We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
The community-owned MISS MADISON from Madison, Indiana, is the oldest continuously active team in Unlimited hydroplane history. The city has had a boat in competition every year from 1961 to 2009--a total of 49 seasons.
By comparison, the late Bernie Little’s MISS BUDWEISER team started in 1963 and retired after 2004.
In 2009, the OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON (U-1) achieved its second straight National High Point Championship with Steve David driving. This entitles the MISS M to wear the coveted U-1 label again in 2010.
In late 1960, industrialist Sam DuPont donated his NITROGEN hydroplane, an Allison-powered craft, to the City of Madison. The name was changed to MISS MADISON, Graham Heath of Madison became the crew chief of an all-volunteer crew, and Marion Cooper of Louisville, Kentucky, signed on as driver. The original MISS M took a fifth-place in its first race, the 1961 Detroit Memorial Regatta, and, later in the season, won a secondary race at the Seattle Seafair Regatta in Seattle, Washington.
A poverty budget and stock equipment not withstanding, MISS MADISON did herself proud in her second season as 'The Floating Chamber of Commerce' for the City of Madison. Pilot Cooper and crew chief Heath took fourth-place in the Spirit Of Detroit Trophy and third in the hometown Indiana Governor’s Cup.
The first MISS MADISON ended her career where it had begun—-at Detroit. During trials for the 1963 Gold Cup Regatta, MISS M was completely destroyed and pilot Morlan Visel was seriously injured. The former NITROGEN TOO debuted as the second MISS MADISON at the 1963 Madison Regatta and took fifth-place with George 'Buddy' Byers as driver..
MISS MADISON had a big year in 1964 and gave an extremely consistent performance. This allowed her to finish second in National High Points behind Ron Musson and the MISS BARDAHL. Buddy Byers steered MISS M to second-place in the Dixie Cup at Guntersville, Alabama, the Dakota Cup at New Town, North Dakota, and the President's Cup at Washington, D.C.
After five years of trying, the MISS MADISON team achieved its first major victory in 1965. Pilot Byers scored a come-from-behind win over Warner Gardner and MARINER TOO in the Dixie Cup on Guntersville Lake. Another highlight of 1965 was a second-place in the San Diego Cup on Mission Bay.
Jim McCormick of Owensboro, Kentucky, made his Unlimited Class debut as driver of the community-owned entry in 1966, replacing Buddy Byers. The MISS MADISON team had a mediocre year at best. Their highest finishes were a third at the Tampa Suncoast Cup and a fourth at the Madison Regatta.
Following a reduced schedule of races in 1967 with Ed O’Halloran of Detroit, Michigan, as driver, MISS MADISON improved on its 1966 performance but was simply not the contender she had been under the helmsmanship of Buddy Byers. The highest finish in 1967 was a second place in the Suncoast Cup on Tampa Bay.
The 1968 season was a great year for boats like MISS BARDAHL, MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC, MISS U.S., MY GYPSY, and MISS BUDWEISER…but not for MISS MADISON, which had one of her worst seasons ever. In four races entered, the boat was simply not a factor and failed to qualify for a single Final Heat.
In 1969, the now experienced Jim McCormick returned to the MISS MADISON cockpit. But even with the change in drivers, the boat’s performance improved only slightly. A third at the hometown Madison Regatta was the team’s highest finish. Indeed, the glory days of 1964-65 seemed light years away.
A highway accident in Georgia while en route to the first race of the season in Tampa, Florida, delayed MISS MADISON’s 1970 debut. Repaired and rebuilt by original builder Les Staudacher, the boat showed a definite increase in speed. At year’s end, MISS M was running the best of her long career. She was ripe for a victory.
Precious little can be said of the fabulous 1971 campaign that hasn’t already been. MISS MADISON and driver Jim McCormick continued the favorable trend that began in late-1970 with back-to-back wins in the Gold Cup at Madison and the Atomic Cup at the Tri-Cities, Washington. They finished second to MISS BUDWEISER in National High Points.
