We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
Between 1963 and 2002, Bernie Little's boats participated in 354 Unlimited hydroplane races. His team finished in the top-3 a total of 230 times with a record 134 victories, including 14 APBA Gold Cups and 22 World High Points Championships. All were with the same corporate sponsor, Anheuser-Busch.
The world famous four-seater "Beer Wagon" was the boat that introduced Bernie Little and Anheuser-Busch to Unlimited racing. It wasn't the fastest boat on the circuit, but the four-seater was an instant and continuing media hit. Bob Schroeder became the first driver in competition of a Little-owned craft.
The former 1959 Gold Cup champion MAVERICK carried the MISS BUDWEISER colors in 1964. With Chuck Hickling at the wheel, she finished second at Lake Tahoe and knocked on the door of success several times during the year, before ripping off a sponson at the San Diego Cup on Mission Bay.
Returning to the four-seater MISS BUDWEISER for 1965, Bernie Little's team continued to make its presence felt, while searching for answers. In the mean time, Chuck Hickling steered the Allison-powered craft to a fourth-place in a 13-boat field at Ogden, Utah, in addition to winning a secondary race at Detroit.
The first MISS BUDWEISER to win a major race was actually a last-minute addition to the team. Rushed into service in mid-season to replace a previous MISS BUD that had been destroyed at Washington, D.C., the replacement won the Tri-Cities (Washington) Atomic Cup and the San Diego Cup with Bill Brow at the wheel.
Following the death of Bill Brow at the Tampa Suncoast Cup, Mike Thomas made his Unlimited debut with the MISS BUDWEISER. He won the 1967 British Columbia Cup at Kelowna and appeared destined for a long and successful Thunderboat career. Thomas unfortunately was killed in a construction accident in the fall of that year.
MISS BUDWEISER, the 1968 version, proved to be the team's first superstar. Designed by Ed Karelsen, it raced for five years. Much of 1968 was spent ironing out the "bugs" of newness. With Bill Sterett driving, MISS BUD won the Arizona Governor's Cup at Lake Pleasant on the last day of the season.
Bernie Little hit Big Casino in 1969 and ushered in the Anheuser-Busch team's first golden age of Unlimited Class superiority. Driver Bill Sterett won four out of seven races and claimed MISS BUDWEISER's long-awaited first Gold Cup and World High Points Championship, after seven years of trying. A new dynasty had begun.
Following the retirement of Bill Sterett, Dean Chenoweth began his long and brilliant association with the MISS BUDWEISER, which was to last intermittently for twelve years. In his first season, Chenoweth matched his predecessor's performance of the year before, winning the High Points Championship and four races, which included the Gold Cup at San Diego.
MISS BUDWEISER and Dean Chenoweth won the 1971 season-opener at Miami Marine Stadium and later the Horace E. Dodge Cup on the Detroit River. Other boats grabbed other races, but Chenoweth and MISS BUD hung tough and battled down to the wire to claim a third straight High Points title.
By 1972, the shadows were lengthening on the hull that had been built in 1968. The Ed Karelsen-designed MISS BUDWEISER still managed to finish third in High Points in 1972 with Terry Sterett driving. But it was time to start thinking in terms of a newer, more modern craft to represent the corporate sponsor.
For 1973, Bernie Little bought a proven winner. This was the PRIDE OF PAY 'n PAK, the first boat to post a lap speed of 126 MPH. The "new" MISS BUDWEISER, designed by Ron Jones, won four races with Dean Chenoweth driving and became the first to average better than 122 MPH in a heat of competition.
Following the retirement (for the time being) of Dean Chenoweth, the MISS BUDWEISER needed a new leading man. Bernie Little found him in Howie Benns, one of the country's top Limited drivers. Benns justified Little's confidence, winning the Miami season-opener. He also took first-place at Detroit and Phoenix in 1974.
The 1975 campaign is remembered as being one of the most competitive in history. The Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered MISS BUDWEISER battled the likes of PAY 'n PAK, WEISFIELD'S, MISS U.S., and LINCOLN THRIFT. MISS BUD with Mickey Remund driving won the President's Cup in Washington, D.C., and the Desert Thunderboat Regatta in Phoenix.
