1979 Squire Seafair Trophy
Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington, August 5, 1979
Grass for a Grandstand
It proved to be a safe and sane Seafair Sunday, although a few pre-conceptions were severely mangled when the thunderboats roared and the roostertails soared off the shores of Lake Washington.
ó Chuck Hickling proved ó in a preliminary race ó that life begins not at 40 but at 65, provided everybody else in your heat is sitting in a dead boat.
ó Steve Reynolds said he proved in the final sprint that the fastest boat doesnít always win. However Bill Muncey, who collected his seventh victory of the year after his rival jumped the gun, might argue with Reynolds that "quick" and "premature" are not synonymous.
ó Finally, the hydro-phobics proved that they have been wrongly maligned for, lo, these many years, railed as a mob of beer-swilling cheapskates; they finally erased that penurious appellation (although at dusk many of them did seem to be oozing buds out the ears).
The late fight promoter and manager, Jack Hurley, was one of the loudest critics of Seafair Sunday.
"They claim that half a million of these suckers line the lake to watch this phony race, like it was a big deal for the city," Hurley used to argue. "Theyíre all freeloaders! They donít pay to watch the race, they donít stay in hotels, and they bring a picnic lunch instead of eating in the restaurants. All they leave the city is their garbage!
And many of those who listened seemed to agree that the vast crowds would disappear, if the Seafair race sponsors ever established a prohibitive admission fee, of two or three cents a head.
Well, they were charging two and three dollars for admission yesterday and if youíre guessing that the crowds were down, donít try to tell that to anyone lined up for the Sanikans.
Special legislation in Olympia was needed to charge admission into what is basically a city park, and nobody quite knew how the public would react. The race was shifted to Sand Point one year, admission was charged, and the turnout was the smallest in the history of hydro racing on Lake Washington. Were the fans unhappy with the altered race course and site, or were they still breeding moths in their purses, the sponsors wondered.
They were still wondering a week ago, when reports on advance ticket sales were disappointing if not discouraging.
"But this turnout is absolutely amazing," race chairman Bob Madden said in mid-afternoon. "I took a run down the shoreline in a chopper. Iím no expert on crowds. But if I had to make a guess it would be close to 200,000 people. And Lord knows how many more were on the log boom."
In a week or so, Seafair should have an accurate count on admissions. It will probably surpass the most optimistic predictions.
"This isnít a profit-making venture," Madden emphasized. The race committee will pay about $28,000 to the city for services rendered. Prize money tops $50,000. The total budget for, this yearís race is $110,000, so a surplus seems assured. "We canít make a profit," Madden said. "But what we can do with this money is to make this a better event."
It could also assure better racing. Dave Heerensperger said his Pay ĎN Pak team disbanded three years ago, because he didnít want to be associated with a sport which was begging for nickels. He likes the new image, and, so should other prospective sponsors.
In truth, however, most of the fans seemed to like what they saw yesterday. Or at least they liked what they saw in heat 2-B. A spontaneous whoop of joy erupted along the shoreline when Muncey, who had made another flawless start in pursuit of a perfect racing record this year, suddenly lost most of his power. He put his foot in the floor, but Atlas shrugged, victim of a blown supercharger, and Muncey was later fined $100 for continuing to circle the course at about six miles an hour in the heat won by the 65-year-old Hickling.
Sports fans love the unexpected. And whenever Bill Muncey loses a race, or even a heat, it is clearly an upset.
Spectator response to his brief misfortune indicates they want to see some driver, any driver, beat the man who has proved himself best. It could have happened yesterday had Reynolds not jumped the gun (and nobody on the press and official barge disputed that ruling).
"I knew heíd jumped," Muncey agreed. "I was running good, but when I got to the line, he was already in Renton."
So Muncey once again proved himself unbeatable, just as he was doing on Lake Washington 20 years ago in the Thriftway and Century 21 boats. And if you are convinced a 50 year old driver must be near the end of his career, donít try to tell that to Chuck Hickling . . . or to Bill Muncey.
(Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 6, 1979)
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