The Lone Star

A record ninth Gold Cup victory moves a quiet man closer still to mentor Bill Muncey in the reckoning for Unlimited hydroplaning's all-time greatest exponent

By David Tremayne

First appeared in Motor Sport, 1993

Stan Hanauer tells it best, but since he is Chip's father it's not surprising that he should know the inside story of his son's 1982 Gold Cup victory. It was the first of that record nine, and in some ways the sweetest. Coming only months after the death of the legendary Muncey, it also threw a shattered sport the lifeline it sorely needed. There was a new hero in the pack.

"That's the only time I ever saw Chip drive above his ability, over his head," avers his father. "He was out of control all through that one. I take out the video and watch it, three, four times a year. I've never seen anything like it!

"I was working on the Pay'n'Pak crew that year, but after qualifying Chip called me over and took me out on the river in a course boat the night before the race; a 30 mile an hour patrol boat. The Miss Budweiser had six miles an hour on Chip's Atlas Van Lines, but he told me he thought he'd figured a way he could beat Dean Chenoweth. But he needed to draw Dean every heat, so he could set him up, and though that wasn't something he could control, it worked out that way.

"Sure enough, the next day he took Dean harder than either of them wanted to go into that tight second turn. Chip just kept pushing Dean so Dean always had to come out really wide on the exit and just miss that concrete wall by the pits. Each lap of each heat Chip pushed him, and in the final he would always sit just outside Dean before pulling back behind him exiting that turn. Each lap Dean would look over, and sure enough, there Chip'd be. But Dean knew he had Chip covered, because each lap Chip had to pull back in to avoid that pit wall buoy.

"Then one lap Chip waited and as soon as he saw Dean look for him and then look back ahead, he backed off and dived right through his roostertail and went down the inside to take a tighter line and the lead! After that he was just gone!

"I told everyone afterwards: 'Hey, I watched this race last night!'"

Miss T-Plus owner Jim Harvey also has good reason to remember that Gold Cup. "I was with Bill when he was killed in Acapulco in October '81. Bill and I were close friends. After his accident in San Diego, the race before Mexico, the crew decided to pack it in. As an owner myself now, I pray nobody ever does that to me! I told him I'd stay, but Bill didn't catch that. Then he called the shop one day and I answered the phone. He asked me what I was doing there, and I told him I was fixing his boat. He couldn't believe it! He got all fired up again, told me to meet him in LA and we'd go down to Mexico together. We shared a room there. When he was killed it was a very emotional situation. I had to pack his bags, choose which clothes we were going to dress him in to take him home...

"His widow Fran took over running the team in his name, and signed it all over to me. We carried it on. It was only later that she told me Bill had always been grooming me to be his crew chief, but he'd never told me. He was really down when he thought I'd quit after San Diego; that's why he came back so strong when he realised I was going down to Mexico with him. When Chip won that Gold Cup it was very emotional, because Bill had also been grooming Chip.

"In qualifying in the previous race, Dave Heerensperger of Pay'n'Pak was telling us to quieten down the boat, that she was gonna fly, after Chip had lapped within two miles an hour of the fastest guys out there. He was just trying to psyche us out, because when Chip did that it was obvious we were gonna run. The race was a crapshoot. Chip got wetted down, fishtailed. The boat was damaged, we were finished. We had to take the boat back to the shop to fix it before Detroit, and while we were changing the angle of the sponsons we all placed dollar bills under the runners. Then we got to Detroit, and Chip just put it to everyone..."

It was emotional for Hanauer, too. "Number one, it was my first Gold Cup. And your first of anything is special. Your first kiss, your first anything. The other thing was that I was driving for Fran Muncey within 10 months, less than 10 months, of her husband's death. There was so much drama and it was such an emotional victory, and to have done it that way, beating a quicker boat...

"I felt that if I had never won a race after that, I could have retired from racing and been happy. I'd had my day. How many people in life can say that they had their ultimate day? Everything after that has been gravy."

He met Bill Muncey when his own Unlimited career took off. "It was funny. I remember going to my first Unlimited race in '76 and I walked up to him and introduced myself, and he shook my hand and said: 'I know who you are. You're gonna do just fine.' I was just over the moon that he knew who I was."

It would prove one of hydroplane racing's tightest relationships, as Muncey the maestro acted as the rookie's mentor, liking what he saw in him. F1's equivalent is probably the relationship between Alain Prost and Jean Alesi, or Mario with Gunnar Nilsson.

