1977 Seafair Trophy
Lake Washington, Seattle WA, August 7, 1977

Jerry Bangs: In Love with Unlimited Racing
By Chuck Ashmun

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Jerry Bangs’ long love affair with boat racing has ended. He died doing what he liked best.

Bangs, 42, a Seattle attorney who was admired and respected by fans and race-course foes, was killed yesterday afternoon during the Seafair Trophy Race on Lake Washington.

A memorial service was scheduled today at the Stan Sayres Memorial Park pit area, a place Bangs dearly loved to be. He couldn’t stay away from the hydros.

Thrown from his unlimited hydroplane during the first heat of the regatta, Bangs was pronounced dead on arrival at Harborview Medical Center.

A doctor said he suffered "several head injuries and a possible cervical spine injury." An autopsy was scheduled today.

Bangs was driving a boat called The Squire, powered by a turbo-charged Allison aircraft engine, at the time of the mishap.

According to a witness near the scene, his boat hit a "pocket" in the water created by the wake of another hydro, bounced once, then hooked a sponson. Bangs was thrown into the water.

The boat continued on, smashed into a course buoy, then looped around in a series of eerie, slow-moving circles near the scene of the accident.

Shock swept through the pit area and the official tower when the news came that Bangs had died. Veteran boat racers expressed surprise that such an accident could be fatal.

"It had to have been a freakish thing; he couldn’t have been going that fast at that point," said Ron Armstrong, driver of the hydro behind Bangs’ at the time of the accident. "I doubt if he was going even 100 miles an hour.

"When something like that happens, it takes everything else away. You don’t feel like going out there and doing anything," the Pay ‘N Pak pilot added.

"It’s hard to lose a friend and then force yourself to put it out of your mind and go back out there," said Mickey Remund, Miss Budweiser driver.

But the racing resumed. The drivers said Jerry would have wanted it that way.

Undoubtedly, they were right. Bangs constantly worked to improve the sport in the eyes of the fans. He would not have favored stopping the show.

Accounts of exactly what happened as The Squire entered the south turn during the fourth lap of Heat 1A varied. Drivers on the course all said they had difficulty seeing what was taking place because of the wall of spray thrown up by the boat or did not see the accident at all.

One of the persons closest to the accident was Earl Chaney, operator of a Seafair patrol boat stationed inside the course "about 145 or 150 feet from that buoy."

"His boat hit a deep hole, a pocket in the water, and really bounced," Chaney said. "When it bounced the second time, the right sponson dug in and the driver was thrown from the cockpit — out the right side of the boat.

"He flew through the air, 15 or 18 feet above the boat, and landed in the water head-first, backward."

A Coast Guard helicopter moved in to pick up Bangs. Then Chaney headed for the circling hydro. His son-in-law, Don Francis, hopped aboard to shut off the engine but said it quit running before he could find the right switch.

Bangs had been injured in previous accidents, while driving his limited-inboard, but he came back to race again.

"He did it because he loved it," said Bill Muncey, dean of the thunderboat pilots.

"Not like me — this is my professional career, he virtually was donating his services because he wanted to be involved. He wanted to race boats more than anything else in the world.

"Jerry was an articulate guy; not only articulate but outspoken. He had strong feelings about his racing and his sport. He made an incredible contribution to boat racing, in Seattle in particular but nationally as well.

"He was wholly involved in everything he did, and he had my complete admiration. Nothing could have happened today that could have made me more sad."

Although they were competitors, Bangs had spoken similar praise of Muncey only two days earlier.

"Bill Muncey is the best spokesman unlimited racing has," he said during an interview. "I don’t understand why some people consider him a villain when he comes to Seattle. He’s really a very gracious person, a great guy."

Muncey requested a moment of silent prayer while accepting the first-place trophy during the award ceremonies immediately after the race. A post-race salmon barbecue was canceled.

The Squire’s crewmen understandably were saying little after the loss of their driver. But they did meet with the boat owner, Jerry Kalen, to discuss the racing team’s future.

"I asked them if they wanted to take the boat back to Detroit, and they said, ‘No, we want to go racing in San Diego — racing for Jerry Bangs," Kalen said. The unlimiteds’ final race of the season will be September 19 in San Diego.

A prominent trial lawyer who played a major role in organizing the Unlimited Racing Commission’s fleet-expansion program, Bangs is survived by his wife, Anna Marie, and four children. He was a member of the Gulf Hall of Fame and was named to Yachting Magazine’s All-American Racing Team.

Always a charger on the water, Bangs owned the record-setting Champagne Lady, a limited hydro he raced as a five-liter and seven-liter.

The "Lady" was demolished in an accident in Oregon earlier this year. Bangs was behind the wheel. He was involved in another serious accident in the same boat while attempting a straightaway-record run on Lake Sammamish in 1974.

Jerry often had to come from behind in unlimited races and usually was able to fight his way through the pack. .

He never won an unlimited regatta.

But to those who knew him, he was a champion.

(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 8, 1977)

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