1967 UIM World Championship
Detroit River, Detroit MI, July 2, 1967
Auto Engines Power Chrysler Crew To
By George E. Van
Bill Sterett's triumph in the World's Championship with Chrysler Crew and her twin automotive powerplant represents the greatest breakthrough in unlimited hydroplane racing since the late Stanley Sayres on the Gold Cup with Slo-mo-shun IV in 1950.
Sterett, a daredevil driver, needed all his skill in taking all three heats on the Detroit River with Chrysler Crew, which became the first automobile-powered unlimited hydroplane to capture a major race.
Detroiter Jim Ranger, driver and owner of Miss Gypsy, presented a stiff challenge to Chrysler Crew under perfect conditions on the trouble-free afternoon. Ranger won both his heats before meeting Sterett and Chrysler Crew in the final. And Chrysler Crew came out on top to take the $8,000 first place purse with a perfect score of 1,200 points. Ranger and My Gypsy collected $5,000 in the runnerup spot while Bob Miller, driver of Savair's Probe, collected $3,000 third-place money.
Sterett's victory, and his trail-blazing use of automotive engines, kicked up a wave of interest. It was the same type of stir caused by Sayres back in 1950.
Sayres, a Seattle car dealer, used war surplus Rolls Royce motors on a three-point hull with aerodynamic innovations (by Boeing aircraft engineers) and outclassed everything.
There has been little change since in unlimited racing boats, which have been on a plateau in performance for 17 years. The late Chuck Thompson, with stepped-hull Miss Pepsi, was the only driver to challenge the three-pointers.
Once Thompson put Pepsi, a heavy, 33-foot twin-engine boat, in front, he owned the course. Pepsi's wake left the water unfit and hazardous for rivals to try and pass.
Lighter hulls and fancy gas, like nitrous oxide, have been introduced. These, many believe, made the three-pointers become airborne quicker and were a contributing factor in the five tragic driver deaths within the last year.
With the deaths the emphasis turned to increased safety. The new Gale's Roostertail, a 36-foot, stepped-hull hydroplane in the style of Miss Pepsi, was a move in that direction. Roostertail was something of a dud in the trials last week, but experiments to improve this hydro are being continued.
All this is listed to gauge the significance of Miss Chrysler Crew's breakthrough. The repercussions are many.
Sterett, a 42-year-old, Owensboro, Ky., contractor with a long and successfull racing career in limited class boats, brought out the Chrysler boat a year ago.
It was the first automotive powered hydro since the late Herb Mendelson used a Deusenberg on a Notre Dame in the 1930s. Chrysler Crew had her moments but something, little things, always went wrong.
Before yesterday she had started in 25 races and failed to finish in 10 of these. She won only two heats and sometimes a place, but she never won a regatta.
In Tampa, in the Suncoast Cup last month, a bad waterhose connection put her out.
This season Chrysler's marine division, which moved in to support Sterett last year, brought in Keith Black's race engine crew from South Gate, Calif., the country's leading experts on hot rod engines. The bugs in Chrysler Crew disappeared when Keith, his brother, Jim, and Gene Moonahan, joined Sterett's gang.
This week they came up with an air mixture that improved carburetion and gave Miss Chrysler Crew additional engine revolutions.
"This was the big difference in this race," Sterett said. "It's a much faster boat now and there's more speed coming out of those engines."
The engines are hemi-head, 427 cubic inch Chrysler installed in line. One engine was changed after the first heat.
Sterett gave notice in the crucial 1C heat -- his first of the day -- that might be his race when he was paired with Bill Muncey, driving Miss U.S.; Warner Gardner and Miss Lapeer, and Ed O'Halloran at the wheel of Miss Madison. Billy Schumacher and Miss Bardahl, a favorite, didn't make it. The starter wouldn't engage the motor and Miss Bardahl missed the heat.
But Sterett still had the others, but mostly it was Muncey. The latter has had more than a burn against Sterett since the Kentuckian washed Muncey and Miss U.S. out of a heat at Tampa.
All four boats thundered across the start in a bunch with the Lapeer slightly in front.
But it was Chrysler Crew that came out of the lower turn through the choppy waters above the Belle Isle Bridge in first place, going into the back stretch.
Sterett's manner of getting there, however, left an estimated crowd of 300,000 limp.
"Sterett went into the turn flat out," declared veteran driver Warner Gardner. "I thought he was killed when his boat went up in the air, but he came down flat and he was gone.
"Muncey backed off . . . I didn't think he was that sensible . . . I must go over and congratulate him," laughed Gardner, Lapeer's 54-year-old pilot. "That turn separated the men from the boys -- call me son!"
Sterett's wife, Wandola, and his crew waved frantically trying to slow him down to no avail.
"He won't pay any attention to us when he's out there," said Mrs. Sterett.
Sterett was asked about his pell-mell drive into the turn.
"Did you see who I was up against?" he replied. "The boat was going well and I have confidence in that hull, but the water was rough around that lower turn."
The World Championship apparently lost much of its fascination for Muncey, who dropped to second position with Miss U.S. and was a mile behind Chrysler Crew at the third lap.
This was the race that won for Sterett, who averaged 100.671 miles an hour for the five laps around the three-mile course. Miss U.S. was second in 91.680 mph.
Chrysler Crew's first lap, when Sterett went ahead, was the fastest of the day -- 104.046 mph.
Jim Ranger, who won both of his heats with My Gypsy -- the first at 92.911 and the second at 90.634 -- went into the final race tied in points with Chrysler Crew, both with 800.
Chrysler Crew took heat 2A when Sterett cut down Chuck Hickling with Harrah's Club going into the third lap to take the lead. Miss Bardahl and Miss U.S. were in this heat and locked horns for three laps before Miss U.S. lost power and dropped to fourth.
Walter Kade, a 63-year-old veteran, gave Mike Wolfbauer's Savair's Mist a noble ride in the final. He won the start but gave up the lead to Chrysler Crew on the second lap before he conked out on the fourth lap.
Sterett won at 99.155 mph as Ranger's My Gypsy shook off Miller with Savair's Probe, to take second with a 94.011 average. Probe, Wolfbauer's other boat, was third in 93.684 mph and Notre Dame was fourth in the final at 90.817 mph.
My Gypsy, with 1,100 points, was second to Sterett's perfect score. Miller, who took over Savair's Probe last Thursday, was third with 794, just ahead of Notre Dame and Jim McCormick with 769. Kade and Savair's Mist were fifth with 625.
Wolfbauer is one of the few owners of unlimited boats ever to put two in the final.
Red Loomis, driving Ben Storms' Miss Wickman, won the special Dodge Memorial Race at 91.899 mph.
Bill Cantrell had trouble with Miss Smirnoff's computerized fuel injection system again. Miss Madison blew the rods in an engine and had oil line trouble. Mariner Too, Miss Budweiser and Harrah's Club blew motors but the latter's was replaced in time for heat 2A.
(reprinted from the Detroit News, July 3, 1967)
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at email@example.com
© Leslie Field, 2000