"We just valued each other, I think, as people. He was someone who really lived by his values. I don't know if he thought he saw something of himself in me; we never talked that intimately, but he was always helpful to me. Off the race course. On the race course it was different. Then it was every man for himself! But Bill taught me and, I think, objectively, made the decision to teach me because I was horribly shy. I didn't want to talk to the media, didn't want to do anything that way. I just wanted to drive. He never sat me down and told me how to drive the boat, but he would sit me down and say: 'Listen, you knucklehead, if you're gonna do this you need to make a living and to make a living you have to represent your sponsor.' He would start taking me to interviews with him, and then he would challenge me in them. He would come out with this outrageous lie, a horrible outrageous lie, and then he would stare at me and I would have to finally say something just to straighten the story out. And I think he was objectively trying to get me to open up.

"I still struggle with it, to be honest. I think I can do it and I think I can do it well, but it doesn't come naturally."

He's had enough practice, with 45 victories to date, no fewer than seven of them in the nine 1992 races. Those he didn't win that year he missed after blowovers, when Miss Bud somersaulted. After each flip he was back for the next race, damaged ribs or not.

"Yeah! But I'm not gregarious by nature and I don't like to be conspicuous. But you have to be somewhere in between."

The day before our conversation I'd overheard a radio interviewer comparing Hanauer as an interview with another recent champion. "With X you know you're only going to get a brief 10 second response that literally answers your question, whereas with Chip you know he's gonna take the question and expand on it. You can rely on good, 40 second answers which is just what you need."

Did he sense that he had to carry the Atlas Van Lines operation after Muncey's death? "Yeah. It was just such a responsibility I was overwhelmed by it. A lot of people told me I shouldn't take the job, that it was a recipe for failure. You're not gonna win. Jim Harvey had taken over running the team as crew chief, but a lot of people told me that trying to follow Bill Muncey was going to be a no-win situation."

Again in F1 terms, it would be like Alesi trying to take over Senna's mantle at McLaren, for here was an undeniably quick but relatively inexperienced young charger with only a brace of Unlimited victories to his credit, taking over from the recognised yardstick who had won 62 races in a brilliant career.

"I was very lucky. I think the fans understood the position I was in, and they were very charitable. People would come up and say: 'Hey, we understand what you're going through and we want you to know that we're with you.' Even the media was supportive, and that made it much more comfortable."

When Lee Edward Hanauer came out of self-induced retirement and finally signed for Budweiser for the 1992 season, it was the Unlimiteds' equivalent of Senna going to McLaren: the best driver was finally united with the best team. He'd quit at the end of 1990 when Bill Bennett withdrew the Circus Circus team with which he'd just won the national championship, and he went without the ballyhoo of Mansell's 'retirements', even though it was just as keenly felt in the hydroplane world.

"I can't give you an objective reason why I quit. Intrinsically I just knew that I had to stop for some reason, and usually the best reasons that I make are when I follow my heart. I just knew that I was tired and I wasn't having fun and it was time to do something different.

"In a way I started racing boats because I loved racing and I wanted to have fun. I didn't get into it to be a champion of any class, to do anything except to have fun. They looked really neat. As you know, my hero was Jim Clark, but I grew up in Seattle and there wasn't a lot of car racing there, so I went into boats."

How did his respect for Clark come about?

"I've no idea. I was just fascinated by him. You've got to remember: I'm 38 years old and in Seattle, Washington back in early Sixties motor racing didn't get the media it does now. How I found him, I don't know, but I just did.

"There was a guy I know was going to Scotland and there was this castle that he wanted to see. So he got a cab and the cab driver asked him, you know, just in chit-chat, what he was into and he said car racing, and the cab driver said: 'Oh really? Well, we're going through it now, where this famous race driver lived and he was my mate in school. Jim Clark.' My friend was just overwhelmed, and the guy showed him this little museum and he said he walked in and there was this little woman with a pot of tea, a very small little room with trophies... The cab driver took him to Clark's house, showed him the route they used to walk to school... I was very envious!

"But where I got exposed to that, I just don't know. Nobody in my family was into car racing."

You can't really be raised in Seattle and not love unlimited hydroplanes, not since Ted Jones and Stanley Sayres put the town on the boat map with the Slo-Mo-Shun three-pointers back in the Fifties. "I didn't look for it," says Hanauer, "but I had to race some time. The first thing that afforded me the opportunity to race happened to be boats because we had a very active outboard association there. They had a class from nine to 12, and I started at nine and off I went. It's been very beneficial. A person who starts in a sport as a very young child has an advantage. It's very difficult to pick up from the age of 21, 22; I think you can get good, but I don't think that you have that extra special edge. I only wish I'd learned to play the piano at the same time!"