For 1976, Bernie Little purchased a never-raced hull from George Walther. This latest MISS BUDWEISER bore a striking resemblance to her immediate predecessor and likewise benefited from the design talents of Ron Jones. The craft scored a decisive victory in the Seattle Seafair Regatta with Mickey Remund at the wheel.
In 1977, the Bernie Little team won its fourth World High Points Championship, the first since 1971. Along the way, MISS BUDWEISER accounted for victories at Madison (Indiana), Dayton (Ohio), and San Diego. Driver Mickey Remund achieved a 100% reliability record during the season: 28 heats started and 28 heats finished.
With Ron Snyder as driver, MISS BUDWEISER took second-place in High Points and won the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup in 1978. But a new challenge was on the horizon. That challenge was Bill Muncey's "Blue Blaster" ATLAS VAN LINES, which was re-writing the record book from coast to coast and winning most of the races.
The first of three MISS BUDWEISER hulls to use Rolls-Royce Griffon power debuted in 1979. The Griffon was reputed to have 1000 more horsepower than the Merlin. With Dean Chenoweth back behind the wheel, the new boat was competitive by the end of the season, after some fine-tuning by designer Ron Jones.
Lessons learned on the 1979 hull were incorporated into its 1980 successor, which was to become the most victorious MISS BUDWEISER of them all up until that time. Dean Chenoweth steered the craft to first-place in its first 20 heats of competition and raised the world qualification lap record to 138.249 at the Tri-Cities.
MISS BUDWEISER (Griffon-2) was nothing short of sensational in 1981. Driver Dean Chenoweth won six out of eight races, including the Gold Cup in Seattle and the World Cup in Acapulco, Mexico. MISS BUDWEISER also raised the qualification lap record for the 2.5-mile distance to 140.187 on Lake Washington.
Having found the combination in 1980-81, everyone expected the upward favorable trend to continue into 1982. And for a time, it did. MISS BUDWEISER won at Miami and was leading in High Points at the season's mid-point. Then, tragedy struck. Dean Chenoweth was lost in a "blow-over" accident during qualification at the Tri-Cities.
New MISS BUDWEISER pilot Jim Kropfeld picked up where Dean Chenoweth, his predecessor, had left off. During a stellar 1983 campaign, the Bernie Little team established 15 speed records and won more races--four of them--than any other team. MISS BUDWEISER also won more heat events (17) than any other boat.
The aging but agile MISS BUDWEISER (Griffon-2) won six out of ten races in 1984 at Miami, Evansville, Detroit, Seattle, San Diego, and Lake-of-the-Ozarks (Missouri) with Jim Kropfeld at the wheel. The "tired old BUD" did itself proud, bucking three turbine teams with its trusty Rolls-Royce Griffon.
A new Griffon-powered MISS BUDWEISER appeared in 1985. She wasn't as successful as her immediate predecessor but did manage to win two races (at Syracuse and San Diego) during her maiden year. Equipped with an enclosed cockpit, the "Bubble-BUD" was the first to seat the driver (Jim Kropfeld) "indoors."
In 1986, the MISS BUDWEISER team fielded its first Lycoming turbine-powered entry, which Jim Kropfeld drove to three race victories (at Miami, Evansville, and Las Vegas) and the World High Points Championship. MISS BUDWEISER (Turbine-1) was the first to use an F-16 aircraft safety canopy, which is now mandatory on all Unlimited hydroplanes.
The new MISS BUDWEISER (Turbine-2) of 1987 was simply overwhelming in much the same manner as her predecessor of 1980-81 had been. Jim Kropfeld won five of seven races with her, finished first in 14 out of 20 heats entered, and raised the world qualification lap record to 155.172 MPH.
The 1988 season started badly. Jim Kropfeld suffered a neck injury at Miami and had to be replaced by Tom D'Eath. The MISS BUDWEISER crew had to deal with major equipment damage at Miami, Evansville, and the Tri-Cities. But Bernie Little's team nevertheless rebounded to win four races and a tenth World High Points Championship.
