Reprinted from http://www.hydroracing.com/
Editor's note: The 2004 Budweiser Columbia Cup is scheduled for July 25, 2004 on the Columbia River. This is also the 39th annual race in the Tri-Cities. Starting today -- 39 days until race day -- and running each day, the Herald will run Hydro People, a short feature on a person who has had some effect on the Tri-Cities race. Today's subject: The late Bernie Little, the long-time owner of the Miss Budweiser.
#1 Bernie Little - Little's Legacy: Former Miss Bud owner had lasting impact on hydroplane circuit
#2 Dean Mitchell - Mitchell, KONA saturate hydros
#3 Karen Miller - Former director loved craziness of Follies
#4 Malin Bergstrom - Bergstrom keeps race fans looking to the sky
#5 Keith Bowers - Bowers was a jack-of-all-trades from the first hydro race
#6 Chip Hanauer - For Hanauer, life continues to spent apart from racing unlimiteds
#7 Jim Hendrick - Broadcaster Hendrick has seen it all
#8 Steve Woomer - Woomer gave Miss Bud a challenge
#9 John Mostoller - Mostoller: No butting out for former director
#10 Jim Harvey - Harvey 'hooked' on hydros
#11 Ken Mauer - Maurer was an original organizer
#12 Bob Gilliam - Gilliam left legacy off water
#13 Kay Metz - Love of boats, water draws Metz to hydro races
#14 Jack Hamman - Hamann helped get Columbia Cup started
#15 Bill Wurster - Wurster, 81, still running strong as owner
#16 Fred Farley - Living hydro history
#17 Chuck Keltch - Keltch's hobby a folly
#18 Wally Reid - Reid was a hydro salesman
#19 Dave Williams - Restoring boats labor of love for Williams
#20 Bill Muncey - Muncey helped get Tri-City race started
#21 Ed Cooper Jr. - Keeping the thunderous tradition alive
#22 John Allan - Racing on Columbia kept ticking with Allan
#23 Mike and Larry Rutkauskas - Rutkauskas brothers go from water to track
#24 Mitch Evans - Unlimiteds an Evans family affair
#25 Mark Evans - Wenatchee's Evans a fan favorite
#26 Fred Leland - Creative owner sets high standards for unlimiteds
#27 Women of P.E.O. - Who's got the buttons?
#28 Dave Heerensperger - Pak owner stayed on cutting edge of boat racing
#29 Dan Doescher - Enjoying life in the pits
#30 Ken Thompson - Thompson wore many hats
#31 Bill Lampson - Like father, like son
#32 Ted Neth - Eyes on the prize: Richland artist lends touch to trophies
#33 Fran Muncey - First lady of hydros
#34 Mark Schneider - Race director has deep roots
#35 George Grant - Generous George
#36 Paul Parish - Parish was the man who kept order inside Lampson Pits
#37 Jimmy DeLoretto - Portland man helped Follies restore order
#38 John Walters - Walters remains popular guy in pits
Little's Legacy: Former Miss Bud owner had lasting impact on hydroplane circuit
This story was published Thursday, June 17th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Bernie Little always had a soft spot for the Tri-Cities. It was on the Columbia River in 1966 when Little's Miss Budweiser, driven by Bill Brow, gave the hydroplane owner his first-ever race victory.
It was the first time in four seasons Little, who passed away last year at age 77 because of complications fron pneumonia in Lakeland, Fla., had won, but it certainly wouldn't be his last.
In a career that spanned 40 years, Little's Miss Budweiser team won 22 season championships, 134 final heat races and 14 American Power Boat Association Gold Cups.
As impressive as they are, those statistics might not be Little's greatest legacy.
In fact, we can think of two.
First, there was his close friendship with August Busch III, a member of the St. Louis family that owned Anheuser Busch. Here's the story:
Back in 1962, Little had become enamored with a hydroplane that bandleader Guy Lombardo owned.
Little swapped Lombardo a cabin cruiser for the hydroplane. Little stored it at an airplane hangar when one day Busch, returning an airplane, saw the boat and asked Little what it was.
Little took Busch for a ride, then convinced his friend to sponsor the boat.
Over the next 40 years, Anheuser Busch sponsored not only the hydroplane, but it also helped sponsor many different race sites -- including the Tri-City site.
During tough seasons, it wasn't above the Budweiser team to lend other race teams equipment or manpower to keep the field full for race fans.
Little always admitted that he hated to lose. But when someone else did win, many of those times he made sure to congratulate them.
Little's second legacy was born of tragedy.
In 1982, on a Saturday during race weekend in the Tri-Cities, Little watched helplessly as his driver, Dean Chenoweth, lost control of his boat during a qualifying run. Heading toward the Blue Bridge on the Kennewick side of the river, the Miss Bud lifted up and landed upside down, killing Chenoweth. It was the second time in his career that Little had lost a driver.
It took three years, but in 1985 Little's team was the first to have a canopy to help the driver from suffering usually fatal contact with the water at such high speeds.
By 1987 all new boats had to have canopies, while older boats had to have them by 1989.
The device is credited with saving a number of lives in the last 15 years, including Bud driver Dave Villwock's during the 1997 Columbia Cup.
During the 2003 season, Little's son, Joe, and Villwock kept the operation going en route to another season championship. But during this offseason, Anheuser Busch announced this was to be the final season of its sponsorship.
The race team has decided this will be its farewell tour.
Without Bernie Little, though, it's possible unlimited hydroplane racing might have bid farewell many years ago.
Mitchell, KONA saturate hydros
This story was published Friday, June 18th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
When the first unlimited hydroplane race took place on the Columbia River in 1966, Dean Mitchell hoped it would be a big community event.
To help make sure that the Atomic Cup would become one, Mitchell decided his KONA radio team would be there to broadcast every happening and occurrence.
"We felt it was going to be hopefully a big part of community activity," Mitchell said. "We kind of mirrored what Seattle did for Seafair back then."
Probably even more.
No other radio station to this day does more during the races. In fact, KONA has covered every unlimited hydroplane race in the Tri-Cities.
"The day they would start the testing, we'd send somebody down there," Mitchell said. "On Saturday and Sunday, there was continuous coverage. Basically any time a boat would go into the river, we'd be on the air."
Like the Herald in the 1970s and '80s, no one at KONA was allowed to take a vacation during race week. "We had so many shifts. It took about 15 to 17 people to get it all done," he said.
In those early days, it didn't matter if the on-air personalities knew much about boat racing.
"I knew they had a motor and that's about it," Mitchell said. "We just picked it up as we went along. We covered it all as an event."
Unlimited hydroplane historian Fred Farley would also help with the background of boats and drivers.
The biggest thing KONA did, though, was to be everywhere on a playing field that was 21Ăš2 miles long. Not only were radio personalities in Lampson Pits interviewing drivers after races, they were up the river providing play-by-play at the west end turn, the east end turn, and on the Pasco side of the river.
It helped fans -- and newspaper people -- understand what was going on at the other end of the course.
"Our race course is so spread out," Mitchell said. "And there wasn't much of a P.A. system. We thought we could be the P.A. system."
A few years ago, Mitchell sold KONA and retired. But the radio station still provides excellent live race coverage.
"I don't think anybody did more from beginning to end," Mitchell said.
Karen Miller: Former director loved craziness of Follies
This story was published Saturday, June 19th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
To be a race director for the Water Follies, you have to either love doing it or be a little bit crazy.
Karen Miller, who was the director for 13 years from 1987 to 1999, says she was both.
"You've got to have a race-ready course," said Miller, who for the last five years has worked for the Benton County PUD. "Your job is to take a park and turn it into a race-ready venue."
To do that, Miller needed volunteers. Plenty of them.
"It's kind of hard to give an exact estimate," she said. "The Kiwanis Clubs, I don't know how many they use to help with parking, for example. But it's roughly about 1,000 volunteers."
And she loved working with them the most.
"All the volunteers were great," she said. "There are so many really dedicated people who made it possible to have a race here. There is just an incredible group of people here."
Getting volunteers wasn't hard.
"Volunteering gets contagious," she said.
The race director's job is year round. As soon as one Columbia Cup was finished, Miller had to start working on sponsors for the next year, whether that was for ads in the program or race package sponsorships.
Then there was the organizing of the volunteers, "whether it was to put up a fence or giving a pit tour or providing security," Miller said.
And of course there was working with cities and counties to get the right permits.
And during race week, Miller had to work with whatever governing body ran the unlimiteds to make sure they got what they needed. Miller also worked with the individual race teams.
But 13 years doing it is a long time. "It's a consuming thing," she said.
Miller helped volunteer some after she stepped down, but she's eased herself out now.
"There are parts to the job I miss," she said. "But I like being a race fan. It's a great event."
Bergstrom keeps race fans looking to the sky
This story was published Sunday, June 20th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
When the Tri-City Water Follies decided to add an air show, there was an obvious choice to organize that portion of the entertainment.
After all, Malin Bergstrom grew up in love with aviation.
She had her father Karl to thank for that.
Karl founded Bergstrom Aircraft in Pasco, and today Malin is the general manager.
"For me, it's always been the love of aviation," she said. "This is the boat races, but there's a lot of crossover there. My dad has always been involved with the fueling of the hydroplane. He felt that's what he wanted to do."
But for Malin, the volunteer air show director, the draw for her is organizing the air show.
"It's a lot of fun," she said. "We work year round on the Water Follies. We start well before. For instance, I'm already working on the 2005 air show. There are a lot of applications and forms and paperwork that needs to be done."
The Tri-Cities Air Show has been going on for 35 years, said Bergstrom. "For the first 28 years it was a seperate event. But we joined forces with the hydroplane races in 1998."
Bergstrom, who has volunteered since the mid-1980s, has her favorites.
"My personal favorite was 2002," she said. "We had a B2 Stealth Bomber fly over. That thing is huge. To see one fly over to thrill the crowd was great. But I like it when we get a jet team like the Thunderbirds, or the Blue Angels. We had a great show in 2001."
This year, Bergstrom said the show will consist of an Air force demonstration of the A-10 Warthog; the Navy's F18 Super Hornet; Idaho's Greg Poe in his small airplane Edge 540; Steve Appleton in his British Hawker Hunter Jet; P51 World War II fighters, which will perform a heritage flight with Air Force jets; and the Green Berets' skydiving parachute team.
Bergstrom is excited.
"It's fun to be a part of this event," she said. "The Water Follies Association is fully behind us. But it wouldn't be the Tri-Cities without a boat race."
Bowers was a jack-of-all-trades from the first hydro race
This story was published Monday, June 21st, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
Keith Bowers was one of the original organizers of the unlimited hydroplane races in the Tri-Cities.
He was a great promoter, too.
Before the very first race in 1966, Bowers acquired an unlimited named "Adios" the year before to promote the race.
It was the first unlimited on the Columbia River, but it also said "adios" when it sunk on its first trial run.
"He thought it was a good idea to run a hydro," said Ken Maurer, another of the original race organizers. "It fired up a few times. But then it just slowly began to sink."
Undaunted, Bowers had the boat placed on a pedastal in Angus Village in Kennewick, then later moved it to Columbia Park.
The boat remained there until it basically fell apart, and a new one replaced it.
Bowers was enthusiastic, and went to various lengths to promote the races.
"He was always boosting the Water Follies," said Maurer. "He'd go out on his own and sell ads for the program. He was really a key guy."
In that first race, Bowers ran the pits.
"He recruited all the original pit people," said Maurer. "He was the one that got the pits shaped up."
But he was probably at his best as a jack-of-all-trades.
"He was good at promoting, but he was really good at getting things done," Maurer said. "When you needed something, like a truck or crane, Keith could do it. Or he knew somebody who had it. He was the friendly type. He knew probably everybody in town because of the type of work he was in."
As owner of the Columbia Valley Credit Exchange, Bowers was in daily contact with numerous people.
But from 1966 to 1998, Bowers served in some form for the races. And he was always a member of the Water Follies board.
In 1998, he helped refurbish the hydroplane in Columbia Park.
He watched it get hoisted onto the monument on July 11.