A new boat (built by Gale Enterprises) and a new driver (Charlie Dunn) headlined the MISS MADISON team in 1972. A championship season was anticipated. But this was not to be. Dunn crashed during qualification for the Gold Cup at Detroit. For the first time since 1961, there was no MISS MADISON host boat at the Madison Regatta.
Following the mid-season resignation of Charlie Dunn, Tom Sheehy became driver of MISS MADISON. The team had, for the first time in its history, a commercial sponsor: Nestea Ice Tea. The boat’s performance in competition was mediocre with the highest finish being a fifth at the President’s Cup in Washington, D.C., with Dunn in the cockpit.
By 1974, it was pretty much conceded that the Ron Jones, Sr.-designed PAY ‘n PAK and MISS BUDWEISER hulls were the state of the art in Unlimited racing. Still, MISS MADISON would not be denied. With rookie driver Milner Irvin—-a last-minute addition to the team--she was the best of the rest and finished a respectable third in National High Points.
The MISS MADISON team, frankly, did not improve on its 1974 performance in 1975. Occupying the cockpit this year was Jerry Bangs, a trial lawyer by profession and a hydroplane racer by avocation. In ten races as the U-6 pilot, Jerry nevertheless qualified for the all-important Final Heat six times and placed fifth in National High Points.
Ron Snyder of Piqua, Ohio, became driver of MISS MADISON in 1976 and placed third in the Indiana Governor’s Cup. This led to his being named Rookie of the Year by the Unlimited Racing Commission. Ron is the only driver to pilot three different MISS MADISON hulls in competition (between 1976 and 1988).
Madisonian Jon Peddie became the first local resident to pilot the community-owned MISS MADISON. A veteran auto racer and body shop owner, Jon piloted MISS M to fourth-place in a field of 20 boats in the 1977 National High Point Standings and was honored as Unlimited Rookie-of-the Year.
MISS MADISON the fourth arrived in 1978. This was the former National Champion PAY ‘n PAK of 1973, which had won so many races with Rolls-Royce Merlin power. Refitted with an Allison engine, the 'new' MISS M finished second in the Gold Cup at Owensboro, Kentucky, with Jon Peddie driving and second in the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup with Milner Irvin.
After a promising 1978, Madisonians were expecting a lot from their boat in 1979. The season, however, proved a disappointment. Mechanical difficulties defied the efforts of pilot Milner Irvin. Following a sixth-place finish at the Gold Cup in Madison, the U-6 team withdrew from competition to better prepare for 1980.
The MISS MADISON team rebounded with a solid 1980 season performance that effectively dimmed the memory of 1979. Milner Irvin steered MISS M to fourth-place in a field of 23 boat in the National High Point Standings. With new sponsor DR. TOYOTA, the U-6 finished third in the UIM World Championship Race on Seattle’s Lake Washington.
One of MISS MADISON’s best seasons was the 1981 campaign. For the third time in its history, the team finished second in National High Points. At the season finale in Acapulco, Mexico, driver Milner Irvin risked his own life when he spun MISS MADISON at high speed to avoid running over the fatally injured Bill Muncey, driver of ATLAS VAN LINES.
With the retirement of Milner Irvin, Tom Sheehy, the 1973 MISS MADISON driver, briefly returned to the U-6 cockpit in 1982 but was replaced at Detroit by 1976 driver Ron Snyder. Ron took runner-up honors at the Indiana Governor’s Cup in Madison and third at the two Washington state races in the Tri-Cities and Seattle.
By 1983, the old-style rear-cockpit/forward-engine hulls were pretty much obsolete. Cabover hulls were all the rage. But MISS MADISON—-the former 1973 PAY ‘n PAK—-still had one win left in her. Ron Snyder drove her to an upset victory over ATLAS VAN LINES and MISS BUDWEISER in the Missouri Governor’s Cup at Lake-of-the Ozarks.
The MISS MADISON team picked up an important new sponsor in 1984, American Speedy Printing Centers. Unlike Rich Plan Food Service and Frank Kenny Toyota/Volvo in 1983, this one was for the entire season. Ron Snyder piloted the U-6 to second-place at Syracuse and Houston and third-place at Miami.