There have been nightmares during his career, one of the worst being the time the Squire Shop blew over backwards on Lake Washington back in 1979. It was a boat he distrusted on the straights but loved in the corners, and which finally caught him out. It was precisely the sort of accident that would later claim Muncey's life. "That flip was right up there with the worst moments! I thought I was going to die. I really thought as it went over that that was it, my life was over. I remember having an almost out-of-body experience. You know: this is what the most significant moment in my life looks like. This is my death. When I woke up in the hospital after that one, I knew that life from then on was just a gift.

"What upsets me most, though, is when I feel that I've let the team down, when I've made a mistake. Because more than anybody, more than the sponsor, the first people I drive for are my mates who work on the boat. And if I don't win for them, or if I make a mistake, I feel horrible. Because it's like I let them down first."

He doesn't have the time or the inclination for self-delusion, the pitfall of many a champion racer. It doesn't ultimately matter whether that's a product of upbringing, his innate shyness, whatever. Being honest with himself has always been a cornerstone of his make-up. "You can't build on anything unless you are like that. I see that delusion a lot, you know. Drivers kinda believing their own press clippings and everything. The bottom line is I know myself and I know what my capabilities are. I know when I've made mistakes, I know when I haven't. First and foremost I have to live with me. I have to be true to myself. And sometimes that's not easy. Sometimes being true to yourself makes people get angry with you. I mean, when I came back to the sport I'm not one to hang out with the guys. I want to be with my own team. I'm very solitary. I think the other drivers think of me as probably arrogant and aloof. They think I'm only that way round them, but I'm not. I like to be alone. And I think they misread that. If you're winning and you're doing well, and you don't really go out of your way to be chummy, it's viewed as arrogance."

On the Saturday night in Detroit, he actually went alone to The Will Rogers Follies. He admits that it's hard when you're winning so much and everyone wants a slice of you, everyone wants to be your friend. "I'm not good at that. I'm very fragmented. I always feel that I'm letting somebody down because I can't give everybody the time that they want, so I end up feeling that I've let everybody down.

"I tend to hang out with guys I'm working with, or people I've known a very long time. I have a group of guys who support me and are doing everything they can for me, so I feel I need to give them my time and my emotions."

During his 1991 sabbatical he took up car racing, with Toyota's Firehawk series. He expands on the differences between the two disciplines. "First and foremost, boats reward aggressiveness. Cars reward precision. Patience and precision. You're busier in a car too. I had to learn to stop pushing so hard, and when I stopped pushing hard, that was when I started going fast. When I tried to push and be aggressive, I started going slow. When I got back into a boat it all came right back. I didn't have to readjust. But then I'd been doing the boats since I was nine. The car was always having to use my conscious mind, whereas in the boat, you know..."

Diehards were surprised to see him return, to see Chip Hanauer finally driving for Bernie Little... "The year's sabbatical helped me in that I rediscovered the fun again. I left boat racing because it wasn't fun, and through my experience with Juan Fangio and PJ Jones and Dennis Aase in the Toyota team I rediscovered fun. I started easing up on myself and started allowing myself to enjoy myself. I tried to find what I had as a kid. That enabled me to come back.

"Bernie, unbeknown to most people, has been the most consistent guy in racing. He's always let me know that I had a job there if I wanted to go there. People always saw us arguing. What they never saw were the phone calls, and he was always very supportive. We had differences of opinion maybe, on how the sport should be run, or what happened, but he's always been there. We were negotiating a contract for '91 and I told him: 'Bernie, I don't want to do it. You can offer me more, but I just don't want to race.'" At the end of 1990, after a degree of heat between Budweiser and its driver Tom D'Eath and Hanauer and Circus Circus, he admits he'd had enough. The fun had gone, and he had fallen out of love with unlimited hydroplane racing. "You can't say why you fall out of love, but it happens. It did with me then. And I knew taking a year out was the right thing to do. But when Bernie and I began talking again for 1992, I knew that was right, too. Like I said, he was always supportive. He told me that any time I wanted to come back there was an opening for me, even if he had to run a second boat for me alongside another driver."

This year he added that ninth Gold Cup victory. He's won six national championships and 45 Unlimited victories. If he stays in love this time around, Bill Muncey's all-time record of 62 might come within reach within three seasons. If it is destined to fall, no successor could be more apposite nor worthy.

David Tremayne. Used by permission. For reprint rights to this article, please contact the author at <Restspirit@aol.com>.


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