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A Brief History of the World Championship Race for Unlimited Hydroplanes

By Fred Farley – Unlimited Hydroplane Historian

The World Championship Race concept can be traced back to 1938. It was originally proposed by Count Theo Rossi, who was the head of the Italian vermouth industry and the owner/driver of ALAGI.

This was for the European 12-Litre Class, which was the equivalent of the American Power Boat Association’s Gold Cup Class (732 cubic inches). The Gold Cup Class evolved into the Unlimited Class after World War II.

Rossi suggested a multi-race format. The World Champion would be determined on the basis of total points accumulated in four races. The first two would be run in Paris (France) and Venice (Italy). In America, the Gold Cup in Detroit and the President’s Cup in Washington, D.C., would constitute the third and fourth in the series.

As things turned out, Rossi’s boat was the only one to compete on both sides of the Atlantic. ALAGI, powered by an Isotta-Fraschini aircraft engine, won three of the four races and claimed the World Championship more or less by default.
Undaunted, Rossi proposed the same format for 1939–only with three races instead of four: Venice, Detroit, and Washington, D.C.

ALAGI won the Venice race but then was unable to compete in America. Due to the war crisis that was about to engulf Europe, Rossi couldn’t obtain a visa to get out of Italy.

MY SIN, owned and driven by Guy Simmons, scored the most points at Detroit and Washington and was crowned World Champion for 1939.

When the World Championship was revived in the 1960s, the format would be for one race only, rather than three or four.

The Seattle Seafair committee offered for competition the “World’s Championship Seafair Trophy,” which was won by Ron Musson in the MISS BARDAHL. But the Seattle committee never bothered to request a sanction from the Union of International Motorboating. Whether or not the 1961 race should be counted as a legitimate “World Championship” event is a matter for individual interpretation.

A UIM sanction was obtained in 1965 for the race on Lake Tahoe at Stateline, Nevada. Here, too, the winner was Ron Musson in the MISS BARDAHL.

Musson had to contend with one of the most competitive fields in racing history at the 1965 World Championship event, which included Chuck Thompson in TAHOE MISS, Bill Brow in MISS EXIDE, Buddy Byers in MISS MADISON, Roy Duby in MISS U.S. 5, and Rex Mancheser in NOTRE DAME.

UIM-sanctioned races for Unlimited hydroplanes were run at Detroit in 1967-69, at Seattle in 1968-73-80, at Madison (Indiana) in 1972 and 2004, at the Tri-Cities (Washington) in 1974, at Acapulco in 1981, at Houston in 1982-83-84, and at San Diego in 2006.

One of the most competitive of all World Championship Races was the 1973 classic on Seattle’s Lake Washington. For the first time, two boats–the MISS BUDWEISER with Dean Chenoweth and the eventual winner PAY ‘n PAK with Mickey Remund–averaged over 120 miles per hour in a heat of competition–and in a driving rain! This prompted one sports writer to label the BUD and the PAK as “the champion fogcutters of the world.”

It was at the World Championship Race in Acapulco on Laguna de Coyucca where Bill Muncey lost his life. The ATLAS VAN LINES “Blue Blaster” blew over and crashed while leading in the Final Heat. When that occurred, MISS MADISON driver Milner Irvin risked his own life by spinning out at high speed to avoid running over the fatally injured Muncey.

Bill was the winningest Unlimited driver of his day and had previously won four World titles: in 1968 and 1969 with MISS U.S. and in 1972 and 1980 with ATLAS VAN LINES.

The MISS BUDWEISER team, owned by Bernie and Joe Little and sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, dominated the Unlimited scene for nearly four decades. They were always “in the hunt” at the World Championship races but surprisingly won only two of them. These were in 1981 with Dean Chenoweth as driver and in 2004 with Dave Villwock.

The American automotive industry figured prominently in two of the World Championship events.

Bill Sterett, Sr., piloted MISS CHRYSLER CREW to victory in the 1967 race at Detroit. Sterett’s boat was powered by a pair of 426 cubic inch supercharged Chrysler hemispherical engines. MISS CHRYSLER CREW is the only winner of an Unlimited hydroplane race to use automotive power.

Milner Irvin emerged as the winner of the 1983 race at Houston with Jerry Schoenith’s Allison-powered MISS RENAULT. The sponsor, AMC Renault, was one of the most prominent firms ever involved with Unlimited racing.

With a nod to history, that 1983 Houston race included an Italian entry in the person of Renato Molinari, one of the world’s top Outboard drivers. Molinari showed up with a smaller than usual (22 feet) Outboard Tunnel Hull, sponsored by a local restaurant (LOUIE’S ON THE LAKE). Although vastly under-powered, Molinari’s craft hung in there and ended up with an overall third-place in the winner-take-all Final Heat.

All of the World Championship Race winners between 1938 and 1983 used piston power of one sort or another. The first champion with a non-internal combustion engine was MISS TOSTI ASTI at Houston in 1984, which used a Lycoming jet turbine power plant. With Steve Reynolds driving, MISS TOSTI ASTI outran Ron Snyder in AMERICAN SPEEDY PRINTING/MISS MADISON and Mickey Remund in THE SQUIRE SHOP in the Final Heat.

All seven of the subsequent World Champions have likewise depended on turbine power, starting with MISS BUDWEISER in 2004.

For the first time since before World War II, the World Championship Race series became a truly international endeavor in 2009. The Unlimiteds plied their spectacular trade in a location far-removed from their traditional Western Hemisphere setting. Ten boats journeyed to the Middle East to compete for the Oryx Cup/UIM World Championship in Doha, Qatar.

The Unlimiteds first appearance on the world stage could not have been more impressive. The competition was superb and unforgettable. The outcome was in doubt right down to the last lap of the race.

