1969 Seafair Trophy Race
Sterett, Once Retired, Now Title-Bound
Thanks to Bernie Little, Bill Sterett is on his way toward an unlimited hydroplane national title.
"I retired last year. I told Bernie in the middle of the season to start considering a replacement. But that man wonít take no for an answer. He can talk me into anything. Heís the most persuasive guy Iíve ever met," Sterett said after his Seafair Trophy victory on Lake Washington yesterday.
Now with three wins in Miss Budweiser this season, Sterett is pointing for the big one, the Gold Cup in San Diego September 28.
"Iíve never won a Gold Cup. Last Year I had the Gold Cup tied up. I was leading with three laps to go when Warner Gardner had his accident," he said.
Gardner, driving Eagle Electric, died in the accident. The Seattle-based Miss Bardahl, driven by Billy Schumacher, went on to win the final heat re-run at Detroit. And it was Bardahl again yesterday that provided the big threat to Sterrettís triumph here.
Fred Alter wheeled the checkered yellow and black hull this time and had the dayís fastest laps of 113 and 112 miles an hour in the first two heats.
"Yah, but if Iíd stayed running with Sterett that first lap, the final heat would have been a real good one. Iím sure of that," Alter said.
Alter said he hit the nitrous-oxide button, pulled ahead of Budweiser coming out of the south turn, "and then blew a rod."
The Bardahl crew said the engine was "just a junker, a stock block. We blew the two good ones we had in practice." The technicians had worked through the night to get it race ready.
Budweiser made an engine change for the final heat. "The other engine was still good and strong, but Bernie just said to throw in another fresh engine just sort of like a precautionary tire change," Sterett said. He took the inside lane for the final heat and explained:
"Bernie has a thing about getting the inside. I donít particularly care for the inside but he thinks itís the only way to fly. It worked for us all three heats."
As the six-boat field charged to the starting line shortly after 4 oíclock, both Sterett and Bill Muncey in Miss U.S. went airborne.
The race referee, Bill Newton, told Sterett, "In 74 races Iíve never seen anything like that. Boy, did you and Muncey come up on that water! Muncey had to go 10 feet. He was higher than you."
"I had to feather it there and let it settle or Iíd have lost an engine," Sterett said.
Billís wife, Wan (for Wandola), who watched the victory, said she has wanted her husband to quit racing.
"When I had a bad accident two years ago July in Alabama," Bill said, "she wanted me to quit completely. She was real unhappy with my jumping from one boat to the other." He was racing both unlimited and 7-liters at the time.
"While I was hanging up in traction she got a commitment that I just drive one." Thereís little question Sterett picked the right one.
"Itís unbelievable to me to be first in national points after being so far back," he said. "We had good luck, and Myrís Special had bad luck."
Myrís Dean Chenoweth called the day, "a disaster. Everything checked out fine but it just wouldnít go. I got messed up with the nitrous in the first heat. That was the start of it."
Almost as happy as the Bud camp were Bob Fendler and his Atlas Van Lines crew, which took second money. "This is our best showing, weíre extremely pleased," Fendler said. Jim McCormick, driver, added, "I think we can run with anybody right now. We were down on power the first two heats."
The Atlas had clocked the fastest pre-race lap ó 119.469 miles an hour Thursday. "We did that with the engine we blew in the final heat at Pasco two weeks ago," the crew chief, Keith Newton, said.
McCormick was watered down by Bardahl in the north turn in Heat IA. He said, "it felt like getting hit with five fire hoses."
The boatís windshield was broken. But Harry Woods, assistant referee, said Bardahl was in front and had the right of way as it cut in toward a buoy, shutting Atlas off.
The only other "incident" came when three boats jumped the gun in Heat 1B. It had happened to Sterett at Pasco two weeks ago, but this time his was the only legal boat to finish.
"I didnít know about it until I came back to the pits," Sterett said. "It was rough as the devil the first heat. I believe the late arrivals tying up at the log boom create much of the problem."
The next two heats Sterett led the pack, which brought the admission: "When you get out front itís a much smoother ride."
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 4, 1969)
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