Three weeks later, he died after a battle with cancer.
"He was a worker from first day until the day he died," said Maurer.
For Hanauer, life continues to spent apart from racing unlimiteds
This story was published Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
Chip Hanauer describes himself as a man in a hurry, and not just because he's the unlimited hydroplane driver who has won the most times in the Tri-Cities: seven.
"I'm turning 50 in July," he said. "I don't want to waste any time. I just feel really lucky I've been able to do the things I do."
A member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame, Hanauer has long been drifting in and out of unlimited racing. He raced boats from 1976 to 1990; moved to cars for a year; then drove the Miss Budweiser for four seasons; took four years off; and raced in 1999 for PICO.
Since then, he's kept busy doing other things. There the motorcycle trip he's planning next year through China and India; a business he has (a cross between a Kinko's and an internet cafe) in Mombasa, Kenya; his racing of sailboats; and his working on mastering the classical guitar.
"I was lucky I found passion as a young person in boat racing," he said. "But people don't believe me when they say, 'Oh, you must miss racing,' and I tell them I don't. I enjoyed college, but I certainly don't want to go back."
Hanauer said his favorite course was always Detroit, but Tri-Cities ranked No. 2. "Seattle and San Diego were my worst ones," he said.
Which is funny because Hanauer is from Seattle. "The Tri-Cities race was absolutely the most fun," he said. "Everything in Seattle was always so difficult. There were just so many distractions."
Too many friends and family in Seattle. In the Tri-Cities, there was usually just Chip's dad and his brother to hang out with. It was more relaxing, and maybe why he won so often here.
But he knew when to get out.
"It was one of the absolute smoothest race courses around," he said. "But as the boats changed and got faster, the skid fins got bigger and bigger."
Hanauer said the skid fins dug a ditch into the first turn in later years, and the water speed was such that currents piled up on top of each other, creating a violent mess in the first corner.
"Toward the end of my career those currents really beat you up," he said. "You could see it coming and say, 'This is gonna hurt.'"
He does miss some things about racing. "I miss the camaraderie. Being part of a team," he said. "I owe all of my success to the talent that put me in the water with a good boat."
But the best part was winning when maybe he wasn't supposed to. "I think that's why sports are so great," he said. "It was always more fun to beat the Budweiser than when it was winning for them."
Broadcaster Hendrick has seen it all
This story was published Wednesday, June 23rd, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
Before there is a Columbia Cup race, there are always three or four races on the Hydro-Prop circuit that must be run.
That means on Sundays of those races, fans can listen to the voice of Jim Hendrick calling the play-by-play.
Since 1963, Hendrick has called every single unlimited hydroplane final -- almost 400 -- save one: a Washington, D.C. President's Cup in the late 1960s.
It was Hendrick who started the radio netwrok for the boats.
"In 1963, Detroit was the hotbed for racing at that time," he said. "I worked for a station outside Detroit. I talked to my boss into doing the whole race from start to finish. Detroit listeners would put up with us."
Not long after, WORX in Madison jumped on board. Seattle came next on KIRO.
"Then the Tri-Cities was the fourth area on the network," he said.
It took a little time to get the format right.
"Back in those days we'd have a two-hour delay in Seattle," Hendrick said. "Wayne Newton, who I knew because he used to sing at Lee Schoenith's Roostertail (restaurant) in Detroit, would sit in with me and we'd tap dance for two hours."
Hendrick said he finally realized the world was not ready to listen to five hours of water splashing.
"We decided to do a five-minute report on Friday, another one on Saturday, and a half-hour report on Sunday that consisted of a 10-minute recap of the preliminary heats, the 10-minute final, and a 10-minuite post-race report," he said.
It's been that way for the last 35 years.
Hendrick's favorite memory was his winning the Gar Wood Trophy for his great contribution to the sport.
His darkest day?
The infamous Black Sunday on June 19,1966, when he called the President's Cup Regatta in Washington, D.C., and saw three drivers die.
"That was a tough brodcast for me," he said. "Donnie Wilson was driving the Miss Budweiser for Bernie Little. He came to me that morning, it was Fathers Day, and had asked me to wish his dad, who was listening back in Detrroit, a happy Father's Day."
Ron Musson, driving the Miss Bardahl, died when his boat became airborne.
Rex Manchester in the Notre Dame and Wilson died later in the when their two boats collided.
To make things worse, Hendrick's radio partner for that race, Chuck Thompson, died a week later in Detroit while driving the Miss Smyrnoff.
"I made sure since then that I shook hands with the drivers before they raced and wished them luck," he said. "Because you never know."
Despite the recent fallout between Evansville and Hydro-Prop, Hendrick will be at the Evansville race this coming weekend to call it.
"They know I'm gonna do it," he said. "In the radio and TV world, we get along with our sponsors. The Bud boat is going to it. So are we. Hydro-Prop understands."
Hendrick said he had his chances to cover more maionstream sports.
He was the play-by-play for the Detroit Pistons for three season, did some Detroit Lions road games, and spent spring training covering the Detroit Tigers.
"They even offered me to work with them during the season," he said. "But I gave it up because it would interfere with boat racing.
"I consider myself very fortunate," he continued. "If I had to do it over again, I would have done some things differently. I got lucky. I had a lot of people try to get my job, and they didn't succeed. But I've met a lof of good people in this sport."
Woomer gave Miss Bud a challenge
This story was published Thursday, June 24th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
If you weren't a Miss Budweiser fan, and there were many of you, then you probably rooted for the team that gave Bud the most fits.
That could've been the Pay-N-Pak, the Atlas Van Lines, the Circus Circus, the Miller American, the PICO -- or any of Steve Woomer's boats.
Woomer entered the sport in 1984 after purchasing the assets of the Pay-N-Pak team and raced under the flags of Tosti Asti, 7-Eleven, Cellular One and Winston Eagle.
He won a total of 15 races, including two Gold Cups.
He won twice on the Columbia, the last time in 1995 with the Smokin' Joe's.
Woomer had developed a lucrative business in the Seattle area called Competition Specialties, and it was his goal to win a national championship in unlimited hydroplanes.
There were times -- especially in the 1990s -- that Woomer and his driver Mark Tate did battle with Bernie Little and whoever he had driving Miss Budweiser. Either team could dominate at times.
Like Little, Woomer did things right, making sure his team had all the available resources needed. The Woomer team was one of two powerhouses in the sport in the 1990s.
He announced his intent to retire in 1997, leaving unfulfilled two goals -- a win at the Seafair race in his hometown of Seattle and the coveted national championship.
By November, Woomer had changed his mind, hiring Budweiser crew chief Ron Brown to do a major overhaul of the team and boats.
"The only way I'll stay in unlimited racing is as a winner, pure and simple," he said after making the announcement. "We'll be out for bear in '98."
It never happened.
Woomer died of a heart attack April 27, 1998, at the age of 58.
Woomer had a history of heart problems and underwent bypass surgery in 1996.
Not long after, the Woomer estate sold off most of its equipment -- three unlimited hydroplanes, 30 motors, trucks, trailers and spare parts -- to Kim Gregory.
Mostoller: No butting out for former director
This story was published Friday, June 25th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
John Mostoller was just a kid -- maybe nine years old -- when he first volunteered to work during the Tri-City unlimited hydroplane races.
"I started in 1968 working for Doug Tillson," Mostoller said. "I picked up cigarette butts in the pits."
No one was supposed to smoke in the pits anyway, but Mostoller made sure there were no cigarettes around.
What happened, though, was Mostoller became a hydroplane fan.
"In high school I got pretty busy with other things," he said. "When I got out of college, I was still a fan and I wanted to come help."
Mostoller started out with the Kiwanis Club selling tickets, then he helped with parking. He moved on to various board positions, eventually becoming president of the Water Follies.
He was race director from 1992 until 2003.
"This year is the first race where I won't do that," he said. "I tried quitting three years ago. But they couldn't get anyone dumb enough to take my spot. So I stepped back in."
With Mark Schneider and Jerry Hendricks -- who shadowed Mostoller's every move last year and will become co-race directors -- Mostoller finally has his replacement.
"As a race director, you're like a second board president," said Mostoller. "You have to have communication between the pits, the barge and the rescue team. You act as a liaison between the three."
Mostoller will show up at Columbia Park during each race weekend day at 5:30 a.m. to make sure the gate people and the parking people show.
Then there's the check-in with credentials people, security people, air show people, numerous volunteers. The day may not end until 8:30 p.m., then he starts all over again.
Mostoller will now help the volunteers, making sure they have what they need. And as a past president, he's helping organize all past presidents in speaking to groups about the Water Follies.
Just another way to help out.
"I take a lot of pride in this event," he said.
Harvey 'hooked' on hydros
This story was published Saturday, June 26th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
It's safe to say boat racing is in Jim Harvey's blood.
As a kid, he'd sit in his Seattle home and watch the races on TV. As he got older, he'd go down in person.
"When I got even older, I'd drive around Seattle trying to find the shops," Harvey said. "There were about a half a dozen."
Only Bob Gilliam's shop in Bothell was open, however.
"I found it one night," Harvey said. "It was a big old barn in a field, with stuff all over the place. This guy was there working on a boat and said 'Hand me that part.' I was the only other person there. Next thing I knew I was helping bolt in the motor. I got hooked."
That was 1966, and Harvey became a crew member of Gilliam's Hilton Hy-Per-Lube team at the age of 19.
During his first trip outside the Seattle city limits -- to a race in Coeur d'Alene -- Harvey was in heaven.
"There was no per diem," he said. "I remember eating saltine crackers, mixing ketchup and hot water for tomato soup. It was the good life."
Over the years, Harvey stepped in and out of hydroplane life, working for the Notre Dame, Budweiser, Circus Circus and Atlas Van Lines.
His specialty for 20 years as a crew member was building Merlin engines.
"I never in my career touched an Allison engine," he said. "I was always directed by boats that were powered by Merlins. By the time we were done we had built some awfully powerful boats."
In 1987, Harvey bought the Squire Shop program and became an owner. He has been one ever since.
Money is tight these days. In fact, Harvey's U-2 team will miss both Indiana races in Evansville and Madison.
"We're going to Detroit for the Gold Cup," he said. "I have a sponsor, Chrysler Jeep. They're very good people. Mark Tate is going to drive for me again. And if I go back to St. Claire, Mich., he'll race for me there."
As for the Tri-Cities and Seattle, "Nate Brown is going to drive here. I don't have a sponsor, and I need a sponsor."
But he'll still likely race, because he loves it.
"In car racing, you can go get anything to race on the shelf," Harvey said. "In boat racing, you've got to create everything. You make the parts, you design the boat. The satisfaction is making it work."
Maurer was an original organizer
This story was published Sunday, June 27th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Ken Maurer was running his own advertising agency when somebody from the Pasco Water Follies asked him to help with their public relations.
The Pasco Water Follies had its own 7-litre boat races, a carnival and its own Miss Pasco contest.
"This was like 1963," said Maurer. "Bill Muncey raced out here in those 7-litres."
A couple of weeks later, Maurer said, "they came to me again and said 'We lost our treasurer. Can you try to keep the books?' Since then most all of the Water Follies business came through our office."
Maurer was one of the original five -- the others being Mark Pence, Wally Reid, Keith Bowers and Jack Hamann -- who wanted to make the event much larger.
In 1965 the event was renamed the Tri-Cities Water Follies -- a race that hosted the 7-litre hydros -- and in 1966 the first unlimited race was held.
To get there, the quintet drove to Lake Tahoe for an unlimited race in 1965 on what was basically a fact-finding mission.
"We rotated drivers every 200 miles," Maurer said. "Whenever we got to 200, we stopped and everybody rotated seats. You didn't want to be in the middle of the back seat because it didn't have any padding. We got to Tahoe at about 4 a.m., but we were at the wrong end of the lake. We had to drive another hour, checked into our hotel room and slept for an hour before going to the race."
The five met the drivers and owners. There was no formal paperwork back then to fill out to request a new race.
"We had two goals. First we wanted to see how you set up a race," said Maurer. "Second, we wanted to convince the owners we could put on a race."
