1973 UIM World Championship
Not All Drivers Were In Favor Of Racing in Rain
The show-must-go-on opinion prevailed on Lake Washington yesterday. But if a couple of unlimited-hydroplane drivers had their way, the soggy Seafair saga would have been stopped long before the final heat.
"I went by the stand twice with my thumb down and pointed at my eyes," said Tom D’Eath, rookie driver of the Miss U. S.
The drivers had been told before the initial heat of the World Championship regatta that a thumbs-down signal to the official barge would mean to stop the race because of the rain.
"The third time around, I went by on the inside with my thumb down," continued D’Eath, "and they went ahead and fired the one-minute gun anyway.
"That rain felt like being shot in the face with a BB gun. The visibility couldn’t have been more than a couple of feet. You couldn’t see down the course at all."
Asked if he had seen the driver’s down-turned thumb, the race referee, Bill Newton, responded affirmatively.
"But there are other drivers out there, too," said Newton. "I have to go with the majority, don’t I?"
Chuck Hickling and. Bob Gilliam, two veteran North-west drivers who were in that first heat, displayed no thumbs-down signals. But both later indicated the course was unsafe for racing.
Bill Muncey, Atlas Van Lines driver, described the visibility as "virtually nil." But he thought officials were right in keeping the boats going.
"There’s an awful lot of people who came out here to see a race," Muncey said. "These drivers are professionals, smart men. As long as they drive within the limitations..."
Dean Chenoweth, who made his world-record run in the Miss Budweiser in Heat 1C, credited a blue-tinted mask with helping him see.
"It’s the first time I’ve ever used it," he said. "We were afraid the clear one would fog up. With the blue one, I didn’t have too much trouble reading the water."
"This is the worst I’ve ever raced in," Gilliam said after winning the heat in the Valu-Mart I and returning to the pits. "When that water gets on your visor and gets mixed with a drop of oil, all you can see is a smear. The only way I could tell where I was by following the roostertail in front of me."
Hickling, who followed Gilliam’s roostertail across the finish line, seemed unconcerned about the visibility after that first heat.
"I don’t think it was that bad," he said. "I had trouble seeing the clock, but I got a glimpse of the green flag."
However, the Ms. Greenfield Galleries driver was singing a decidedly different tune after his second heat.
"It’s really dangerous," Hickling said. "Somebody’s going to get hurt out there. They should hold up the race."
Hickling missed two buoys but was awarded the heat win anyway, since no other boat finished the heat.
"I was really lost out there," he said. "I couldn’t see a thing. I had no idea which way to steer, and that’s scary."
Hickling said he planned to send word to the barge that further racing should be delayed, if not canceled.
Newton said if such a message was sent, it never reached him.
Other drivers voiced complaints about the poor visibility but made no objections beyond the pit area.
"One thing about this ‘sport," said Mickey Remund, the eventual winner in the Pay ‘n Pak, "is that you never can see really well. You have only about 80 per cent visibility on a clear day.
"In my first heat, it seemed like the raindrops were bigger, and the wind would blow them right off your facemask. Later on, it was more like a mist and I had trouble seeing."
"About the limit," said George Henley, driver of the Red Man II.
"Poor to horrible," echoed Jim McCormick, the Red Man I pilot.
So the comments went, while the racing continued.
Tom Kaufman, owner-driver of the Mister Fabricator, said his speed was slow enough that the rain presented no problem in Heat 1B.
In 2B, Kaufman caught a sponson in the north turn and spun out. But the problem was inside the boat and had nothing to do with poor visibility.
"I went into it a little fast," Kaufman said, "and then the seat popped loose. It threw me off balance, and my foot went down on the accelerator. It lifted the back end up and hooked the boat around.
"That’s as close a call as I ever want to have. I had 9,000 gallons of water coming up right under my armpit."
Kaufman had no trouble seeing those "9,000 gallons."
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 6, 1973)
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