Bernie Little set two priorities for the 1989 MISS BUDWEISER team: to win an unprecedented fourth straight High Points Championship and to break up Chip Hanauer's 7-year monopoly of the APBA Gold Cup. He succeeded on both counts. MISS BUDWEISER triumphed at Houston, Madison, and Syracuse, and won the Gold Cup at San Diego.
MISS BUDWEISER with Tom D'Eath and MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS with Chip Hanauer battled the entire 1990 season and provided excellent racing for the fans. But this time, it was Hanauer who emerged as World Champion with 13,652 points to D'Eath's 13,152. MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS claimed six race victories to MISS BUDWEISER's five.
MISS BUDWEISER bounced back as World Champion in 1991, after having finished runner-up the year before. Bernie Little's team scored four wins in eight races to outscore Mark Tate and WINSTON EAGLE, 4048 points to 3768. Scott Pierce drove MISS BUDWEISER for most of the season after Tom D'Eath suffered injuries in a NASCAR race.
Bernie Little caught the racing world by surprise when he hired perennial rival Chip Hanauer to pilot MISS BUDWEISER in 1992. "Champion Chip" won seven races and turned a test lap at San Diego of 170.925. This marked the first time that a race boat had ever exceeded the 170 mile an hour barrier.
For the second year in a row, the combination of Chip Hanauer and MISS BUDWEISER ruled the Unlimited waters. They won another seven races, including the Gold Cup at Detroit. In capturing the Texaco Cup at Seattle, MISS BUDWEISER (Turbine-2), built in 1987, became the winningest turbine hull with 24 victories.
The MISS BUDWEISER team won four races and a fifteenth World Championship in 1994. But for driver Chip Hanauer, the season was almost over when it had only just begun, on account of a back injury suffered at Detroit. MISS MADISON pilot Mike Hanson occupied the MISS BUDWEISER cockpit for two races while Hanauer convalesced.
In 1995, Bernie Little became the first owner to win five straight World Championships, based upon five wins in ten races. Along the way, Little also pushed through the 100-victory barrier. The championship didn't come easily. Indeed, MISS BUDWEISER didn't clinch the title until the final heat of the final race of the season.
MISS BUDWEISER's World Championship win streak ended in 1996, when Dave Villwock claimed the title with PICO AMERICAN DREAM. Chip Hanauer left the MISS BUDWEISER team after barrel-rolling the boat at Detroit. MISS BUD relief driver Mark Evans won the last two races of the season at San Diego and Honolulu.
New MISS BUDWEISER driver/team manager Dave Villwock was really on a roll in 1997 with victories in the first four races. "Super-Dave" was sidelined, however, by an injury accident at the Tri-Cities with MISS BUDWEISER (Turbine-5). Relief pilot Mark Weber finished the season and won the Las Vegas race for the team.
MISS BUDWEISER could hardly do wrong in 1998. Driver Dave Villwock, on the rebound from a serious injury, picked up where he had left off the year before. He won an unprecedented eight races and finished first in 36 out of 41 heats entered. In the High Points contest, no one else was even close.
The 1999 season marked the return of former MISS BUDWEISER pilot Chip Hanauer as driver of rival MISS PICO. After five races, it was PICO with three wins to BUDWEISER's two. MISS BUD pilot Dave Villwock then won decisively at Norfolk, Virginia, and went on to capture the next five races in a row.
MISS BUDWEISER driver Dave Villwock would not be denied in 2000. He claimed the team's 20th World High Points Championship on the strength of six victories in seven races, including the Gold Cup. MISS BUD's only defeat occurred at the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup when the boat suffered hull damage and had to be withdrawn.
Competition was the keyword in 2001. Five different teams emerged as winners in the six scheduled races. Not since 1989 had that many boats achieved victory during the same season. MISS BUDWEISER nevertheless repeated as World Champion. Driver Dave Villwock won at Evansville, Indiana, and finished first in 15 out of 25 heats started.
Bernie Little, nearing the end of his brilliant career, went out a winner. The Dave Villwock-chauffeured MISS BUDWEISER won three out of six races, including the Gold Cup. And on the last day of the season, Little clinched his 22nd High Points title to claim the World Championship trophy that is now named after him.