Not long after, the Unlimited Racing Commission announced Tri-Cities would have a race.
Maurer said he remembers that trip most vividly today.
He also remembers law enforcement not allowing cars to enter Columbia Park at the main entrance for fear traffic would back up out onto the highway.
"They had to come from the Richland Y area," he said. "Some never got there, there were so many cars. We didn't know what to expect. (Former Herald sports editor) Charlie Van Sickle said he estimated the crowd at 60,000 to 70,000. That made it the biggest crowd to that point. A few years earlier 40,000 came out at Hanford to see John F. Kennedy."
The race was a success, as have been most of the others.
"I doubt if we thought it would grow as big as it did," Maurer said. "But it couldn't have without the involvement of all three cities. In fact, the board of directors is usually split up among people from all three cities. It's the first true Tri-Cities event."
Over the years, many of the Founding Five moved away or handed over the organizational reins to others.
But Maurer stayed involved through every race except last year's.
"I watched last year's race from the Pasco side of the river," said Maurer. "It was the first time I wasn't on the Kennewick side watching and thinking about what needed to happen next. It was kind of nice."
Gilliam left legacy off water
This story was published Monday, June 28th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Many boat drivers and owners have come through the Tri-Cities in the 39 years there has been an unlimited hydroplane race.
Bob Gilliam was one of them. As far as records go, Gilliam didn't exactly set the world on fire. He never won an unlimited race.
But he was always one of those good guys that everybody loved.
If it weren't for Gilliam, who knows how well attended the first Tri-Cities Atomic Cup in 1966 would have been.
During the western swing of the 1965 season, Gilliam had his U-88 Fascination/Hy-Per-Lube boat repainted as the Tri-City Sun. That let everyone on a national level know about the Tri-Cities race for the following year.
"It was great P.R. for us," said longtime Water Follies director Ken Maurer.
Gilliam also helped others get their foot in the door when it came to hydro racing. U-2 owner Jim Harvey was one of them.
Harvey couldn't find anyone in the Seattle area who had their shops open to a young, enthusiastic kid who wanted to help a race team.
Only Gilliam's shop was open in 1966. Harvey found it and was a team member not long after.
"That was the Hilton Hy-Per-Lube in 1966," Harvey said. "They had a (Hy-Per-Lube) sticker that they'd slap you on the back with and that was your team shirt. Everything was like a big candy store."
Harvey joined the Navy and did a stint in Vietnam before coming back a few years later.
"I immediately wantedto get back into racing," Harvey said. "I had this beard I had grown for the last year and I loved it. I asked Bob if I could join the team. Bob said the first thing I've got to do was shave the beard off. I did it."
Harvey loved Gilliam.
"He was a happy-go-lucky guy," Harvey said."He'd always have a wad of cash, so you'd be able to buy the parts you needed for the boat.
"He was a great guy," Harvey continued. "He surprised people sometimes with his talent. He didn't have a front-running boat. He was just a nice all-around, genuine person."
Gilliam passed away in 1998, leaving the sport with one less nice guy in its ranks.
Love of boats, water draws Metz to hydro races
This story was published Tuesday, June 29th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Kay Metz has almost always been on the water when the unlimited hydroplanes race in the Tri-Cities.
"I got into it because of my love of boats, and I love being around the water," he said.
The Kennewick resident started volunteering in the first race back in 1966.
"I was a pit boat pilot," he said. "If the hydros broke down in the pit area and the river's current took them toward the Blue Bridge, I towed them back to the pits."
From there, Metz has worked with patrol boats -- sometimes as the coordinator -- and with the rescue boats, whether it was driving them or doing maintenance and service on them.
He was also the medical boat driver one year.
Metz, 64, took last year off, and he's kind of stepped away from volunteering after 37 years.
"I'll be working with the Lions Club this year," he said.
Metz's top memory was from 1997 following Dave Villwock's near-fatal crash -- because the teamwork that went into saving Villwock's life.
Metz was driving the rescue boat trying to get to Villwock.
"We went into the site about 70 mph," he said. "There was a lot of blood. Dave was breathing water when they pulled him out. But everybody kept cool."
Another time, in the early 1970s when there was a spectator moorage on the Pasco side of the river, Metz got a call while working a patrol boat.
"A lady was giving birth," he said. "We had to take her off the boat. We shot out the back way of the course heading upriver toward Richland. By the time we got to the Hanford House, she had given birth to a healthy baby boy."
Another time, Metz was working a patrol boat when a swimmer was getting too close to the course during a heat race.
"We took our orders from the patrol," he said. "But I yelled to the guys ahead to just jerk the guy out of the water. He was close enough to getting cut up. I got in trouble, but we got the guy out of there."
And then there was the photo opportunity.
Metz took a boat out on the course to allow a photographer to shoot the Budweiser really close during a test run.
"The Bud came by at about 170 mph," Metz said. "It was only about 20, 30 feet from us. Of course, its roostertail came down on us and we got soaking wet. But the thrill of a hydro coming at us so fast was great."
Metz estimates 10-12 years were spent patrolling in a boat.
"In patrolling, we've probably saved about a half-dozen lives from near drownings," he said.
Over the years, Metz has also supplied fire pumps, outboard oil and batteries, as well as time and money for the races.
"I love this race," he said. "We want to keep people coming out to it."
Hamann helped get Columbia Cup started
This story was published Wednesday, June 30th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Joni Hamann remembers the parties her parents would throw at their house the night before the unlimited hydroplane races.
"We had an acre of lawn and we invited everybody out," she said. "We had a pool, food was catered in, and we had a bunch of tables.
"It was really kind of close-knit because everybody from the crew on up was equal," she said.
That was the way her father, Jack Hamann, was.
The owner of Ham's Electric in Pasco for many years, Jack also raced outboard boats in the Pasco Water Follies at Sacajewea Park in the 1950s.
But when there was talk of wanting to make the Pasco Water Follies even bigger, Jack knew what he wanted to do.
Jack knew some people at Seafair, and suggested they bring in the unlimited hydroplanes.
"Dad knew it was going to fly," said Joni of the event. "A lot of racers went from little boats to hydroplanes. So he knew a lot of them. That helped in getting the bigger boats here."
Ken Maurer estimates from the time Jack first talked about it until the first race, in 1966, the whole process took about two years.
"Jack was low-key, but he was a worker," Maurer said.
When the Unlimited Racing Commission awarded the Tri-Cities a race, Hamann became the first race chairman.
But it wasn't easy at first.
"There was a lot of people against them," Joni said. "They said it couldn't be done. But dad was the kind of guy who would prove you wrong if you didn't think it could be done."
"I had to work like the devil to get 18 volunteers," said Jack Hamann in a 1995 interview.
Hamann, his wife Jean and several other women made the first buoys.
With styrofoam bottoms, canvas and wood sticks, the buoys wouldn't damage the boats when they were struck.
A few years into the Tri-City races, Hamann stepped aside and let someone else run the show.
Still, without Jack Hamann, who passed away in 2002, there probably wouldn't have been unlimited hydros in the Tri-Cities.
Wurster, 81, still running strong as owner
This story was published Thursday, July 1st, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Bill Wurster owned a Kirby vacuum distributorship in the 1960s when he went to the Seafair race in Seattle one year.
"I was out on the log boom. I think it was 1968 or '69," said Wurster. "We were watching the race and the Slo Mo's hydroplanes and I made the remark I was gonna drive one of those mothers one day. My brother, who was there, started laughing. He bet me a couple hundred dollars I wouldn't."
So it was with a bet that Wurster got involved in unlimited hydroplane racing.
Wurster had driven smaller boats before, but getting into unlimiteds wasn't easy.
"The Notre Dame team didn't need any help," he said. "I offered my services to the Bud camp, and they didn't have any use for me. After exhausting every avenue I found Bob Gilliam, who took me in as a crew member."
That was 1969.
By 1972, he finally won that bet with his brother when he became the driver of the Value Mart.
He drove unlimiteds through 1976 when he decided to buy Bob Murphy's boat program running as the Oh Boy! Oberto. From then on, Wurster quit driving and instead owned a race team. But he doesn't hesitate when asked what his favorite thing to do was.
"Being a driver, of course," he said. "Those were the best years of my life."
Still, owning a hydroplane was also right down his alley.
"I had an advertising agency for 14, 15 years in Seattle," he said. "So I knew what the sponsors needed. I got Art Oberto involved in racing."
Wurster's biggest highlight came in 1992, when his Tide boat driven by George Woods, Jr., won Seafair.
"But the Tri-City race last year may have topped that," he said. "My son came to the race and I watched the final heat with him in the hospitality section."
Wurster's driver, Mark Evans, drove the U-8 Llumar to the Columbia Cup title.
"My son was so excited. It was a thrill for me," Wurster said.
Now 81, Wurster is still going strong as a boat owner.
"I still do it for three reasons," he said. "I've been very fortunate to have good companies sponsor my boat most of the time. If they want to go another year, there's no way I'm not gonna do it.
"Second, it keeps me going," he said. "I do most of the office work myself, and I have to keep things going in the shop as well. The last two or three months I haven't taken a Saturday or Sunday off. It's really rewarding."
And the third reason?
"I mostly have a volunteer crew working for me," he said. "They've been loyal. Some of them have worked 15 years for me. I can't let them down."
Nor can he let race sites down. Wurster committed to racing in Evansville, Ind., last week even though the race was run as an independent when it broke off from Hydro-Prop, the sport's governing body.
"I feel very strongly that I want to support the race sites first and foremost, especially the ones that have been there year after year," he said from Madison, Ind., this week's race. "I will not let them down."
Wurster doesn't let his friends down either -- much to his detriment at times.
"We were in Evansville last week, and some friends talked me into riding a mechanical bull. And I was sober besides," he said. "I'm still kinda sore."
Living hydro history
This story was published Friday, July 2nd, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Fred Farley is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to unlimited hydroplanes.
So much so, in fact, that he was named the sport's official historian in 1973.
"My job is to keep track of what happens and be available to the media," he said. "I see myself as a resource person."
Farley fell in love with the hydroplanes when he watched the first race Seattle ever had in 1951 on television.
"The boats were the neatest things I ever saw in my life," Farley said. "The whole town got behind the race in those days. In 1950, Seattle's Slo-Mo-Shun won the Gold Cup in Detroit. Back in those days, the homeport of the boat that won the Gold Cup earned the right to host the race the next year. In Seattle, it was enormously attended at that time. It was the biggest thing to happen in Seattle up until then. There were no Mariners, Seahawks or Sonics back then."
Farley was a teacher in the Seattle area, spending most of his career training high school dropouts to take the GED in the Highline Public School district.
But when he wasn't teaching, Farley was driving to the next unlimited hydroplane race -- sometimes sleeping in his car to save money.
Farley, now 59, says he's attended 210 races.
"The last three or four years I've never missed one," he said. "The last 30 years I've attended about 75 percent of the races."
And he's attended all 38 Tri-City races, with this year's Budweiser Columbia Cup being his 39th.
His favorite Tri-City race? "The 1971 race when Jim McCormick won back-to-back races here after winning the Gold Cup in Madison (Ind.) is my favorite," he said.
Then there was the 1969 Atomic Cup, in which six heats were run and six different boats won. Dean Chenoweth in Myr's Special won the race.
"It was also the day of the first moon landing with Neil Armstrong," said Farley. "They piped in the radio broadcast of the lunar landing over the public address system between heats."
And of course, Farley mentioned the 1989 Cooper's Express victory in which the lone piston-powered boat won the final.
Farley said the Miss Madison winning the 1971 Gold Cup in Madison is his all-time favorite.
"It's the competition that gets me," he said. "Two boats battle side by side, it still gives me goose bumps. I'm 59 and it still grabs me. It's the man and the machine element."
Keltch's hobby a folly
Published Saturday, July 3rd, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
Chuck Keltch says he really doesn't have any hobbies.
If he did have one, it would be his volunteer work for the Tri-City Water Follies.
"I've been doing it since 1972," said the Pasco resident. "I guess it's really the only hobby I ever had."
