss Thriftway). Miss Century 21 won the last two races of 1961 and the first five races of 1962. The 1962 campaign was one of the more one-sided in Unlimited history. Muncey and C-21 won five out of six races and finished first in fifteen consecutive heats, before breaking a crankshaft and going dead in the water at the last race of the year on Lake Tahoe at Stateline, Nevada.
Following the retirement of the Miss Thriftway team in 1963, Muncey's career went into a temporary decline. He was fired off of Notre Dame in mid-season 1964 and posted a very uneven record with the Miss U.S. between 1965 and 1969. But Bill was back at the top of his form with Atlas Van Lines in 1972. He won six out of seven races with the Joe Schoenith-owned craft and finished second once. 1972 was arguably Muncey's best season. He only broke one Rolls-Royce Merlin engine all year--and even then, he was able to finish the heat in second place!
Over the years, a lot of drivers have done well in individual seasons and won the majority of races. But no one--not even the great Muncey--has ever been able to win every single race. Bill came close. He won all but one of the scheduled races in 1962, 1972, and 1978.
The 1978 campaign was beyond doubt the low-water mark of post-WWII Unlimited racing. The turbine revolution was still a few years in the future. The time-honored Allison and Rolls engines had seen their better days. No one could run with Muncey's Atlas Van Lines "Blue Blaster," which was clearly in a class by itself. The Merlin-powered "Blaster" won six out of seven races almost effortlessly. Only once did Atlas Van Lines fall short of expectation. That was when Muncey blew an engine in the Final Heat of the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup. Victory went instead to Ron Snyder and the Miss Budweiser, which was having a difficult season.
The Atlas Van Lines "Blue Blaster" was the first cabover Unlimited to win a National Championship (in 1978 and 1979). Co-designed by Jim Lucero and Dixon Smith, the Atlas set the all-time record for consecutive Thunderboat victories--nine of them--starting with the last two races of 1978 and concluding with the first seven races of 1979. The record has stood unchallenged for nineteen years.
Prior to Dave Villwock's noteworthy 1998 campaign with the Miss Budweiser Turbine-3 and Turbine-5 hulls, the most wins by a driver in a single year during the turbine era was by former Miss Bud pilot Chip Hanauer.
Chip won seven races in 1992. He was undefeated in the first half of the season and posted five consecutive wins before crashing Turbine-3 during qualification at Seattle. But Hanauer rebounded to score two additional victories (at Kansas City and Honolulu) before season's end.
© Fred Farley. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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