1996 APBA Gold Cup
Detroit River, Detroit MI, June 2, 1996
Thunderboats Lose to Detroit River Wind, Waves
By Joe Falls
Winner and still champion: The Detroit River.
The late Bill Muncey used to talk about how the old lady always got the best of these hydroplane drivers, even when it seemed as if they were running smoothly over the river's waters.
"She always wins," Muncey used to say.
He meant all those treacherous currents, the rolling waves, those unexpected "holes in the water" as he described them -- the endless demands this river placed on the drivers.
Said Muncey: "It is never easy out there. Even when you win, even when you think you've conquered her, you're only kidding yourself. You can feel it in your back or in your arms -- sometimes in your neck. She will always let you know who is the boss."
And so it was on this Sunday -- they came to race again in the Gold Cup but the river won, whipping up a strong wind which delayed the start of the race for six hours.
It was a big disappontment to the once-a-year aficionados of this sport who swarm to the riverfront to see these mighty machines do their stuff. Most had gone home when the boats finally made it into the water.
Mitch Evans, driver of the Roostertail, was disappointed by the long delay because he loves to drive, even if he knows it is impossible for him to win. He can't win unless all the other boats conk out or sink.
That's OK. He doesn't expect to win. Nor does his crew. They come here, as volunteers, because they love this sport. If they make a few bucks, fine. If not, they'll be back for the next race, paying their way and enjoying themselves in ways that others may not understand.
Look at it this way: The Roostertail's best time in the trials was 144 mph. Miss Budweiser ran at 162, Smokin' Joe's at 168.
"We're not in it to win," Evans said. "We know that can't happen. We're in it to start and finish. We want to be consistent. That's our goal and we're proud of it."
The Roostertail runs on an Allison-powered airplane engine, the kind used on P-38 fighters in World War II.
"But we've made a lot of modifications in it," Evans said.
It is the only piston machine on the circuit. The rest are turbines. This means they go faster, but the Roostertail makes the most noise, which is part of the appeal of this sport.
"We have kept the thunder in thunderboats," said one of the team members.
The boat is out of Evansville, Ind. Evans is 37 and is from Lake Chelan, Wash., where he runs a marine repair shop. That is, when he is not racing his car, his snowmobiles or his motorcycles. He began racing at age 7.
Evans is the only one who gets a salary. The boat's budget is about $150,000 a year, which means the team is forever seeking sponsors.
The name of the boat changes with each race. It is the Roostertail this week because Tom Schoenith, part owner of the Roostertail Restaurant, has thrown in some money to cover expenses.
This is a common practice in hydroplane racing, where money is always a problem. Evans' boat has been known as Evans' Marine, when he sponsored it himself; plus KWWW Radio, Miss Machine Rock Band, Miss Island Security Systems, Bellaire Buick, Coor's Light Silver Bullet, Rapid Transit among other names.
Can anyone care about such a rag-tag operation? Yep. As the boats sat on the dock waiting for the wind to calm down, a young boy approached the Roostertail trailer and asked Evans to autograph his ticket.
"I'll do better," Evans said. He went to the back of the trailer, found a picture of his boat and autographed it for the boy, who was beaming as he left.
A small story by the river but a rather nice one, don't you think?
(reprinted from Detroit News, June 3, 1996)
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