Keltch saw his first unlimited race in 1952, when his parents drove him from their Edmonton, Alberta, home to Seattle for Seafair.
"I got hooked," he said. "In 1953 we moved to Yakima. My father bought our first TV set so we could watch the Seattle race. And I was excited in 1966 when we got the races here, because it was so much closer."
Keltch eventually moved to the Tri-Cities, and he offered his services in 1972 to the group.
In 1972, he pumped out the pond in Columbia Park for the group. In 1973 he became an executive board vice president, and he handled the traffic at the west end of Columbia Park.
He's always made his trucks and equipment from the John M. Keltch Inc. construction company available to the Water Follies.
One of the bigger contributions Keltch made was helping the counties install underground sprinkler systems and grass both in Columbia Park and on the Franklin County side of the river.
"I really wanted to get that done," he said. "In Pasco, we mowed the weeds for years and had big crowds. I had to chase people out of other people's yards because there was no grass to sit on."
Keltch has done everything for the Water Follies except be race director.
That has included taking the Water Follies float around to Northwest parades for 20 years with his wife, Carol.
There were other perks.
Keltch used to throw a Thursday night party at his riverside home in Pasco for all of the workers, since they would be busy during the races.
"I got to meet the drivers and owners," he said. "That kinda kept my blood churning for the races. I remember one year Bernie Little brought his big motorhome and parked it behind my house. He got it stuck in the sand and I had to get one of my big trucks to pull it out."
Four years ago, Chuck, now 66, shut his business down and said he's semi-retired.
But he'll still be working the Pasco side of the river during the races.
Reid was a hydro salesman
Published Sunday, July 4th, 2004
By the Herald staff
Wally Reid was a promotions man.
In the the mid-1960s, it was Reid who helped sell the idea to the public on having an unlimited hydroplane race in the Tri-Cities.
"Being in the radio business -- I helped build KORD in 1956 -- we were involved in a lot of things and helped promote things in the community," said Reid, now living in San Diego.
Reid had helped promote the old Pasco Water Follies and its outboard races.
"Jack Hamann was the race chairman there," Reid said. "But as time goes by we thought it would be a good idea to expand it and move it over to Columbia Park. And we called it the Tri-City Water Folies."
But in order to apply for an unlimited race, Reid and fellow organizers Hamann and Ken Maurer found out to apply for an unlimited race you had to have a yacht club organization.
"We formed the Tri-City Yacht Club," Reid said. "I believe the original commodore was Jack. We printed up some fancy cards for the Tri-City Yacht Club. We had an address. A couple of us had an empty lot on the river we had an address for."
Reid spent many weekends in Seattle helping Bob Gilliam get a hydroplane up and running for a test spin in the Tri-Cities in 1965 to promote the inaugural Atomic Cup for 1966.
"We wanted to show people what it was like," Reid said. "When Bob fired that thing up and flew it down the Columbia, it opened eyes."
Reid left the Tri-Cities in 1971, and currently works as an independent contractor marketing the San Diego Chargers to Spanish language broadcasting.
But he still feels a sense of pride about the Columbia Cup race he helped start.
"I went up there for the 25th race, my wife and I," Reid said. "It was really neat to see all the people that made it happen. It was a fun time in my life. I always felt good about that race. But I had no Idea it would last this long. I thought it would be good for maybe a few years."
Restoring boats labor of love for Williams
Published Monday, July 5th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
Dave Williams saw his first unlimited hydroplane race in 1963 on Lake Coeur d'Alene when he was just six years old.
"The boats were so loud and colorful, the roostertails were so beautiful," Williams said. "I remember saying this is what I want to do when I grow up. I am truly in love still with the sport. The sport has its problems. But when it all works, nothing can touch it."
Williams gets to keep his hand in the sport right now as the executive director of the Hydroplanes and Raceboat Museum in Kent. Williams started there in 1992 as a volunteer and has been the director since 1996.
The biggest thing the group has done is to restore vintage hydroplanes.
"The heritage of the sport is important to give you perspective as to where we are and where we want to go," he said. "But it was clear we didn't want to build boats and just store them. We wanted to put them out on the water."
The first boat the museum restored and ran on the water was the Slo-Mo IV in 1989 in Seattle.
"Doing one was cool," Williams said. "That night in the restaurant we said 'Wouldn't it be cool to do two?' Then it was 'Wouldn't it be cool to do four?' Now we've restored 13 boats."
The vintage boats have become popular wherever the group goes.
"In Detroit two years ago we were pitted right next to the Budweiser," Williams said. "We were running the Miss Madison vintage boat. Dave Villwock went out with the Bud and ran a record lap. He brought the boat in and there was silence. People didn't acknowledge what he did. We took our boat out and I did four laps at 95 mph. I came in to a standing ovation. I realized they were clapping for the little Miss Madison. Those boats have an awesome power."
Williams said it takes 6,000 volunteer man-hours to build a boat.
"That's because there's a lot of standing around and reminiscing," Williams said. "To build a race boat from scratch it takes 2,500 to 3,000 man hours. If there's any one kind of message, it's we are a volunteer and grass-roots driven group of 600 people. There is a huge group volunteers in love with the sport."
And now that group has its own building in Kent, an 11,000 square-foot warehouse where people can come and see some of the old-time boats.
"We've begun charging admission," he said. "We just opened. We had 1,300 visitors in the first month. Museum members get in free, adult tickets cost $5, and kids under 16 are $3."
Only six boats are ever in the museum at one time, and the displays are always changing.
"We want people to stand back 20 to 30 feet to get the feel of the size of these things," Williams said.
The group is working on the restoration of the 1977 Blue Blaster Atlas Van Lines and the 1948 Hurricane IV.
"We don't ever want to stop restoring boats," he said. "We could easily bring 15 boats out next year."
For Williams, this is a lot about the love of hydroplanes.
"Sports can be so good," he said. "It makes it worth waiting through the bad when the good comes along. There's nothing like the final heat in the Tri-Cities, with the sun getting low, and a golden glow in the air, with six boats on the water."
Muncey helped get Tri-City race started
Published Tuesday, July 6th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
One of the greatest drivers to have ever raced an unlimited hydroplane was Bill Muncey.
He certainly enjoyed racing on the Columbia River -- his five career wins in the Tri-Cities are only topped by Chip Hanauer's seven.
But Muncey may have given the Tri-Cities its biggest victory ever back in the 1960s.
Way back when the prescursor to the Tri-City Water Follies -- the Pasco Water Follies -- was being run, Muncey was a regular at the event as he raced limiteds and outboards.
Of course, he also raced unlimiteds at that time, winning his first championship at the Detroit Gold Cup in 1956.
Muncey liked what he saw in the Tri-Cities.
"He knew (original Tri-Cities race organizer) Jack Hamann and his wife Jean real well," said Wally Reid, another of the Tri-City race's original organizers. "He was the one who said, 'Why couldn't you guys put on unlimited race here?' We thought that was a good idea."
But according to Reid, the first Atomic Cup in 1966 wasn't a slam dunk until Muncey helped push it through.
"We had to apply and then meet with the American Power Boat Association in Long Beach, Calif., that offseason in 1965," Reid said. "The people in that meeting said they raced on the Detroit River. They didn't like it because there was too much debris floating down the river, and they were never gonna race on a river again."
Reid said he tried to explain that the Tri-City race site was more like a lake than a river because the river flow was different. That didn't move the group.
"Then Muncey spoke up," Reid said. "He said it was a great place to race, and he'd been there many times before. Muncey sold the deal to the fellow racers."
Muncey went on to become the winningest unlimited driver ever with 62 victories.
In that list of wins included eight Gold Cups, seven national championships and four world championships.
In 1978, at the age of 48, Muncey drove the Pay-N-Pak to five victories. Over the next three years, he drove the Atlas Van Lines to two Gold Cup wins and a National Championship.
But in 1981, his life ended tragically when the Atlas he was driving -- in the lead -- flipped and crashed at 175 mph during a race in Acapulco, Mexico.
He was 51.
Keeping the thunderous tradition alive
Published Wednesday, July 7th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow Herald sports editor
Given the choice, Ed Cooper Jr. would rather build a great engine for an unlimited hydroplane than drive a boat.
But he's always loved being involved in boat racing.
The U-3 owner grew up watching races in Madison, Ind.
"When I was a little kid, my dad was a volunteer for the Madison Regatta," Cooper said. "I helped set bouys on the course, helped with the rescue boats. When I was a junior in high school, I'd go to the Miss Madison boat shop and just hang around there. Then I worked on the Miss Madison as a volunteer on the crew."
From there, Cooper moved on to working for other boat teams.
In 1985, he ended up buying Chuck Hickling's Tempus boat, and he officially became a boat owner.
Over the next few years, Cooper assembled a team that has stayed true to the old-school hydros with piston power rather than turbines.
In 1989, Cooper's U-3 boat, with Chelan's Mitch Evans driving, won the Budweiser Columbia Cup in one of the sport's biggest upsets ever.
"It was a big surprise," Cooper said. "It was really neat."
Cooper and Evans -- who also builds boats -- realized that to become competitive while running pistons, they had to build a boat that was lighter.
The turning point came two years ago, when they unveiled their newest boat on the Columbia River. It was lighter and faster.
Yet it wasn't until last year when everything really clicked, when the team won races in Evansville, San Diego, and the Detroit Gold Cup.
Cooper said the key is the hull that Evans built.
"The performance of the engines has always been there," Cooper said. "But then you have to put the thing in the boat and have the boat run well. You can build good engines but it doesn't mean a thing if you don't have a good boat. This hull is more spectacular than the engines."
Still, Cooper stays busy during a normal season working on his engines.
"We normally prepare seven engines for a season," he said. "I've got five of them sitting in front of me. Last season was different. Before the year was over, we hurt or destroyed 11 engines. In the Tri-Cities last year, we brought four engines and ran three of them. We did serious internal damage to all three."
That keeps Cooper busy working on engines. And that's why he likes boat racing in the first place.
Racing on Columbia kept ticking with Allan
Published Thursday, July 8th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
For years at the Tri-Cities' unlimited hydroplane race, fans from all over the course could see the big orange clock up by the Columbia Park Golf Course.
As the starting clock for the drivers, the clock would slowly turn black. Drivers would closely watch the clock so they would cross the start line just as the clock went completely black.
That 18-foot clock was built by Water Follies volunteers. But it was Kennewick's John Allan who made sure it ran like clockwork.
"I was the timekeeper," Allan said. "I started the clock."
Allan owned Allan Electric, originally known as Hooper's Electric, and it was his volunteer duty each year to run electricity to the official barge.
"From Day 1, our company wired it," Allan said. "The first year we set up the power to the barge on the water, but they moved it onto the shore the next year."
And on race day, Allan's focus was on the clock. One day -- Allan believes it was in 1988 -- things didn't work.
"We burned a motor up in it after the first heat race," Allan said. "The switch stuck."
During the next four heat races, while they tried to replace the motor, Allan grabbed a long pipe wrench. While the scorekeeper counted off the seconds, Allan moved the clock along by the wrench.
"Oh boy, it was spooky," Allan said. "It was frustrating in between races tearing the motor out and getting a new one in. We couldn't quite get it done before each of the next four races. But by the final, it was ready."
Allan retired from his business six years ago, and he stopped volunteering when the Water Follies moved to an electric clock. But he said he always enjoyed his volunteer work for the Water Follies.
"I never was much for traveling in late July," he said. "I enjoyed the races and didn't mind help setting them up."
And the Water Follies officials didn't forget his steady work when it was needed on a clock.
"The next year (race officials) had a big meeting and they invited me over for a free meal," Allan said.
Rutkauskas brothers go from water to track
Published Friday, July 9th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Mike and Larry Rutkauskas are very well-respected in the Indy Car world.
Working in the carbon shop of Panther Racing, where they specialize in research and development for the team -- and double as part of the pit stop crew during Indy Racing League events -- the former Pasco residents owe some of their success now to their boat racing careers.
"We have an excellent rep in this sport (IRL)," said Larry, who lives in Indianapolis now, as does Mike. "We're known quite well for what we've done. We feel and know how to make things go fast. And it's something we attribute to what we learned in boat racing."