Ron Snyder took a year off from driving for the MISS MADISON team in 1985. He was replaced by Andy Coker, a veteran 5-Litre Class Inboard competitor. As the 12th MISS MADISON driver, Coker won Unlimited Rookie-of-the-Year honors and finished second in the races at Miami and Syracuse.
The 1986 campaign proved a mixed blessing for the MISS MADISON, sponsored this year by Holset Engineering, which provided turbochargers for the Allison engines. The U-6 finished fourth in National High Points, but driver Ron Snyder was injured at the race in Evansville, Indiana. Jerry Hopp and Andy Coker filled in while Ron recuperated.
In her last full season of competition as the fourth MISS MADISON, the 1978 MISS M took third in 1987 National High Points with Ron Snyder driving. This included a third-place in the Indiana Governor’s Cup. At the last race of the season in Las Vegas, the name was changed to HOLSET MRS. MADISON in anticipation of a new boat in 1988.
Three different boats raced as HOLSET MISS MADISON (U-6) in 1988. The new Ron Jones, Sr.-designed hull wasn’t ready to start the season. So the 1978 hull was recalled from mothballs. The new hull debuted at the Tri-Cities but flipped at San Diego. The third boat was a rental, borrowed from the Ed Cooper team, to fulfill a sponsorship agreement.
Mike Hanson, who had replaced Ron Snyder for one race as MISS MADISON driver in 1988, became the full-time pilot of MISS M in 1989. Hanson would retain that position for ten years. He guided the U-6 to third-place in 1989 National High Points and finished second behind MISS CIRCUS CIRCUS pilot Chip Hanauer in Driver Points.
The 1990 season would be the last for the MISS MADISON team with Allison power. Turbine engines were clearly the future of the sport. In its 30th and final year as a 'piston-packer', The U-6 placed sixth in National High Points and finished second in the races at the Tri-Cities and Kansas City.
Re-powered with a Lycoming jet turbine engine, MISS MADISON became more competitive and was capable of heats in the 130 mile an hour—-rather than the 120 mile an hour—-speed range. Sponsored by Valvoline Motor Oil, the U-6 placed fifth in National High Points and finished second in the Indiana Governor’s Cup.
MISS MADISON—-like an oft-married woman—-carried yet another name into competition in 1992: KELLOGG’S TONY THE TIGER. This was a continuation of a sponsorship agreement that had its origin at a couple of West Coast races in 1991. Mike Hanson guided the breakfast cereal team to fourth-place in National High Points.
The Kellogg’s-sponsored U-6 team won its first race in ten years in 1993—-the Star Mart Cup at San Diego with Mike Hanson driving. Moreover, the MISS MADISON scored more National High Points that year than any other boat but was officially second to the MISS BUDWEISER team, which used two different hulls during the season.
Despite the success of 1993, the MISS MADISON found itself without a sponsor at the outset of 1994 and had to miss the first few races of the season. Not wishing to see the demise of a 33-year competitive tradition, POWERBALL Lottery stepped up to the plate and sponsored the U-6 for the Madison Regatta, where it placed fifth.
MISS MADISON had two major sponsors in 1995: JASPER ENGINES & TRANSMISSIONS in the East and DeWALT TOOLS in the West. The boat blew over on the wind-swept Detroit River and suffered considerable damage. Driver Mike Hanson escaped serious injury. But, in subsequent races, MISS M wasn’t quite the same and failed to finish in the top-three.
With DeWALT TOOLS signing up for a full-season sponsorship in 1996, the MISS MADISON team improved considerably in comparison to 1995. With Mike Hanson driving, they finished fourth in National High Points and finished in the top-three at four events. This included a second-place at Kelowna, British Columbia.
MISS MADISON’s perennial rival MISS BUDWEISER was really on a roll in 1997. Indeed, Bernie Little’s 'Beer Wagon' garnered most of the glory as it quite often did in those days. MISS M nevertheless hung in there and made her presence felt. Mike Hanson qualified her for—-and finished--the Final Heat at all nine of the races entered.
