1968 UIM World Championship
Frightful Toll in Men, Machinery, But Bill Escaped
Muncey, Simon Celebrate Miss U.S. Victory
By Bud Livesley
The murky waters of Lake Washington extracted a frightful toll of men and machinery before releasing, unscathed, the broadest, most famous grin in all unlimited hydroplane racing.
Bill Muncey, the "winningest" driver anywhere, had fallen upon hard times in recent years, especially in his home town. He has had little to grin about and the furrows on his boss' brow are etched deep.
Today they are happy faces.
Yesterday was a troublesome afternoon for many, but not for George Simon. The bossman of the Miss U. S. camp is celebrating his second victory in a decade. Muncey has his first victory since the 1966 season opener in Tampa, Fla., and his first on Lake Washington since winning his fourth Gold Cup in 1962.
Muncey, Simon and the Miss U. S. are the champions of the world, the designation accorded yesterday's race witnessed by more than 100,000 spectators.
It was a day packed with surprises, frustrations, tears and toil, near-tragedy — and no consolation race. It was, after 5 hours 16 minutes, Bill Muncey's day.
It was not a day for Jack Regas, Warner Gardner. Billy Schumacher, Jim McCormick, Bob Miller or Bill Sterett.
Regas and Miller were pitched into the lake by bucking hydros. Regas, for a second straight year, is in the hospital, suffering from an injured back and broken ribs. He and the Notre Dame will not race again for a while.
Miller and his boss, Bob Fendler, are surveying damage to a boat only. It is doubtful the Atlas Van Lines can be repaired in time for next Sunday's Diamond Cup race in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.
Gardner and Schumacher, the co-favorites to wrestle for the world's championship after each had won two races this summer, are building new engines for Coeur d'Alene. A thrown rod (Bardahl) and a busted gear box (Miss Eagle Electric) knocked Schumacher and Gardner out of the title fight.
In the sometimes crazy world of hydroplane racing, points do not always add up to victory. McCormick garnered 800 by winning two heats in Harrah's Club and wasn't mechanically fit for the final; Dean Chenoweth in the Smirnoff, with zero points, was qualified for the final, but had to reject the invitation.
Sterett, who won the world's championship driving his own Miss Chrysler Crew last year in Detroit, twice ran out of engines in the Miss Budweiser, the first time (heat 2A) after leading for four laps.
That was the first opening Muncey needed. Still, to clear the way, it took more — a knockout blow to McCormick's chin and an excellent demonstration of driving by Schumacher. Both came in the same round (Heat 2B).
In Heat 1B, when the Budweiser lost power after showing the way for 4¼ laps, Muncey came on from a comfortable second to a comfortable victory, over My Gypsy, Savair's Mist and Gale's Roostertail.
Then came the dramatics of Heat 2B, one of the most thrilling heats of racing here in many years. At the climax, Harrah's Club was the victor over Bardahl by about a quarter of a boat's length. In elapsed time it was Harrah's—8 minutes 12.4 seconds; Bardahl—8:12.6.
The by-a-nose win probably cost Harrah's Club the championship. In the process of outrunning the onrushing Bardahl, McCormick hit the nitrous-oxide button and, at the finish line, the engine went POW.
Having already changed an engine after winning Heat 1A, by the rules, that was the limit for the day for Harrah's Club. The only boat with 800 points going into the grand finale, had to scratch.
McCormick, on the throttle up the middle, jumped off first at the start of 2B, with Regas and Schumacher in pursuit.
That's the way it stayed until the third lap, with Regas holding off a threatening Schumacher by hanging tight to the buoys on the curves. Then, at the start of the fourth lap, Schumacher boldly pulled alongside of Regas.
Regas, pressured to hold his inside position at the corner, hooked and spun out. Schumacher whizzed past and gave chase to McCormick. In one lap, Schumacher reduced McCormick's lead to three seconds.
Then it was into the last turn. McCormick, as he put it, was a "little too hot." He had to back off, bounced over a wake and left the "door open." Schumacher turned hard left, slapped the Bardahl tight to the pin and it was a race to the finish.
McCormick was pushed to the fastest heat of the day, 109.622 miles an hour, only to end up on the beach watching the final. Schumacher, too, was on the beach, after he churned a 113.033 in eliminating Regas on Lap 4 and 110.429 in a futile attempt to overhaul McCormick.
The only faster lap all day was 112.971. That came in Gardner's pursuit of Sterett at the start of 2A. The Budweiser expired coming out of the first turn, and Sterett was finished for the day.
Gardner went on to outdistance Muncey and Walt Kade in Savair's Mist. But the Eagle, crippled in Heat 1A, had to settle for a win in the rerun of the final, third place overall and $3,300 in prize money.
The Eagle's third-place margin over Harrah's Club, on elapsed time, was two-tenths of a second. Gardner gained ground in his duel with Schumacher for the national high-point championship. Gardner started trailing by 600 points. He now is down 4,500 to 4,100.
But Muncey's "numbers game," on this day, added up to more — victory on 925 points, plus $6,500 in cash.
The first try at a final knocked out the Bardahl at the starting line and was flared to a halt when Regas was tossed into the water by a bouncing Notre Dame. Muncey then was running third behind My Gypsy and Savair's Mist.
In the rerun, Muncey again was content, after a hit of a skirmish with Tommy Fults, to play follow the leader. On the back chute of the first lap, Muncey scooted past Fults. But when the Gypsy failed to yield on the corner, Muncey graciously settled back to third spot.
He was, after all, on the victory trail. Muncey, after 14 years of steering a cantankerous hydro, knows well the smell of triumph — even through the plume of roostertails.
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 5, 1968)
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