Larry said the fact that in boat racing you have to make everything means you know the vehicle pretty much hands down. The brothers have been able to translate that vast knowledge of vehicles into the car series.
"Most people work in this series by coming up through the ranks," Larry said. "Certain people only do certain jobs. Some teams have a front mechanic and a back mechanic, for example. Certain people do certain things."
The Rutkauskas brothers got involved in boat racing back in 1979.
"My brother and I had a drag car at the time," Larry said. "Ken Thompson owned a local boat, and he had a crew chiew named Jim Kerth. (Kerth) wanted us to come look at painting their boat in 1979."
One thing led to another, Larry said, and soon he and Mike were working on the crew.
Over the next 19 years, off and on, Larry and Mike worked for different race teams, doing many different things.
"There is no real specialty," Larry said. "Everybody did everything. In the 1980s I built all the engines for Renault. In 1984 when I worked for them I went to Detroit to their shop. A guy says 'There's a bunch of engines over there in the corner. Go rebuild them.'"
Larry has a few favorite hydroplane memories.
"Like winning the World Championships in Houston in 1983," he said. "And setting a record by going 170 mph in San Diego."
But by 1998, when owner Steve Woomer died of a heart attack, the Rutkauskas brothers -- members of Woomer's team -- were ready to call it quits with racing on the water.
They moved on to the IRL, where they've worked for a few teams.
Currently, they work for Panther Racing and the team's drivers -- Tomas Schekter and Townsend Bell.
But they'll always have a fondness for the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing.
"Most of it was because it was like the Formula 1 of boat racing," Larry said. "You'd have to design and create everything. That was so special about it. But you'd feel more of a loss when something breaks.
"There were great memories," he continued. "The places you raced, of course. The water, the sunshine, the girls. Just the awesomeness of coming down the straightaway with five boats abreast."
Unlimiteds an Evans family affair
Published Saturday, July 10th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Mitch Evans was born and raised in racing boats on the waters around Chelan.
That's what happens when your father was unlimited hydroplane driver Norm Evans, and you're the younger brother of another unlimited driver, Mark Evans.
"Dad hauled us around to races all over the place," Mitch said. "Our first races were at a local yacht club. It was kind of a run-what-ya-brung deal. Then we had 5-liters and 7-liters."
The first time Mitch stepped into an unlimited cockpit was 1980 in the Tri-Cities, he said.
"But I believe the first time I qualified was in Seattle in 1982," he said. "It was the old Island Security Systems boat. It started out being automotive power and became a stock allison. I got it up to 95 mph and got into the race. It was underpowered. It was a challenge. And obviously it was family-funded."
Over the years, Mitch paid his dues as a driver, struggling with the U-3 Cooper's team during the lean years.
He earned one win with Cooper's -- the surprising 1989 victory in the Tri-Cities -- before testing the turbine boats out.
"John Walters basically contacted me in1997 with this U-20 Jeronimo team," Mitch said. "I also drove the Coors Dry with Dave Villwock.
"At the time it was a pretty tough deal. I'd been with Ed when he got his first boat. But after (Mitch's stint with turbines) ended, Ed said we should take one more shot with this piston boat."
Mitch developed the hull for the newest U-3 boat. And together with Cooper's engines, the U-3 won three of six races during the 2003 season.
"We knew it was going to be a good boat in 2003," said Mitch. "We came out and won the opening race in Evansville. Then the next week in Madison, everything went wrong."
But the team bounced back and won the Detroit Gold Cup.
"From there on it started coming together," he said.
When the Budweiser Columbia Cup is run July 25, Mitch will be right at home on his backyard course.
"I have family there," he said. "Aunts and uncles and cousins."
It's a place where fond family memories have been made.
"I think probably some of my fondest memories are the trips to the Tri-Cities and Seattle with our dad," he said. "We were like the Beverly Hillbillies. We threw everything we had in a U-Haul to the Tri-Cities. It was just a lot of fun. And for us back then, qualifying was just like winning the race."
Wenatchee's Evans a fan favorite
Published Sunday, July 11th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
One of unlimited hydroplane racing's most outgoing personalities belongs to driver Mark Evans.
The native of the Wenatchee area has always been one of the most accessible drivers to both the media and the fans, and he always has a smile for them.
"When I was a kid, I had a driver snub me, and I told myself if I ever got a shot to drive I would never do that," he said. "The fans are so devoted to this sport. And I love to entertain."
So is Mark, who grew up watching his father Norm drive hydroplanes, and currently his brother Mitch drives.
"One of the first places I remember was being in the (Lampson) pits as a kid and watching those boats come down the river," Mark said. "It was a turn on from the get-go."
The Evans brothers have raced anything they could over the years: boats, cars, snowmobiles.
Mark first sat in the cockpit of the Evergreen Roofing Company family boat in 1979. But it wasn't until 1991in the American Spirit did he ever actually compete in an unlimited heat.
Over the years, Mark has won 10 unlimited races - including last year's Budweiser Columbia Cup in Bill Wurster'sU-8 Llumar Window Film.
But he has been sidelined since last August when a blowover at the Detroit Gold Cup broke the boat and him. He had a broken back and legs in the accident. And he just recently re-broke his leg after getting the cast off.
"I re-fractured it about a month ago," he said. "This latest wreck kinda woke me up a bit."
But it may not keep him off the water forever.
"There is nothing like flying a hydroplane down the river," he said. "Especially now, when you mash down on the gas. There's so much control in these things.
"There's nothing like going full out, with boats on both sides of you," he continued. "Actually the whole procedure leading up to the racing is so cool. Everybody has prepared this boat, you're ready to go into the cockpit. About five minutes before you head out there you get your game face on.
"These guys who own these $1 million dollar machines let you crawl into them, and you have all these fans on the shore excited," he said. "Then they shut the cockpit and everything is so quiet. I soak it all up as much as possible. You know thousands of people are going to watch your crazy ass fly down the river."
For now, he hopes to have his new 4-seater hydroplane in the Tri-Cities. The idea is for him to give three others rides, with the hopes of raising money for cancer research, in honor of his mother who had breast cancer.
"Cross your fingers," said Evans. "We have the insurance coverage now. We just need some money to get down therewith it."
Evans also is doing work with SpeedChannel covering this year's Hydro-Prop races. Since this year's Tri-City race is independent of Hydro-Prop, Evans won't be working for television. But he'll be down here nevertheless.
You can't keep him away from racing.
"I worked the Madison race last weekend and I loved it," he said. "It makes my skin crawl when they light those boats up."
Trust him. That's a good thing.
Creative owner sets high standards for unlimiteds
Published Monday, July 12th, 2004
By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editor
Fred Leland first got into boat racing in 1968 when he bought a limited hydroplane.
He spent a number of years racing limiteds, but it's in the unlimiteds that he's really made his mark - as an owner.
In 1982, he became an owner of an unlimited with Scott Pierce as his driver.
He did race as a driver in 1983, then went back to being strictly an owner.
"I always liked both driving and being an owner," he said. "Years ago, I liked to be a driver. As I got older, I liked building and owning boats."
By 1996, Leland got really serious about owning and building boats when he shut down his masonry business.
The creativity is what he likes most.
"I like the racing aspect of things and building the boats," he said. "You do have to make everything yourself. But I've always had the desire to race."
As the owner of the U-100, Leland has tasted some success over the years.
"I enjoyed winning the national high points championship one year," he said. "I also enjoyed winning the two Gold Cups and the 19 race titles. Winning isn't everything, but it is nice."
Leland also takes pride in knowing many teams have copied his style in boat-building.
"A lot of my stuff has been required to use," he said. "The points on the skid fins for example. Or my fuel system, which is a better way to go."
And at least six other teams have used his hull design for their boats.
In addition, it's usually Leland who brings a new young driver into the sport, allowing him to run countless qualifying laps in his boats.
"There are a lot of good drivers out there," he said. "Especially down in the limited ranks. I look at who's available."
He says he doesn't keep track of who he's helped. But there are many drivers in the circuit who got their start with Leland, or they were at least helped by him.
He doesn't normally like to talk about it. That's because he's the consummate background guy. Let the drivers and the other owners take the media spotlight and let Fred stay in the background, getting ready to race or build the boat.
"I still build the motors to the boats. I make all the parts," he said. "I don't think I have a favorite part of racing. I think every bit of it I like."
Who's got the buttons?
Published Tuesday, July 13th, 2004
By Eric Degerman, Herald staff writer
They are not easy to overlook and not easy to turn down.
The prim and proper women of Chapter EL of P.E.O. International stand out during the Budweiser Columbia Cup as they hawk booster buttons and programs on both sides of the river.
"We have been selling the booster buttons ever since they began," said Elaine Banks of Pasco, a board member on the area chapter of the women's philanthropic and education organization. "We get a small commission, very small, selling them, but it's our No. 1 fund-raiser and we feel it's our community responsibility to help support the Tri-Cities Water Follies."
Racing started on the Columbia in 1966 with the Atomic Cup, and the women and the booster buttons where there. They cost 50 cents then. Today, if race fans buy them from area merchants who stock the buttons, the cost is $4. Race weekend, the cost is $5.
Next week, chapter member Peggy Wallace will wear -- on a dress -- all the buttons in the race's history.
"It's quite heavy," Banks said. "There's not many of us who could wear it."
The group of women number 35, and about half will work both sides of the race course in the heat on race weekend. "It's tough getting out there and selling the buttons, but that's the nature of the beast," Banks said.
Pak owner stayed on cutting edge of boat racing
Published Wednesday, July 14th, 2004
By Mark McKenna Herald staff writer
Legendary hydroplane owner Bernie Little loved nothing more than to command his Miss Budweiser to hit the water and sink the competition.
During his 40-year career as the Bud boss, which began in 1963 and ended with his death in 2003, Little's boats won 134 races, 14 Gold Cups and 22 World High Points Championships.
While there's no question Little is the godfather of the sport, there's also little doubt who his greatest nemesis was during the mid-1970s. That distinction belonged to Dave Heerensperger, the proud owner of the Pay 'n Pak.
Heerensperger's boats, named after his hardware stores, won three consecutive national championships from 1973-75. Mickey Remund drove the Pak to the 1973 title before George Henley took the seat in 1974 and 1975. The Pak also won the Gold Cup in '74 (Seattle) and '75 (Tri-Cities), and it would have won the big race in '73 had it not lost a propeller while leading the final lap of the championship heat.
"Bernie and I were great friends -- he was the best man in my wedding," Heerensperger said. "But I loved to kick the Budweiser's fanny."
The Pak, decked out in white with orange lettering trimmed in black, was made of honeycomb aluminum and nicknamed the "Winged Wonder" because of its horizontal stabilizer. It was designed and constructed by Ron Jones, and Jim Lucero served as its crew chief.
"I think we turned hydroplane racing on its ear with that boat," Heerensperger said. "We had a great crew, a great driver ... everything came together perfectly."
Heerensperger sold the boat to Bill Muncey in 1976, and Muncey kept its successful voyages going by winning another national title as the Atlas Van Lines.
But Heerensperger wasn't out of the sport long. In 1979, Lucero approached him about building a turbine-powered boat, and the gung-ho Heerensperger signed on.
The turbine Pak made its debut at the Tri-City race in 1980 despite the fact it wasn't quite "dialed in." That was obvious during a last-minute test session the morning of the race when the boat sailed into the air at 160 mph, made nearly two complete flips and splashed into the Columbia. Driver John Walters, then a 27-year-old rookie, suffered a broken hip and several lesser injuries.
"Oh s---- was my reaction," Heerensperger said. "All I was worried about was John's safety."
The turbine was repaired in time for the 1981 season and finished second in the Gold Cup in Seattle. In 1982, it became the first turbine to win a race when Walters outdueled the Budweiser to win in Romulus, N.Y. It would be the boat's only victory.
"Maybe we were a little ahead of our time, but I think the big problem with the turbine was that we rushed it," Heerensperger said.
Heerensperger decided to leave the sport for good in 1982 and sold his team to Steve Woomer.
