1962 APBA Gold Cup
Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington, August 5, 1962
Sitting on a Rooster Tail
It is risky enough to blast a sports car along a track at speeds up to 180 m.p.h. But in a boat, it borders on the suicidal. Powered by supercharged 2,000-h.p. engines, the big, unlimited-class hydroplanes just about fly-touching the water only with the propeller and two sponsons each the size of a water ski. A patch of rough water can send a boat somersaulting to destruction, and woe to the hapless driver who gets caught behind a rival's arcing 30-ft.-high rooster-tail wake. Last week, as 200,000 boat-racing buffs lined the shores of Seattle's Lake Washington, twelve of the big hydros took off after one another in the 54th annual Gold Cup regatta. It looked more like the Battle of the Coral Sea.
In the first of three, 30-mile heats around the wind-chopped lake, Miss Seattle Too, bounced, dug her nose into a wave, flipped end over end, and disintegrated into a heart-stopping cloud of spray, smoke and plywood. A Coast Guard helicopter plucked Driver Dallas Sartz from the wreckage, miraculously with nothing worse than a broken left leg. No sooner had the next heat roared away around the oblong course than another Seattle boat, Tempest, threw a connecting rod and burst into flames. The Coast Guard whirlybird dipped down to rescue Driver Chuck Hickling, but his boat was severely damaged.
Grocery Cart. The Gold Cup's eventual winner was no surprise to the fans. In three furious heats, Hometown Driver Bill Muncey, 33, pushed his orange and white Miss Century 21--owned by Seattle's Willard Rhodes, head of the Thriftway grocery chain--to an average speed of 100 m.p.h. for the 90 miles, deftly sliding around the hazardous turns, hanging on for dear life in the booming straights. Grinned Muncey, as he climbed out of the boat "That's the fastest little grocery cart in town."
The victory was worth $11,000 in prize money, but the cash was only a part of it for Muncey. He earned a niche in racing's Hall of Fame just behind the greatest pilot of all time, Gar Wood. Between 1917 and 1921, Gar Wood won the Gold Cup five times running, at 57.5 m.p.h. average speeds. In today's considerable faster company, Muncey has beaten all comers four times, the last two in a row.
Broad and muscular (5 ft. 8½ in., 175 lbs.), Muncey started racing outboard motorboats at 14, first drove a limited hydroplane in 1947, when he broke in on smaller boats with 65 m.p.h. top speed. Eight years later, designer Ted Jones, whose Slo-mo-shun IV revolutionized hydro design in 1950 gave Muncey his first crack at the really big boats by picking him to drive the first of owner Rhodes's Miss Thriftway hydros. Muncey barely missed winning the Gold Cup his first time out, then came on to win in both 1956 and 1957.
Corsets & Asparagus. He had his closest call late in 1957. Thundering along the Ohio River at 175 m.p.h.during the Indiana Governor's Cup race, Miss Thriftway blew up spectacularly, hurling Muncey into the water. Luckily he broke no bones; but he spent weeks in a hospital recovering from internal injuries, now wears a steel corset in every race. He sank the second Miss Thriftway in 1958, when he lost a rudder and and rammed a 40-ft. Coast Guard patrol boat. He placed a close second in the 1959 Gold Cup competition, won it for the third time in 1961 on fastest overall average speed.
When he is not racing, Muncey--once a cool saxophone player with Gene Krupa's band, later a radio disk jockey--manages a Seattle Thriftway supermarket. In that hydro-happy city, he is something of a demi-god. He recalls with amazement: "I've had a mother call me up on the phone and say, 'Mr. Muncey, can you come over and talk with my boy? I can't get him to eat asparagus.'" Asked after last week's race if he had had enough, with four Gold Cups to his credit, Muncey answered, "Well, I don't like banging old bill around. I'm only 33 but this is my 19th year of racing. I've got back trouble, kidney trouble, and races like today don't help any." But as long as there's a chance to win, he is sure to keep competing.
(Reprinted from Time, August 17, 1962)
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