1985 Season Review

1985: Began With A Bang Ended With A Whisper

In most historian's books, 1985 will go down as a year of transition, a year of records, and a year of development. For the first time in history a turbine powered craft took home the national title. It was the second year in a row that same turbine boat won the Gold Cup. It marked the debut of the first boat in history to use a fully enclosed driver's cockpit. It also saw the first lap in history over 150 miles an hour.

Even before the race season started changes were in the making for many of the major race teams. Atlas Van Lines, whose sponsorship of hydroplane teams dates back to the late 60's, was no longer involved in the sport. Replacing them in the Lucero-Muncey corner was Miller Beer, now prepared to go head to head with the King of Beers. Gone from the other turbine entry was the Tosti Asti moniker, being replaced by 7-Eleven. The grand of lady of boat racing was replaced by a new Miss Budweiser with a fully enclosed cockpit. New drivers were in place in the Executone and Squire Shop camps.

Pre season testing came to a hot conclusion as the newly christened Miss Budweiser blew a six foot hole in her deck, a result of a battery explosion, before a test run was ever completed. The crew worked day and night to repair the boat in time for the Miami opener. The Bud rolled into the Miami pit area at 5 a.m. on race day. Overheating troubles kept this beer boat out of the first race.

Meanwhile, the rest of the field was readying itself for the first race. Chip Hanauer and the Miller American experienced qualifying woes as the boat caught fire during a run. Likewise

for the turbine 7-Eleven, being plagued by salt water woes. This race belonged to Scott Pierce in the Executone, perhaps the most prepared team heading into the season. The first heat was a disaster as Scott jumped the gun by what must have felt like the entire month of June and later the boat expired on the backstretch.

In the B section Leif Borgersen, making his return to the unlimiteds, won his first heat aboard the Frank Kenney Toyota.

The Executone came back in the second heat to pick up 400 points and qualify for the final. In that final it was all Executone. The Miller was left at the dock, the 7-Eleven was not working well in the salt water and the rest of the field simply could not catch the Executone. It was the first win for driver Scott Pierce, owner Bill Wurster and Executone.

Syracuse marked the debut of the "bubble" Bud. And what a debut it was. The Bud scored 1200 perfect points before having to return to home in Seattle. In addition to the Bud's victory, Syracuse turned out to be a most eventful race. The Miller American was the first boat on its way back to Seattle as an engine let go during qualifying. In the first heat of the day Leif Borgersen flipped the Frank Kenney Toyota while chasing the Executone up the backstretch. Fortunately, Leif sustained only only a dislocated hip and other injuries, but the team was through for the year. The hull has since been donated to the Unlimited Hall of Fame and Museum. That left the Bud, Executone, and 7-Eleven to vie for the top spot.

The Bud and Executone staged one of the best races of the year in the second heat. The boats traded the lead for five laps with the Bud winning by a boat length. As the three boats dove for the first turn in the final, Steve Reynolds in the 7-Eleven swung from the outside to the inside in half a turn, cutting off the Executone and the Budweiser in the process. The cockpit of the Budweiser was tested in a hurry as the boat went way up on one sponson and the boat was doused with water. Both the Executone and the Bud survived to finish with the Bud taking top honors. The 7-Eleven was disqualified.

Detroit saw a string of six straight victories by turbine boats begin as Chip Hanauer and the Miller American bounced to a win in the Stroh's Thunderfest. It was the first time all year the Miller boat had made it to a race running in reasonable health. Detroit also marked the return of the retired Miss Budweiser as the old boat was brought out of the shop for three midwest races while the new boat underwent modifications.

Madison, Indiana marked the first win for Steve Reynolds since Houston of 1984. With the Miller left at the dock, Reynolds made a perfect start and was never headed for the five laps. This was 7-Eleven's first victory as a sponsor and with it, four separate boats had won the first four races in 1985.

That was to end in Evansville as the Miller American swept to victory. The first match-up of the top boats earned 7-Eleven a victory as the Bud and Miller trailed. The Bud expired leaving second to Miller. In the second section the Bud once again mounted a challenge only to again, expire. The stage was set for a turbine showdown in the final. Chip Hanauer made an excellent start while Reynolds got caught on the outside. From there it was all Miller as Chip Hanauer became the first double winner and got himself back into the points race.

The fleet moved west in great anticipation of a turbine battle in the state of Washington -- and it materialized, almost. Tri-Cities saw the addition of the Squire Shop to the fleet with new (returning) driver Tom D'Eath. I don't believe Chip Hanauer was too happy to see him in the first section as the two raced side-by-side for four laps before the Miller came out on top. Before the race the Miller set a one lap qualification mark of 153+. Just after the lap the Miller broke a rudder bracket and even the crew admitted the boat was fortunate to make it back in one piece.

The final once again shaped up as a turbine battle with the Squire as an outside hopeful. The Miller and the 7-Eleven had their L-11's humming for almost two laps before the 7-Eleven succumbed to a broken gearbox coupler. The 7-Eleven had moved up to take the lead on the outside before the mishap. The race also marked the return of the now maligned "bubble" Bud which had difficulties even qualifying for the race.

The Gold Cup in Seattle saw Chip Hanauer become the first driver since Gar Wood to win four consecutive Cups. Again, this was not an easy victory. This race marked the debut of Chuck Hickling's new U-17 to the circuit. Although the boat did not qualify, it was another craftman's delight.

On a rough Seattle course, the water took its toll early. In the first heat a large hole was ripped in the right sponson of the 7-Eleven. An even larger effort by many, many crews kept the 7-Eleven in the race.

Meanwhile, the racing back in the pack was probably the most interesting of all as the Oh Boy! Oberto and the American Speedy Printing continued their season long side-by-side duel.

Strong third heat performances by the Executone and 7-Eleven gave them berths in the final against the consistently strong Miller American and Squire Shop. In the final Steve Reynolds had the world turning his way as he had the inside, and the lead, and Chip Hanauer on his hip. Once again it would be the coupler letting go, ending his hopes for his first Gold Cup. It would be number four for Chip Hanauer who would also take the lead in high points.

For the first time, the unlimiteds raced in the great state of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. The Miller American made it four straight race victories with a win in this inaugural event. The final shaped up to as another turbine battle. This was beginning to be commonplace over the year. Hanauer got away to another excellent start and had the 7-Eleven on his hip. Midway through the race 7-Eleven's L-11 "Big Wally" exploded ending the fight for the day. Steve Reynolds jumped in the water after attempts to put out the on board fire were not successful. Miller American went on to win the shortened final.

The final race in San Diego produced the first national championship for a turbine powered boat. However, a turbine has yet to win a race on salt water and that string continued in San Diego. After clinching the title in the first heat Hanauer placed second to Mitch Evans in the Coor's Silver Bullet. It was Mitch's first heat victory. On the other side, the Budweiser, looking much improved, was out to silence its critics. The other turbine, the 7-Eleven, was disagreeing again with the salt water.

The final for once was a beer boat showdown as the two raced side-by-side at over 134 miles an hour for the first lap. The Miller then began to stretch a lead but entering the pit turn for the second time, the engine let go sending the Budweiser on to victory. With the piston win, it continues the turbine on salt water record at zero for history.

Much anticipation for 1986 came out of 1985. Bernie Little was building and testing not one, but two, turbine boats. Miller American may have a new boat. Executone may have a new power plant. Other camps are searching for new boats, new motors and new sponsors. The turbine's power has been restricted to compete with piston boats. It all shapes up for a good year in 1986 after 1985, the year that started with a bang and ended with a whisper.

(Reprinted from the Unlimited NewsJournal)

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Leslie Field, 2002