"I had enough. I won my Gold Cups and national championships, and I couldn't stand watching my drivers get hurt any more," he said.
Heerensperger, who know lives in Bellevue, was drawn into the sport in 1962 while living in Spokane, where he ran his business, Eagle Electric and Plumbing.
While reading the Spokane Chronicle one day, he came across an invitation to join the Miss Spokane team.
"They were looking for someone to invest $5,000, and I was dumb enough to do it," Heerensperger joked.
Heerensperger sponsored the boat, owned by Bob Gilliam, and ran it under the name Miss Eagle Electric and Plumbing for the 1963-64 seasons.
Heerensperger then became a boat owner, purchasing $-Bill in 1967 and renaming it the Miss Eagle Electric. In 1968, the hydro, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagle," won the Atomic Cup in the Tri-Cities.
"The Tri-Cities was always my favorite race," Heerensperger said. "The people who ran it were efficient and friendly. The course was fast, and the fans were right on top of the water."
The 1968 season, however, would end tragically for Heerensperger's race team. During the final heat of the Gold Cup in Detroit, which was postponed until September, Miss Eagle Electric's driver, Col. Warner Gardner, was killed when the boat rolled and crashed into the water upside down.
Heerensperger decided to keep racing, and in 1969 introduced the outrigger hydroplane -- the Pride of Pay 'n Pak -- after purchasing the chain of Northwest stores. This new radical hydro had gaps between the center hull and sponsons, designed to reduce lift. The boat was difficult to handle and after only five races, the last in the Tri-Cities, was retired.
"It was a real bow wow, a real dog," Heerensperger said.
Heerensperger, always the innovator, built a new boat powered by two Hemi engines for the 1970 season. But after the boat failed to live up to expectations, driver Tommy Fults jumped in the second Pride of Pay 'n Pak -- a hull bought at the end of the 1969 season and renamed Pay 'n Pak's 'lil Buzzard -- and won the 1970 Atomic Cup.
But Heerensperger couldn't escape his bad luck. Fults was killed during qualifying for the Gold Cup in San Diego.
Heerensperger then hired Lucero, who reconfigured the automotive boat and installed it with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine. The boat won three races in 1971 and another in 1972.
Heerensperger, who also founded Eagle Hardware and Garden, Inc. before selling it to Lowe's in 1999, said he doesn't miss hydroplane racing. He became involved in horse racing in 1980 and has owned as many as 50 horses at one time. His best ever was Millennium Wind, the winner of the 2001 Blue Grass Stakes who went on to finish 11th in the Kentucky Derby.
However, he still looks back fondly on his hydroplane career and has a special place in his heart for the Tri-City race.
"I have all my hydroplane trophies and about 250 softball trophies in storage, but the only one I have in my house is from the 1968 Atomic Cup. It's a beauty."
Enjoying life in the pits
Published Thursday, July 15th, 2004
By Rene Ferran, Herald staff writer
Like so many Tri-City hydroplane fans, Dan L. Doescher first was drawn to the Columbia River by the thunder of the unlimiteds' engines.
Nowadays, Doescher relates the thunder to hundreds of fans a year as a veteran pit tour guide, and he has plenty to tell.
Doescher, who will turn 52 in October, attended his first race in 1967, when he was a freshman at Kennewick High. After graduating in 1970, he joined the Navy the next year for a four-year stint, then moved to San Diego before returning to the Tri-Cities in 1987 to help with his parents' business, All Doors Inc. in Pasco.
He saw a newspaper ad before the 1996 Columbia Cup asking for volunteers to serve as pit tour guides and was intrigued.
"I thought it'd be fun to go down and be in the pits," Doescher said. "I learned the ropes that first year and have done it every year since."
Doescher said the key to a successful tour is knowing what bits of information he's gleaned over the years to disperse to the groups, which can include as many as 25-30 people, from six to 10 times a day.
"I'm always one for knowing all the facts about the boats," he said. "I've kept notes for years on each boat, and we have little books in the pits to refresh our memory. I use 3x5 cards that I update (on the tours).
"But if you can get them to ask questions, talk about what they want to hear, rather than just rattling on, you can hold their attention."
After a short safety lecture warning of potential fire hazards and the need to stay close to the group, they start from the west end of the pits.
Doescher said he keeps half an eye out for where the cranes are headed and tries to time his tours so he reaches a boat as it's exiting the water so he can show visitors just how one of the boats works.
"I'll show them the propellor, for instance, and point out that these aren't jet boats," he said.
Doescher also is on good terms with many of the owners, drivers and crews, and he knows which are willing to take the extra minute to talk or sign autographs.
"Some owners are more fan-friendly. When I would see Steve Woomer, for instance, I made sure to point him out," Doescher said.
Some of the boats have tables with posters or pamphlets that draws visitors, but there's always one guaranteed attention-grabber.
"We get through about five or six boats, and people start looking down there toward the Bud," he said. "Some of the small-time teams don't have the big budget for a layout, and people just walk right by them. But the Bud just attracts that little extra attention. People always have to stop and stare at it."
Including his younger brother, Derwin, also a pit tour guide.
"He's the biggest Bud fan there is," Dan said, chuckling. "Anything with the Bud name on it -- buttons, inflatables, you name it -- he's got it."
Doescher hasn't received a dime for his nine years of service. In fact, he and the rest of the guides chip in $10 each for an end-of-the-year awards ceremony.
"We hand out awards for Rookie of the Year and Pit Tour Guide of the Year," said the 1999 Guide of the Year winner. "I keep saying I'm going to win it again, but they tell me you can't win it twice."
Thompson wore many hats
Published Friday, July 16th, 2004
By Mark McKenna, Herald staff writer
Anybody ever associated with the unlimited hydroplane races in the Tri-Cities will tell you the event has stayed afloat for 39 years because of its devoted volunteers.
The race, which began with the 1966 Atomic Cup, has never had the resources that sites such as Detroit, Miami and Seattle have enjoyed, so the Tri-City community has had to pull together for the event to survive.
One of the greatest contributors the Tri-City race has ever had was Ken Thompson, who was part of the Water Follies family since 1967.
Thompson, the owner of a contracting company in the Tri-Cities, did whatever was necessary to help things run smoothly. He first helped with patrol boats, then became race chairman and eventually a hydroplane owner.
"There were times when there were a lot of headaches; some of the fans really got crazy. But it was worth it," said Thompson, who now is retired and lives in Ocean Park. "The boat races were a great thing for the community. I think they helped put the Tri-Cities on the map. I look back with great memories."
Ken Mauer, Thompson's longtime friend and the former director of the Water Follies, said Thompson was one of the key people who helped get the races up and running.
"Kenny would do whatever needed to be done," Mauer said. "He was a real team player."
Thompson served as race chairman for several years during the 1970s, but his competitiveness won out in 1979 when he decided to purchase the U-3 -- the former Miss Budweiser -- from Bernie Little. He named the boat the Myrna Kay (his wife's name).
Thompson's regime as a boat owner got off to a good start when Myrna Kay opened the season with a second-place finish in Miami, then equaled the feat in Detroit and Evansville (Ind.). His boat on the Columbia that summer raced as the Tri-City Tile and Masonry -- the name of his company -- and finished third.
"It was expensive, but if was a lot of fun," Thompson said of owning a hydroplane.
Thompson's driver was Jack Shafer Jr., the son of a Detroit man who raced Such Crust in the late 1940s.
"Jack was a well-respected driver and a perfect fit for our race team," Thompson said. "We hit it off right away. He was an airplane pilot. He still runs an airplane sales business in Orange County."
Thompson's boat raced up until the 1982 season, when it ran as Thousand Trails. Shafer, meanwhile, continued to race unlimiteds and went on to win the 1983 Columbia Cup aboard Executone.
Thompson, who sold his business in 1992, said he and his wife still visit the Tri-Cities on occasion.
"We have a lot of great friends there," he said. "A lot of friends I met through the races."
Like father, like son
Published Saturday, July 17th, 2004
By Annie Fowler, Herald staff writer
For nearly 60 years, Lampson International LLC has been building some of the world's largest cranes in east Kennewick.
For 38 years, the company known world-wide for its signature blue cranes, has been hoisting hydroplanes in and out of the Columbia River.
Make that 39 years.
Once again, Lampson will provide the cranes, fuel, oil and the manpower to set up and dismantle the cranes at the Neil F. Lampson Pits for the annual Columbia Cup.
"We've furnished the cranes from the very first race," said company president Bill Lampson, the son of the late Neil Lampson. "It's a tradition, and we have carried on that tradition. This is something we are able to do to help the boat races."
Company founder Neil Lampson first donated cranes to hoist the three-ton boats in and out of the water in 1966 at the first hydroplane event on the Columbia River -- the Atomic Cup.
Years later, the pits were named for him in honor of his generosity.
"When we first started out, Lampson had cranes and George Grant Construction had cranes and they both helped us," said Ken Mauer, who helped organize the first Atomic Cup. "We didn't have any trouble at all. Neil Lampson just kept adding cranes over the years when we needed them. It certainly would have made problems for us if not for his generosity.
"I know other race sites that have trouble getting cranes and they have bring them in from 100 miles away. One year when they were still racing in Lake Tahoe, they had to bring cranes in from Reno."
The cranes come from the company's conventional rental fleet. If Lampson charged for the use of the cranes and an operator, it would cost the Water Follies Association on the average, $250-$300 per hour per crane, according to Bill Lampson.
Tri-City Water Follies Association pays the crane operators.
"There aren't very many companies that can pull four to six cranes from work for a week for boat racing," Mauer said. "We never even kept a running total of what we would have had to pay for the cranes. It was just a big relief to know we didn't have to pay for them."
Lampson provides six to eight cranes per year depending on the number of boats. Over the course of 38 years, there have been no mishaps with taking the boats in and out of the water.
"To my knowledge, they have all gone in and come out safe and sound," Bill Lampson said. "The racing teams have been very complimentary to us."
And for as long as there are boats, Lampson will be there to give them a lift.
"I suspect as long as we are both viable, we will be participating," Bill Lampson said.
Eyes on the prize: Richland artist lends touch to trophies
Published Sunday, July 18th, 2004
By Mark Vinson, Herald staff writer
When the wake settles from the Budweiser Columbia Cup on July 25, the winner will take home not only a first-place prize check but also a trophy that's unlike any other.
Richland sculptor Ted Neth was asked by former Water Follies chairman Ken Mauer more than three decades ago to design a trophy for the race. Neth's work has since become as much a part of the event as the boats themselves.
"Each year, we create an original piece," said Neth, 67, who spent more than three decades on the faculty of Columbia Basin College before retiring as dean of Applied Technology and Fine Arts in December 2000. He still teaches a couple of classes as professor emeritus in the art department.
This year's trophy, on display at the Water Follies office on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick, features a red oak base and three stainless steel roostertails. It symbolizes both the boats and the confluence of the Columbia, Snake and Yakima rivers.
"I used the rivers as a motif," he said. "The roostertail is so symbolic of the races. (I was) trying to create symbols that would represent the water and the power of the boats coming down the river."
Neth, who is best known for his metal sculpture, began working on the concept several months ago.
"I sit down and start sketching about three or four months before the product is due," he said. "I do 80 to 100 drawings and sort them out. Eventually I get down to three or four and refine them a little more."
Once the design is determined, it takes two to three weeks to make each of the six trophies -- a large one for the winner and smaller replicas for second through sixth place.
Neth has done the majority of the trophies awarded in the past 30 years, back to when the event was called the Atomic Cup. Which is his favorite?
"Always the most recent one," he said with a laugh. "That's the one I've incorporated my newest ideas into. I like this year's better than last year's."
Neth's work has been a big hit with owners and drivers alike.
"A few times I've had drivers come back and ask me to produce a second one because the owner gets the original," Neth said. "They've been very well received."
Come race day, Neth can be found in the center of activity.
"I love the races," he said. "I love the pits even more because of the craftsmanship. Form follows function. The best-crafted boats are always the most beautiful."
