1982 Thunder in the Park
Seneca Lake, Romulus, NY, Jun 11-14, 1982
Whisper In The Park
The first and possibly the only "Thunder in the Park" unlimited race took place on Seneca Lake, New York on June 14. Several factors caused this to be a less than perfect event. First of all, the lake, which is 42 miles long, has no protection. So when the wind comes up, from the south, which it does with a certain amount of regularity, it gets rough, real rough. Although the pits are ideal and the parking and viewing are good, the population base is weak. Rochester and Syracuse are the major cities from which the race could draw upon, unfortunately these cities are at least an hour's drive to the site. Put all these together and only 5,000 people showed up for the Sunday race. (About half that many people were on hand for the Monday event)
The action started on Friday with all boats running except KYYX, Miss Budweiser qualified at 130+ and Pay 'n Pak ran 131+ on a 2½,-mile course. The Squire Shop ran but was kiting a lot. Also making appearances were Miss Madison/Rich Plan Food Service, Miss Rock and Atlas Van Lines which seems to improve every time out. The boat gets through the corners with relative ease and accelerates quickly. It does want to fly a bit so Chip isn't about to use all of the boat's potential yet. When he is about to do so, look out.
Saturday and Sunday were windy, rough and rainy, only Bob Miller in Miss Rock took a spin in the rough water on Sunday. Two-thirds of a lap were all Miller needed to realize he didn't want to be out there. In the interest of safety the committee shortened the course to two miles but it was still not acceptable. Finally, the race was postponed until Monday.
Monday morning was clear and the wind was almost non-existent. Everyone took advantage of the conditions to test. The highlight was an impressive lap of 136 by the Pay 'n Pak on the two-mile layout. Miss KYYX made its first appearance to run but never made it up on a plane.
Heat one saw the Miss Budweiser grab a quick lead as Dean made a great start in lane 1, Bud lead wire to wire at an average speed of 116.732. Pay 'n Pak was second all the way at 115.348. On lap five Walters made a last run at the Bud, turning in the fastest lap of the heat at 119.8. Atlas ran third all the way at 109.323 with The Squire Shop fourth at 103.l52. Miss Madison made it five heats in a row; failing to start, driver Sheehy took the blame for flooding the engine and remarked "Well, I never have this problem on the jets, the flight engineer always starts the plane!"
The second first heat was eliminated to save time so the repechage heat pitting the last two from heat one against Miss Rock and Miss KYYX. Sheehy broke his string by starting and joined Squire, Miss Rock with KYYX unable to reach planing speed again.
The first turn provided some real drama as Miss Rock tried to hold lane one inside The Squire Shop. Bob said "I didn't want to chop Miss Madison so I went a little wider ... couldn't hold that lane and went through Deans wake, I missed the back of his boat by only three feet! As a result Bob suffered some broken teeth and a cut jaw and some other facial bruises.
Madison took the lead and Squire stayed beside Sheehy all the way, barely winning at a speed of 92.569. Squire Shop took second with Miss Rock picking up a DNF and KYYX pulling off the course after failing to reach a plane.
The final featured more dicing and fighting than usual. Bud, AVL, Pak and Squire kept circling in the first turn. After they tired of that spot they moved up the backstretch where Bud, Pak and Atlas again circled with Chip finally grabbing lane I with Bud, Squire and Pak alongside with the Miss Madison trailing.
Pay 'n Pak reached the turn first and had more than 3 lengths so John moved over into lane 2, Chenoweth took lane 1, washing down the Atlas. Bud was penalized one lap for an illegal lane change.
Fans on the beach didn't know of the penalty so the race looked really close as the Pak took a lead until Budweiser caught him about three-eighths of the way up the backstretch. Bud suddenly popped and blew a lot of white smoke. Somehow Dean kept going side by side with the Pak for almost three laps. Pay 'n Pak's third lap of 124.783 was the fastest of the day and put some distance between the two. Meanwhile Atlas returned to the pits. The damage involved a lost cowling and skin damage to the left vertical support. Bud went dead after 4½ laps. The cause was a failure in the ADI system. Next boat to stop was the Squire (broken water line) after completing 4 laps. At the end only the Pay 'n Pak at a speed of 120.887 and Madison at 88.106 were still running.
The victory was the first ever by a Turbine powered unlimited and crew chief Jim Lucero's 45th. John Walters showed off his humorous side when he was asked to draw a name of a winner in a drawing he said "Says here the winner is Bubba Smith!" (An in joke for those of us who pay attention to commercials on TV) The win and the duel between the Pak and the Bud made the trip worthwhile. If nothing else comes from Thunder in the Park it will be a good trivia question as to when a turbine finally won its first race. The answer will be a "Whisper in the Park" on June 15, 1982.
(Reprinted with permission from the Unlimited NewsJournal, June 1982)
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