It's a Whole Lot of Fun Now
[On July 31st, 1972 unlimiteds unanimous members gathered at a north Seattle Pizza Pete restaurant as the guests of sponsor Pete Utter. Pizza Pete hydro owner-driver Bob Gilliam, his crew, and the U.U. members viewed a slide show prepared by U.U. president Doug Shultes. What follows are selected highlights of the script of that slide show.]
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Pizza Pete's Hydro Happening 1972. Bob Gilliam and his Pizza Pete crew, and Pizza Pete restaurant owner Pete Utter have asked Unlimiteds Unanimous, a local group of hydro fans, to put together a short program for your viewing pleasure. We hope to give you a glimpse into the past years of hydroplane racing. So let's jump into a time capsule and float back to 1951, when the big thunderboats first came to Lake Washington.
It was the start of something big for Seattle race fans to see, as the roaring monsters churned up tons of water! Leading the pack was Slo Mo Shun V, a newly designed three-point hydro. Can you recall other entries hot on her roostertail? Slo Mo IV, Hurricane IV; Miss Great Lakes II; Such Crust and Gale II.
The fever of hydro racing swept through the fans and dream chasers who come (rain or shine) to see the unlimiteds roar down the straight-away and to see the Champions - the Slo Mo's, Gale V, Thriftway, Hawaii Kai, Maverick, and the Bardahls. The Challengers - Nitrogen, Wahoo, Madison, Tahoe Miss, and Notre Dome. The Innovators - $ Bill, Miss Liberty, Chrysler Crew, Pay In Pak, Atlas Van Lines, and The Roosertail; and the Not So Lucky - Gale IV in the rose garden; Scooter Too, which sank several times, and the Miss Thriftway after sinking a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter.
It was the spray of the roostertail that caught the eye of U.S. Army private Bob Gilliam and sent him into construction of one of the overgrown race boats. In 1956 the fun-filled fellow, without silver-lined pockets, set out to go boat racing against the rich men of this exclusive sport. In his Miss B &I Bob found little success in four years of racing so he went to the drawing board to build himself a beautiful new mount. This new charger, with the latest racing equipment, carried radio station KOL's banner thru the 1960 season. Bob did a fantastic job driving the KOLroy through it's maiden season and placed fifth in the National Point standings.
Gloom set in when KOL decided to drop their sponsorship after that successful season. Gilliam painted U-88 and Fascination over his one-year old hull. Bob raced one or all of his Fascination hulls over the next four years with mixed success, pulling a third place in the President's Cup and a win in the Seafair Queen's Trophy race.
As Miss Tri-City Sun in 1965, the U-88 advertised the upcoming Water Follies at Pasco, Washington. It proved to be another frustrating year for Bob and the crew. For the next two seasons the U-88 carried an oil-additive banner - Hilton Hy-Per-Lube - from Kelowna, B.C. to San Diego, California with not too much achievement. Toil was all they knew those two seasons, but those who fail must learn and that they did.
Nineteen sixty-eight was the season when the red Fascination dazzled her fans, charging ahead of the likes of Bardahl and Smirnoff. The fans loved what they saw while the U-88 was out in front, but alas it only lasted three laps. A face-lifting occurred in 1969 with the U-88 sporting a beautiful new bright orange coat and the masculine title of Mister P's. The 1970 go-around was new sponsor time again and the U-88 displayed the colors of Totum Trailer Sales. Sixty-six year old Walter Kade was the jockey, the first person other than Bob Gilliam to drive the boat in competition. Later Norm Evans took the wheel and the crew worked hard to earn a fifth place finish at the 1970 San Diego Gold Cup race.
Nineteen seventy-one brought still another name change for our U-88. The ValuMart people were greatly pleased after Bob placed third at Seattle behind Pay 'n Pak and Miss Budweiser. At Eugene, Oregon the orange bomb finished fifth. The hull which had sported more names and colors than any other was entitled to a quiet retirement. But retirement would have to wait; Bob and his eager beavers put on another new coat of paint and campaigned the U-88 as Pizza Pete on the entire circuit in 1972.
With Al Thoreson as crew chief, Gilliam headed for Miami in early May and astounded racing fans by capturing third place behind the heavily favored Atlas Van Lines and Pride of Pay In Pak. Smiles were broad for the Pizza Pete team as they headed for Owensboro, Kentucky but the Kentucky Governor's Cup proved to be a tough test. Pizza Pete failed for the only time that season to make the final heat, finishing ninth in the standings.
At Detroit for the Gold Cup, Gilliam furnished sponsor Pete Utter with a great thrill when the boat endured through four heats and earned a fifth place finish. It was only the second time that the U-88 was in the top five in a Gold Cup contest.
Bad course conditions prevailed at the next two race sites. At Madison there was much debris from Hurricane Agnes which prevented the boat from testing. The regatta was of the moist variety, but Pete and Bob's enthusiasm was not to be dampened, for the Pizza Pete took the number five spot in the World Championship race. In the Washington, D.C. President's Cup race on the dirty Potomac River another great battle developed as Pizza Pete out-dueled Towne Club for a fourth-place finish.
Tired from the grueling eastern swing, Gilliam and his crew headed west to TriCities for the Atomic Cup. The U-88 had never done well there before. But the '72 regatta proved to be time for a change as Gilliam qualified for the final heat (a first for the U-88 at Pasco). His ride proved to be bumpy and even of the wet variety. While battling for third place in the final heat against the hard-charging Miss Budweiser, Gilliam hooked a sponson and landed not-too-gently in the Columbia River. The craft survived and Bob Gilliam was not injured. Pizza Pete picked up a fifth place finish. The last time Bob Gilliam received an unexpected bath was while driving Sudden Sunnee some 14 years earlier.
Now, with a short wait until the Seafair race, Bob Gilliam and the Pizza Pete have a strong hold on fourth place in the National Point standings, trailing Atlas Van Lines, Pride of Pay In Pak, and Miss Budweiser. This is the highest achievement in Bob Gilliam's lengthy and colorful career with the unlimiteds. Reflecting on the Bob Gilliam story, we must conclude that "It's A Whole Lot Of Fun Now!!"
(Reprinted with permission from the Unlimited NewsJournal, May 1985)
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