Neth has also done trophies for the Tri-Cities small business awards and wine festivals and last year did a large piece for the interior of the Kennewick Irrigation District building.
"One of the things that's unusual for an event like Water Follies is to incorporate fine arts pieces," he said. "Every event has trophies, but metal or wood sculpture is pretty unique."
First lady of hydros
Published Monday, July 19th, 2004
By Jahmal Corner, Herald staff writer
Looking back on it now, Fran Muncey isn't quite sure how she did it.
In the wake of losing her husband -- the legendary Bill Muncey who died after crashing during a race in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1981, the man whom she'd learned everything she knew about hydroplanes. Fran now had to pick herself up by her high heel straps and carry on the Muncey legacy.
Sure, she'd vicariously been a part of countless hydroplane triumphs, but taking on ownership of the Atlas Van Lines team without the benefit of her partner and significant other would be significantly more challenging.
"If I had to do it now I'd probably be terrified," Fran said of taking on her ownership position. "But the decision was easy back then because Bill always said if anything ever happened to him to get the boat to the next race, because he cared so much about the sport. It was Bill's wishes, and when you're doing something for someone else, it kind of takes the fear out of it."
Armed with the most prolific driver not named Bill, Chip Hanauer, Fran's Atlas Van Lines team served notice to the unlimited circuit, and put the fear into it.
In seven seasons as owner --from 1982-1988 -- Fran won 24 unlimited races. The Atlas won the national championship in just its first season along with Detroit's Gold Cup, which it would win seven consecutive times, in a feat that Fran said "might never be done again."
During those glory days, Fran, now 62, used to tell Hanauer that she wished Bill could make a five-minute appearance, just to see how far the Atlas team had come.
And it'd all been done in Bill's honor. It started rather grimly, though, on that October day nearly 23 years ago when Fran huddled by the radio with a small gathering to listen to Bill compete in Acapulco. After hearing the news of his accident, she raced home from the nearby park in San Diego to find that people had already assembled at her home, part of the race committee included.
"It was unbelievable," Fran recalled. "No one ever thought something like that would happen to Bill; we thought he was invincible."
Fran, whose maiden name is Norman, had been beguiled by Bill's aura from the very beginning. She met him in 1969 while volunteering at the then-San Diego Cup, which she naively thought was a boat show. She'd heard of hydroplaning before, but always thought it was reserved for those with a death wish.
"While I was there volunteering, three different people asked me out," Fran said. "I heard that Bill was the only one who was single so I figured, 'I gotta go to dinner with this guy and see what makes these people tick.' "
They were married six weeks later.
Soon after, she became a hydroplane enthusiast as well. Fran prided herself on being Bill's informant. She began picking the brains of crew members, learning about the boats as well as everything she could about Bill's competition.
"Most things that women wouldn't even be interested in really interested me," Fran said. "I wanted him to win so bad that I wanted to find out anything I could for his team; I doubt he ever used any of it."
But Fran sure did. It was as if she was preparing for life without Bill without ever knowing it. And when that time came, she was prepared.
If that isn't auspicious enough, the way Hanauer practically fell in her lap is. Fran was apprehensive about seeking out a driver, not wanting to dishonor an owner by doing so when she got a letter from Hanauer. It expressed condolences and respects before requesting that she hire him on.
"It was so wonderful because Bill always called Chip a student of racing and he really respected him," Fran said. "I've always thought of Chip like a son."
Fran stepped down in 1988, reasoning she couldn't afford to put the money into it that it deserved.
She continues to serve on the board of directors for the "Bill Muncey Cup" in San Diego, where she owns two restaurants on the water: Gally at the Marina, and Bollweevil, as in the insect.
She talks about the past and the Atlas Van Lines days as if they were a blur, back when she knew what she had to do but didn't know how. In retrospect, she didn't have to, it was enough that she had the know how.
Race director has deep roots
Published Tuesday, July 20th, 2004
By Eric Degerman, Herald staff writer
He's worked the Tri-City unlimited hydroplane races from the bottom up.
The river bottom, that is.
This week, Mark Schneider gets the perspective of being at the top. For the first time, he'll serve as the race director of the Budweiser Columbia Cup.
"I've been involved with this event for 30 years," Schneider said. "But when I started off, the reason I got involved was that I've been an avid scuba diver all my life. One year, three of us -- Stephen Barraclogh, Al Scott and I -- went down to the race pits the week before the race. We ended up being rescue divers the first few years."
That love for water is both hobby and career for the Minnesota native. Schneider is water quality advisor for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in Portland, his home for the past 25 years after working in Richland as a Battelle research scientist.
However, Schneider, 61, returns each year to volunteer at the Columbia Cup.
"It's a very fulfilling experience to be around people who are willing to do that," he said. "It makes for great friends and great people."
The early days of his association with the boat races included anchoring the marking pins for the races, which means a trip to the bottom of the Columbia River.
"I've been down there and it's really, really dark," Schneider said. "There are some big boulders and big tree trunks down there. And I've seen some levels of visibility that are quite astounding."
Schneider also witnessed the darkest day in Columbia Cup history -- July 31, 1982. It was the Saturday morning when Miss Budweiser driver Dean Chenoweth died after a blowover accident during a qualifying run.
"I was out on the water on a (rescue) sled when it happened," Schneider said. "That's a huge blow. You ask yourself, 'What happened and was there anything that could have prevented it?' Well, they brought in the reinforced cockpits and the canopy. Since then, we've only had one fatality in the sport, but many blowover accidents."
Drivers note that the water conditions they race on in the Tri-Cities are often the best they find on the unlimited circuit.
"I think the drivers like the Columbia Cup because it's on a river and a controlled river," Schneider said. "If you watch the boat racing on Lake Washington or the television coverage of Detroit (on the Detroit River), the drivers complain about the rollers and the chop.
"Those boats weigh 6,000 pounds and when they go 160-180 mph, it's going to kick up quite a bit of water," he explained. "And when you get a half dozen boats out there at once, it really kicks it up.
"Now if you are racing along a mile-long log boom that's full of boats or along a sea wall, the water hits those structures and gets bounced right back," he continued. "There's no place for that energy to dissipate. It just bounces around out there. But on the Columbia, the current takes all that nasty water that's been chopped up away downstream. Now that's the Schneider theory."
However, the river is not uniform.
"Turn One, which the drivers refer to as the entrance to Turn One, the part of the course that's closest to the pits, it's about 25-30 feet deep there," Schneider said. "On the exit from Turn One, the corner closest to the Blue Bridge on the Pasco side, it's about 20-25 feet deep. On the entrance to Turn Two (the upstream corner on the Pasco side), it's probably only 10 feet or so.
"But the real eye opener, the exit from Turn Two (the upstream corner on the Kennewick side), it's about 60 feet deep there," he continued. "That's the old river channel. When you get down there on the bottom as a diver, you can identify the old shoreline."
There was the time in the late 1970s when water went missing. Dam operators allowed the river level to sink drastically for race day Sunday.
"We woke up and walked out for the opening ceremonies and the water had gone away. Nobody had talked to them about boat races," Schneider recalled. "We had to come up with extra docks, and the crews would have to walk the boats out a ways so they didn't drag the skid fins."
Since his exciting and sometimes tortuous days spent broiling and bouncing around on a rescue sled, Schneider has worked on every other phase of water operations. That includes the starting clocks, the official tower, the race boat teams, and the judges and referees. The past few years, he served as John Mostellor's assistant race director in preparation for this year.
"I'm damn proud to have been asked to be race director," Schneider said. "I have the experience of dealing with the sanctioning bodies and I know boat racing pretty well.
"Not living in the Tri-Cities presents a challenge, and we'll see how much of a challenge when my phone bill arrives," he added with a chuckle.
His organizational and management skills will get tested. So will his stamina.
"It will probably mean getting up no later than 5 or 6 in the morning and staying up until 10 or 11 at night taking care of the sleds and the special line rigging involved with the buoys and anchors," Schneider said. "But I'll bring my dive gear up, just in case."
Published Wednesday, July 21st, 2004
By Jahmal Corner, Herald staff writer
It would take days to run down the list of contributions George Grant, 88, has made to the Tri-Cities community. Though seeing as how it’s taken Grant 56 years and counting to make them, it just might be worth it.
From Hanford’s Environmental Molecular Science Center to Tri-City Prep’s Gymnasium, Grant, of George Grant Construction Company, has sewn seeds into countless fertile landmarks.
One of his most important involvements though, is with Water Follies. He served as president in 1968 after being sought out by a group that included pioneer Ken Mauer, who helped organize the first Atomic Cup in 1966.
In addition to his one-year presidency, Grant continually donated cranes for hydroplanes and their motors over the years. He said he sees Water Follies as a binding force.
“When I first got (to Pasco) in 1948, the community wasn’t very close to be honest with you,” Grant said. “I think Water Follies helped to pull everyone together, and it continues to.”
Grant pulled his company together in 1955, never dreaming that it would expand into the Tri-Cities construction household name it is now.
“There were a tough five or so years in there but we made it,” Grant said. “I think that’s due to honest people. I’m especially proud that we’ve never had a major accident in our 49 years; I think the worst we’ve had was a broken leg.”
Grant’s productivity in the community led to his being awarded Tri-Citian of the year in 1994. It came as a surprise to Grant, who was attending a convention in Orlando, Fla. He wanted to stay in Orlando a couple more days, but his wife Marianne, who knew of the honor, wouldn’t let him.
“She told me we had to go back home but she wouldn’t say why,” Grant said. “I was shocked; it was a tremendous honor.”
Tri-Cities co-honoree of 1992, Bill Lampson, knows what the award means. He knows better what Grant means to the Tri-Cities.
“George has been a real staple in this community and he’s always been so very generous,” Lampson said. “In the early days of Water Follies he was really crucial; we’ve worked together on some projects and he’s a guy that just never says no.”
Grant was born in Twisp, a small twon in Okanogan County. He graduated from Washington State University in 1936 and — surprise, surprise — is a regular contributor there. Grant served in the Army during World War II and after staying in the Army Reserve retired and made his way to Pasco.
Grant no longer has any direct involvement in Water Follies or boat racing, though he’s run an ad in every year’s race program. He said recently, that he just finished issuing 50 parking passes for people to use his Pasco lawn which sits right along the Columbia River.
Add that to his growing list of contributions.
Parish was the man who kept order inside Lampson Pits
Published Thursday, July 22nd, 2004
By Mark Vinson, Herald staff writer
Paul Parish was never so busy as he has been in the month since he retired from the Lampson Company after 26 years.
“I’m going to have to get an 8-to-5 job, so I can get some time off,” he said with a laugh this week during a break in preparations for Sunday’s Columbia Cup.
Water Follies have been a staple on Parish’s summer calendar since he joined the Lampson company in 1978, after spending seven years as a superintendent at the Hanford nuclear project. But his love of hydroplane racing dates much further.
“I got involved a long time ago and got to know the people involved in the race business,” he said. “Ed Cooper (the U-3 boat owner) is a friend of mine. I got to know him pretty well back when his dad was on the circuit.”
Over the past quarter of a century, Parish has donated his time and talents to the event in a variety of capacities.
He was pit chairman for many years, making sure the large cranes were in place to lift boats out of the water and seeing that each boat had its proper place on the shoreline.
As the race grew, Parish saw the need to expand and upgrade the pit area.
“We started getting the unlimited lights and we didn’t have room to put them in,” he recalled. “This weekend we’re going to have it full.”
The Neil F. Lampson Pits are now 900 feet long and include underground water and electrical service.
Parish, 68, has handed off the duties of pit chairman to Kevin Smith, but he remains actively involved.
“We come down the weekend before and start grading the pits, fixing things up in general,” he said. “We set the course and get a crane down and pull all of the old anchors out. I’m here as one of the old guys.”
Parish is a member of the Water Follies board of directors and earlier this year began his third term on the Kennewick City Council.
As a council member, he spearheaded many of the recent improvements to Columbia Park, including the addition of restrooms and paving of extra streets with turn-around areas large enough to accomodate the large trucks towing unlimited hydroplanes in and out of the park.