Bad financial times returned for the MISS MADISON in 1998. Following the departure of DeWALT TOOLS as team sponsor, operating funds were lacking. The team nevertheless entered the 1998 Madison Regatta. Mike Hanson, in his final appearance as MISS MADISON driver, steered the craft to an overall third-place in the Indiana Governor’s Cup.
Sponsorship was still lacking for the MISS MADISON in 1999, but the team nevertheless made it to a few more races than in 1998. Hanover, Indiana resident Todd Yarling replaced Mike Hanson as U-6 pilot. Todd flipped the boat in a race at Barrie, Ontario, but rebounded to take third-place at Norfolk, Virginia.
Charley Wiggins, a promising rookie, started the 2000 season as MISS MADISON driver but retired after a couple of injury accidents at Evansville and Detroit. Nate Brown finished the season. Under the sponsorship of OH BOY! OBERTO, Brown placed third, fourth, and third at the Tri-Cities, Seattle, and San Diego races.
The big news of 2001 was the hiring by Bob Hughes, President of Miss Madison, Inc., of Steve David as driver for the OH BOY! OBERTO-sponsored U-6. Steve would go on to become the most victorious MISS MADISON driver of them all. David’s first win for the team was a triumph in the 2001 Indiana Governor’s Cup.
The 1988 vintage MISS MADISON, now in its fifteenth season, was starting to show its age in 2002. In its second full season with the OH BOY! OBERTO sponsorship, the U-6 finished sixth in National High Points with Steve David driving. Highlights included a third in the Columbia Cup and a fourth in the Gold Cup.
OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON experienced mechanical difficulties throughout 2003. They did achieve a moral victory at Seattle. The MISS BUDWEISER team came to MISS M’s rescue when she suffered hull damage in a test run. Using the BUDWEISER shop, the OBERTO crew worked feverishly to effect repairs and ended up taking third-place in the Seattle race.
Mike Hanson made a triumphant return to the MISS MADISON team in 2004. Now retired as a driver, Mike made the transition to crew chief with ease. Nicknamed 'The Boat Doctor', Hanson breathed new life into the aging U-6, which finished third in National High Points and took second-place at both the Gold Cup and the Columbia Cup.
Steve David scored his second victory as driver of the OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON with a first-place at 'Thunder On The Ohio' in Evansville, Indiana. At season’s end, MISS M was second in 2005 National High Points and David was first in Driver Points. This was the first national title in the 45-year history of the U-6 team.
OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON suffered hull damage at the first two races of the season at Evansville and Madison but rebounded to take second-place at Valleyfield and Seattle and third-place at Detroit, the Tri-Cities, and San Diego. And Steve David was once again National High Point Driver. A new boat was now in the planning stages for 2007.
The first new MISS MADISON since 1988 made its debut in 2007, sponsored by OH BOY! OBERTO and co-designed by Dale VanWieringen, Ron Jones, Jr., and Mike Hanson. An instant contender, the boat finished second in National High Points. Driver Steve David scored back-to-back victories in the Chevrolet Cup at Seattle and the Bill Muncey Cup at San Diego.
After 48 years, it finally happened! MISS MADISON was National High Point Champion in the Unlimited Class! It was also a first title for the sponsor, OH BOY! OBERTO. Driver Steve David started in 21 heats of competition, finished first in 10 of them, was second eight times, third once, fourth twice, and won the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup.
MISS MADISON and sponsor OH BOY! OBERTO made it two National High Point Championships in a row in 2009. The team also won a second straight Tri-Cities Columbia Cup. Driver Steve David flipped the boat in a preliminary heat at the season-concluding Oryx Cup in Doha,Qatar, but rebounded to finish second in the finale and claim the overall season title.
Over the years, other community-owned or sponsored boats have come and gone in the water sport of kings. But none of those ever won a National Championship.
Only the MISS MADISON team has demonstrated staying power. Their boats have aided many regattas by their participation over the past 49 years and helped to fill out many fields when racing needed boats in the pits. They are a credit to the sport and to the City of Madison.
Representative owner Bob Hughes, sponsor Larry Oberto, team manager Charlie Grooms, crew chief Mike Hanson, driver Steve David, and all of the other MISS MADISON team members—-past and present--deserve praise for a job well done.