1979 Squire Seafair Trophy
Ali, Unitas, Mantle, Palmer — ‘Outlived’ By Muncey
Five years before Cassius Clay won a Gold Medal in the Olympics . A year before Johnny Unitas threw a pass in the National Football League . .
It was Mickey Mantle’s first really big season as a New York Yankee — 37 home runs . .. Arnold Palmer won his first professional-golf tournament . .
That was 1955, the first year Bill Muncey drove an unlimited hydroplane in Seattle, or elsewhere.
As Muhammad Ali, Clay has retired from his sport. So have Johnny Unitas and Mickey Mantle. Arnie Palmer has not won a tournament for six years.
At 5l, Muncey still is going strong — "I’m driving better than ever, I’m physically stronger. There is no reason to think of retiring."
No other man has dominated his sport so long as Muncey. In 24 years, he has graduated from brash daredevil to ruthless winner, so monotonously that he makes bigger news when he loses.
Chatting with a man overtaken by his own legend leaves you impatient to rush into the world and find a new challenge, savor the sky, sniff a rose.
Muncey never is at a loss for 10,000 well-chosen words, delivered with missionary zeal and the timing of a standup comic. He is nearly always’ entertaining, often inflammatory, occasionally profound.
Risking life, limb and sanity in a waterborne rocket has taken Muncey to hospitals and the White House, in about equal frequency.
Why a man whose fetching curls have gone to graying wisps would persist in subjecting himself to such hazards Bill explains simply: money and vanity.
"It’s my career," he said. "It’s an appendage to my marketing job as a corporate executive. I am better known for my racing exploits. But that is not where the money is."
Between thunderboat seasons, Muncey travels 100,000 miles and makes 100 speeches and 200 television appearances on behalf of unlimited racing, his employer and sponsor, Atlas Van Lines — and Muncey.
As with horse and jockey, disagreement prevails over whether Muncey’s extravagant success — an unmatched 56 victories — is attributable to boat or driver.
Bill has won eight Gold Cups in four different boats, suggesting that he knows how to drive, whatever the boat.
As a rookie, did Muncey dream he ever would be No. 1 in the world in the outlet he chose?
"Man is by nature relatively vain," he said. "I am as vain as anybody else. I thought I had a special talent to bring to racing."
Special or not, the talent, over the years, has made Muncey a target on the wall for the darts of rival drivers, on and off the water. How does he handle that?
"I’m too sensitive, I haven’t matured fast enough. I have the sensitivities of a child. I don’t handle it all that well. It, have to remember that some make charges against us to gel their names in the paper."
On shore, Muncey believes younger drivers "respect some of the experiences I’ve had and hope they’ll have what I have."
Though Muncey has suited up for but three teams —Willard Rhodes, Lee Schoenith, Atlas — he described him himself as "a shotgun driver who became an owner four years ago."
Atlas now is the sponsor of the boat Muncey owns. "You couldn’t do it now," he said. "It was a $250,000 investment four years ago, and we’re just about paid off.
"Becoming an owner was as scary as driving. You could get wiped out, financially."
In the four years, with Jim Lucero as year-round crew chief and engineering innovator, Muncey has won 23 of 31 races, including 8 straight on the way to the Seafair showdown today.
The Muncey ebullience does not blind him to the tragedies he has witnessed through the roostertails. "Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of the friends I have lost," he said. "But life is a beautiful opportunity. You can’t give up on it."
Muncey’s low point was three years without a victory, while driving for Lee Schoenith. His zenith was his fifth Gold Cup — tying him with hydroplaning’s original legend, Gar Wood. "It was," said Bill, "ten years between No. 4 and No. 5."
And here is a piece of information never before published: When will Bill, at long last, retire?
"If Jim Lucero were not available," he said, "I don’t know if I would want to continue."
(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 5, 1979)
History Home Page
This page was last revised Thursday, April 01, 2010 .
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated. Email us at email@example.com
© Leslie Field, 2005