Like many political figures, he holds strong views on a number of subjects.
“I think it’s one of the better race sites,” he said. “Our dock and pit facilities are superior to Evansville and Madison (two Indiana cities which also stage races). This is a wide-open course and we’ve got some current in the river.”
Parish takes issue with those who would argue the sport is on the verge of extinction.
“I don’t agree that it’s dying,” he said. “It just needs to be reorganized.
“People aren’t happy with Hydro-Prop,” he said of the national sanctioning body. “When owners no longer control the sport, there are problems. Hydro-Prop hasn’t performed as they should. Hydro-Prop is a for-profit company. There isn’t enough money in the sport for a profit company. The (race) fees outweigh what they (owners) get paid. You can’t lose money and be successful.”
Parish envisions more changes for the sport, which last weekend saw former driver Tom D’Eath named Chief Operating Officer of Hydro-Prop.
“I don’t think putting him in charge will change anything,” Parish said. “It’s still Hydro-Prop. I think at the end of the year, the owners will get together with the race sites and form a new association they’ll be happier with.”
Whatever changes the future may hold in store for the sport, one can expect Parish to be in the middle of the Columbia Cup for years to come.
“The thing that makes the Columbia Cup what it is, is all the volunteers and the local businesses who volunteer,” he said. “It’s about the volunteers.”
Portland man helped Follies restore order
Published Friday, July 23rd, 2004
By Eric Degerman, Herald staff writer
“You want to go in there, fine! If you get hurt, you die because we’re not going in there after you!”
That’s basically what law enforcement officials and emergency workers told visitors going into portions of Columbia Park in 1981 during the unlimited hydroplane races in the Tri-Cities. Jimmy DeLoretto, president and CEO of Crowd Management Services in Portland — the company that tamed down the Columbia Cup and made it safe for families — recalls how bad it was.
“You had a situation that was very, very well attended with an uncontrolled atmosphere that law enforcement wouldn’t come into,” DeLoretto said. “It had the possibility for any kind of danger.” The hottest spot of all was the west end of Columbia Park.
“Or the Zoo is what we called it,” DeLoretto said. “We were hearing a lot of horror stories.” Most of them were true.
“You name it, it had a chance of it happening,” DeLoretto said. “There was a lot of drinking, a lot of nudity, assaults, all types of Tom Foolery. But there was a dangerous element too, and there were people who came to prey on that.”
It’s no stretch to say that if not for the arrival of DeLoretto and CMS, the 1982 Columbia Cup was in jeopardy.
“It was a problem we had to have solved, and thank goodness we found the right people and they solved it in one year,” said Ken Maurer, the retired founder of The Maurer Christensen Co., which manages the Water Follies.
Maurer made a desperate plea for help.
“I remember the call very precisely,” DeLoretto said. “I had just landed at the Los Angeles airport, where I was doing consulting in conjunction with the (1984) Olympics. It was about 9:30 a.m. and I got a call from my office. The lady told me, ‘You got a call from a Ken Maurer with the Tri-City Water Follies Association who said his entire event is in jeopardy.
“Well, I kind of started to chuckle,” DeLoretto continued. “I’d always heard of the boat races, but this was the first time I’d heard of the Tri-City Water Follies. I thought, ‘Synchronized swimming. What kind of problems could they have?’ ”
He soon learned after talking with Maurer.
Benton and Franklin counties, as well as the City of Kennewick, were not going to approve the Water Follies’ permits. The problem was rooted in the campgrounds in the west end of Columbia Park. It became so bad that hooligans turned over Benton County patrol cars.
“They had a basic policy that they were not going to send their people in there anymore,” DeLoretto said. “The fights, the nudity, the alcohol, the racing of vehicles — just a total uncontrolled atmosphere. The counties said basically, ‘It’s not going to happen anymore.’ ”
Many of the unruly race-goers were college kids who DeLoretto described as “fun-loving kids who came to watch the zoo and those members who wanted to take part and be a part of it.”
Motorcycle gangs stirred up most of the serious problems. “The Ghost Riders, the Gypsy Jokers and the Hells Angels. They were the real trouble element,” DeLoretto said.
CMS started with heavy manpower and focused on restricting park access and vehicle inspection. DeLoretto brought in many of his “gunners,” — his top security people — and he brought busloads of employees.
“In 1982, we brought, all in all, 280 people just to work the west end of Columbia Park,” DeLoretto said. “About 160 worked during the day with the remaining 120 patrolling at night. And there were two boats in the water to protect the shoreline.”
DeLoretto credits Bernard Colligan, then Richland’s police chief, with providing him a critical vote of confidence before the 1982 race.
In those days, Columbia Park was operated by Benton County, not the City of Kennewick, so the park was under the Benton County sheriff’s jurisdiction. DeLoretto needed to know if the sheriff’s department would handle jail transport for the trespassing arrests that CMS would inevitably make.
“The undersheriff said, ‘We’re not coming,’ ” DeLoretto recalled. “At that point, Bernie Colligan looked at the undersheriff and said, ‘Well, I’ll come and get them then.’”
Colligan, according to DeLoretto, went on to tell those at the meeting that he had contacted Seattle International Raceway and police chiefs in Portland and Spokane. Each had firsthand experience in working security with DeLoretto’s group.
“All he got was that, ‘If anybody can do it, these guys can do it,’ ” DeLoretto said.
With that, order began to be restored. It started outside the park, where 24 CMS guards were dedicated just to vehicle inspection.
“People tried to bring in truckloads of alcohol, fireworks, weapons, large sound systems — you name it,” DeLoretto said. “We told folks, ‘Either you throw it out or you turn around.’ ”
That first year, as CMS began to gain control on its end, Benton County sheriff’s deputies tried to help out by using tear gas to disperse a crowd elsewhere in the campground one night.
“I told them, if you gas them our way, the only thing people are going to hear is ‘Riot in the park,’ DeLoretto said.
“So we took 120 people at the search entry and formed a wall of blue shirts. The crowd just started picking up the gas containers and throwing them back. Some of the deputies had to be evacuated by the river patrol, but the crowd felt they had won so they celebrated and cheered and went back into the campground and settled down.”
In time, the motorcycle gangs “weren’t having a good time and didn’t come back.”
Restoring order wasn’t easy, though.
“It was a real showdown the first few years,” DeLoretto admitted. “Now, it’s comparing apples to coconuts. Where we used to have 180 people for the campground, now it’s maybe 20 for the campground. And now we’re in the rest of the park, managing crowds on both sides of the river, as well as handling the traffic and the parking. We’re in the area of 200 (security guards for the entire venue).”
Building up trust among the law enforcement agencies took time, DeLoretto said.
“Law enforcement makes a presence and lets us handle the situation,” DeLoretto explained. “We work as a team. We can almost read each other. We go in to tone (down) the situation, and (law enforcement) is there standing on the edge. Sometimes the problem escalates when you mix the uniform with the gun and badge.
“In 1988, the sheriff’s department left and the park became a Kennewick park,” DeLoretto continued. “We have had a very good relationship with the Kennewick Police Department — Chief (Bob) Farnkoff, Chief (Marc) Harden and now Chief (Ken) Hohenberg. Kennewick has always been sharp enough, smart enough, to let us do the job and lend us the support. I like to think that we’ve earned that trust.”
Maurer, the former Water Follies czar, said DeLoretto “did a beautiful job, but don’t shortchange the Water Follies. We had the foresight and the knowledge to solve the problem, which we did.”
Mauer added, “I think we’ve generated a lot of business for him. We were a pretty good recommendation for him because I don’t remember him having an awful lot of accounts before.”
Crowd Management Services, a division of Starplex Corp., now has offices in Eugene, Portland, Salem, Spokane, Seattle, Yakima and Billings, Mont. But DeLoretto makes a point of annually personally overseeing the work of CMS at the Water Follies. He returns to the Tri-Cities with pride.
“We kept the event alive, and that was the goal,” he said. “It’s turned into a great family event for the Tri-City area — one that it didn’t have before.”
Walters remains popular guy in pits
Published Saturday, July 24th, 2004
By Mark McKenna, Herald staff writer
John Walters will be as inconspicuous as an unlimited hydroplane crew member can be this weekend in Lampson Pits.
He’ll spend much of his time on the deck of the U-8 Llumar Window Film with his head buried in the boat’s turbine, trying to squeeze as much speed out of the engine as possible.
But inevitably, some hard-core hydro fan will recognize him in his mechanic’s suit and spring the question: Hey, aren’t you the guy who ...?
“Yeah, that’s me,” Walters will answer. “I’m the guy who drove the Pak.”
Walters won only one race aboard the famous Pay ’n Pak turbine, but it was his qualifying run right here in the Tri-Cities that made him sort of an icon in the sport.
On July 27, 1980, Walters, then a 27-year-old unlimited rookie driver from Renton, took the Pak on a mid-morning test run in preparation for its first-ever race.
As the sleek boat took the corner and cruised toward the start clock at about 170 mph, its nose suddenly rose into the air. Walters fought the boat to no avail, and sat helplessly as it took off into a spectacular end-over-end flip. After 21⁄2 times around, the boat slammed into the water and shattered across the river.
“I remember thinking, ‘I can save this,’” Walters said. “But then the boat kept climbing and climbing. It was like someone kicked out a jack from underneath me. Then I saw the blue bridge disappear, then I saw the horizon and then the boat’s shadow on the river. Just like my famous quote — sky water, sky water. It seemed like the it took forever.
“I don’t remember hitting the water or coming out of the boat,” Walters continued. “But I do remember the water was cold, and I knew that I was supposed to raise my hands above my head if I was OK. When I did that, I remember a huge roar from the fans. I was hurting, but that made me feel great.” Walters dislocated his hip and shoulder and also suffered several cuts and bruises, but he considers himself lucky.
“When I saw tape of the flip, I realized it could have been much worse,” Walters said. “I still had all my arms and legs.”
It was soon determined that accident was caused by a faulty horizontal wing, which was damaged the previous day during a trailer fire.
The flip didn’t scare Walters out of the driver’s seat. In fact, he said from his hospital bed that he would resume racing.
Two years later, Walters finally brought the Pak home a winner as he outdueled Budweiser’s Dean Chenoweth in the final heat in Romulus, N.Y.
Walters’ good fortune didn’t last long, however. Later in the 1982 season, he was involved in a collision with the Squire Shop, driven by Tom D’Eath, and George Johnson’s Executone at the Emerald Cup in Seattle that forced him to leave the sport for good.
Walters suffered multiple fractures and head injuries, and doctors told his wife, Arlene, that the outlook was grim.
“Doctors said I would probably lose the sight in my left eye, that they might have to amputate my right arm below the elbow and that I might lose my left leg. It was pretty bleak.”
Walters recovered much better than expected, thanks to 14 months in Harborview Medical Center and 11 surgeries. Still, he lives with constant pain.
“I hurt every day,” Walters said. “I still have problems with my hip and back. But I’m active, and sometimes I even overdo it, usually when I’m running and jumping around with my grandkids.”
After the Seattle crash, Walters continued to stay close to the sport. He worked on Fran Muncey’s Miller American, Bill Wurster’s Mr. Pringles, and he was the crew chief for Bob Fendler and Jerry Rise’s Appian Jeronimo in the mid-1990s before reuniting with Wurster on the U-8 team.
Walters, 51, who now lives in Issaquah, juggles hydroplane racing with his full-time position at Three Five Systems, Inc., an electronic manufacturing company in Redmond.
“I’ve got a great situation. I have a good job and I still get to tinker with hydroplanes,” Walters said. And despite that ominous summer day in 1980, Walters enjoys coming back to the Columbia Cup.
“The Tri-Cities is a wonderful place to race,” he said. “The course is fast and the race committee is so committed to putting on a great race. And the fans really know the sport.”
Which is why Walters expects to hear from several fans who want to talk about THE FLIP.
“It’s amazing the number of people who I run across that say, ‘Geez, I was there on the beach when you flipped the Pak,’” Walters said. “But I don’t mind. There were a lot of people who shared the experience that day, and it’s kind of fun to talk about.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. 2004 - present.