Dave Villwock and MISS E-LAM PLUS had a commanding lead over J. Michael Kelly in GRAHAM TRUCKING and Steve David in OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON in 2009. Then, on the final lap, everything changed. The E-LAM’s turbine engine succumbed to salt water and slowed, allowing Kelly to pass him for the lead and the win for the GRAHAM TRUCKING sponsorship. David also passed Villwock to take second in the Oryx Cup.

The 2010 renewal in Doha likewise packed plenty of drama.

Villwock and SPIRIT OF QATAR (formerly MISS E-LAM PLUS) came from behind to win the second annual Oryx Cup/UIM World Championship and–in so doing–tied legendary driver Bill Muncey’s all-time career victory total of 62 wins in the Unlimited Class.

Villwock faced an uphill struggle in Doha after a spinout in the weekend’s first heat. The SPIRIT OF QATAR crew had to replace the turbine engine, a gear box, the rear wings, and supports that were damaged in the incident.

Steve David likewise had a difficult weekend. After winning three preliminary heats with OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON, he suffered a steering problem in the finale and had to slow the OBERTO down and settle for third overall in order to maintain control of the boat.

Villwock started the Final Heat with an outside lane position. It took all of Dave’s driving skills to chase down defending Oryx Cup champion J. Michael Kelly and GRAHAM TRUCKING. Villwock caught up with Kelly on lap-three of the five-lap heat and was never headed from then on.

The 2011 Oryx Cup provided plenty of competitive action for the fans but will likely be remembered more for its unexpected outcome.

Steve David and OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON crossed the finish line first ahead of Scott Liddycoat in VALKEN.COM, Dave Villwock in SPIRIT OF QATAR, J. Michael Kelly in DEGREE MEN, Jeff Bernard in GRAHAM TRUCKING, Greg Hopp in LELAND UNLIMITED, and Jimmy Shane in FORMULABOATS.COM in that order.

Then it was determined that David, Villwock, and Kelly had each jumped the starting gun and had a minute added to their time. This elevated Liddycoat, Bernard, Hopp, and Shane to first, second, third, and fourth positions respectively in the corrected order of finish.

The 2012 renewal saw Jimmy Shane and GRAHAM TRUCKING secure lane-one before the start of the Final Heat with David and OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON in lane-two. Shane led out of the first turn and throughout with David in second, ahead of third-place Jon Zimmerman and the JONES RACING entry. Shane averaged 136.703 to David’s 134.682 and Zimmerman’s 123.944.

This marked the third Oryx Cup win for owner Ted Porter, his first with driver Shane. Porter’s previous victories occurred in 2009 with J. Michael Kelly and in 2011 with Scott Liddycoat. In the past, Porter had fielded a two-boat–and sometimes a three-boat–team but in 2012 chose to concentrate on a single entry.
The 2012 Doha race actually occurred in January 2013 and officially concluded the 2012 racing season. A subsequent race in February 2013 marked the official beginning of the 2013 racing year.

The 2013 Oryx Cup witnessed the first back-to-back winning performance by a driver in the five-year history of the Doha series. That distinction was achieved by GRAHAM TRUCKING pilot Jimmy Shane who was was physically second in the Final Heat behind Steve David and OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON. The OBERTO entry, however, was assessed a penalty lap for reportedly making a premature move on GRAHAM TRUCKING during the warm-up lap, prior to the start. This advanced Shane to an official first-place and victory.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” exulted Shane who, 18 months previously, did not have a full-time H1 Unlimited ride. “To win here in Qatar two times in less than two months is a superb start to the year for me.”

The Oryx Cup/UIM World Championship series is organized by the Qatar Marine Sports Federation (QMSF), which operates under the presidency of His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani, in conjunction with H1. Subsequent to the 2013 race, a five-year deal with Sheikh Hassan was announced which would continue the Oryx Cup series in Doha until 2018. The race will be run in November of each year, according to the agreement.

World Championship Race Winners (1938 - 2013)

Year / Team / Driver / Location
1938 – ALAGI/Theo Rossi – Paris; Venice; Detroit; Washington, D.C.
1939 – MY SIN/Guy Simmons – Venice; Detroit; Washington, D.C.
1961 – MISS BARDAHL/Ron Musson – Seattle, WA
1965 – MISS BARDAHL/Ron Musson – Stateline, NV
1967 – MISS CHRYSLER CREW/Bill Sterett, Sr. – Detroit, MI
1968 – MISS U.S./Bill Muncey – Seattle, WA
1969 – MISS U.S./Bill Muncey – Detroit, MI
1972 – ATLAS VAN LINES/Bill Muncey – Madison, IN
1973 – PAY ‘n PAK/Mickey Remund – Seattle, WA
1974 – PAY ‘n PAK/George Henley – Tri-Cities, WA
1980 – ATLAS VAN LINES/Bill Muncey – Seattle, WA
1981 – MISS BUDWEISER/Dean Chenoweth – Acapulco (Mexico)
1982 – ATLAS VAN LINES/Chip Hanauer – Houston, TX
1983 – MISS RENAULT/Milner Irvin – Houston, TX
1984 – MISS TOSTI ASTI/Steve Reynolds – Houston, TX
2004 – MISS BUDWEISER/Dave Villwock – Madison, IN
2006 – MISS BEACON PLUMBING/Jean Theoret – San Diego, CA
2009 – GRAHAM TRUCKING/J. Michael Kelly – Doha (Qatar)
2010 – SPIRIT OF QATAR/Dave Villwock – Doha (Qatar)
2011 – VALKEN.COM/Scott Liddycoat – Doha (Qatar)
2012 – GRAHAM TRUCKING/Jimmy Shane – Doha (Qatar)
2013 – GRAHAM TRUCKING/Jimmy Shane – Doha (Qatar)

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