1974 APBA Gold Cup
Lake Washington, Seattle WA, August 4, 1974
Freddie Shrugs Off Brushes with Death
If You Live In Fear, You Donít Belong In Hydro, Says Alter
By Chuck Ashmun
Some unlimited-hydroplane drivers are accused of having holes in their heads. None other has the scars Fred Alter possesses to prove it.
Alter, 47, one of the "old men" in the sport of steering boats around a course at speeds in excess of 100 miles and hour, was shot in the head last winter.
"Iíd just walked out of the airport in Indianapolis," Alter said yesterday, while he waited for a turn to put his boat in the water at the Gold Cup race course. "I think it was a case of mistaken identity.
"The bullet went in right here," he said, pointing beneath his chin. ĎI walked into the hospital and said, ĎIíve been shot and I think the bulletís still in my head.í
"They took a look and said, no, it came out the back. It missed my vocal cords, my jugular vein, the base of my brain, everything. Thank goodness, it was a small-caliber pistol."
That incident was one of several brushes with death for Alter, who speaks proudly of his "Fearless Freddie" nickname. "I donít think Iíve ever been afraid," he said.
"Some people are afraid to live in Detroit," said Alter, who has a condominium unit overlooking the Detroit River. "I may be a little more cautious, living in Detroit; but if I was afraid, Iíd move out.
"Itís the same thing driving boats. If you live in fear of something happening to you out there, you donít belong there."
Alter and Bill Muncey, 45, who both race for Lee Schoenithís Gale team, are the deans of this yearís driving corps.
"Weíve both had our share of bad accidents," Alter said. "I guess weíve lasted longer than some of the others because weíve been luckier, and I imagine we are a little more cautious.
ĎYou know, I really would like to take some of these young drivers ó the kids who are running hard ó aside and say, ĎHey, not quite so fast, not quite so close together.í
"I remember. I was a charger when I started out in these boats. I can still charge When I have to. But you have to look out for the other guy, too.
"If something happened to me out there because of something I did, that would be one thing. But I always wonder about somebody else running over the top of me. Iíd hate to go into a turn and have somebody whose head wasnít glued on right come charging over me."
Alter has been driving boats for 24 years. His first competitive lap in an unlimited came in 1955.
"That was in the Miss Detroit," he recalled. "Another guy drove it in the first heat in a race back in Detroit. He didnít do very well, so I got in it and drove the second heat. Had a good start and had the lead, too. Muncey was driving the Thriftway then. He passed me and won the heat."
Since Fredís first fling in unlimiteds, he has driven more boats with more names than he can remember. Such Crust, Miss U. S., more than one Gale, Miss Wayne, Mariner Too, Blue Chip, Dixi Cola, Parco O-Ring Miss, Miss Schweppes, Towne Club, Miss Bardahl, Miss Cauffiel and Galeís Roostertail are some of them.
Thereís also Pizza Pete, the craft Alter piloted to a second-place finish two weeks ago in the World Championship race in Tri-Cities.
When talk turns to retirement, Fred hedges.
"Iíve thought about it," he said. "Iíd like to walk away when I was on top. Looking back, Iíve had fairly good years right along ó you know, usually fourth or fifth in national point standings by the end of the season. But Iíve never been really, I mean REALLY, successful."
One Gold Cup might be enough, leaving Alter little to do but climb the Matterhorn.
"I plan to do that this fall," he said. "Iíve never climbed a mountain before."
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 3, 1974)
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