We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - Unlimited Hydroplane Historian
The number U-21 has been utilized only sparingly in Unlimited racing and has never been associated with a race winner, according to American Boat Racing Association Unlimited Historian Fred Farley. Lucky U-21 Owner Jeffrey Michael Johnson celebrates his birthday on May 21, and is betting with Freedom Racing Team's motivation, the future of the hull number is brighter than its past.
The U-21 designation first appeared in 1949 on Henry J. Kaiser's ALUMINUM FIRST. Henry J, unfortunately, knew just enough about hydroplane design to be dangerous. The boat was a fiasco and quickly faded into obscurity.
Two hydroplanes named $ BILL used U-21 between 1959 and 1967. The first $ BILL was a terrible riding boat and was retired after 1961. The second $ BILL was a considerable improvement but was only sporadically competitive.
Its best showing was a second-place in the 1966 British Columbia Cup at Kelowna with Bill Muncey driving. (Muncey was on loan from the temporarily inactive MISS U.S. racing team at the time.) The second $ BILL also took second-place in the 1966 San Diego Cup with Chuck Hickling driving.
In 1972, a home-built boat named VALU-MART showed up with the U-21 number. Bill Wurster drove it to first-place in the Consolation Heat at Seattle in 1972. But that was its only moment of glory. For the rest of its career, it was strictly an "also-ran."
The MISS MACHINE ROCK BAND used U-21 between 1981 and 1984. It was an experimental boat that failed to finish even a single heat of competition.
The latest to carry the U-21 numeral was the unsuccessful ELIMINATOR of 1987-88. It "eliminated" itself on account of being too big and heavy to be powered by a single-automotive engine. It had trouble qualifying and never started in a heat of competition.
Of all the boats to use U-21, only the second $ BILL can be said to have been truly competitive--if only sporadically. I was in Kelowna when Muncey drove it. He was slowed down by mechanical difficulties in Heat One but then dominated Heats Two and Three. The boat had potential. But the owner (Bill Schuyler) liked to "tinker" and couldn't leave well enough alone. The boat didn't really "come alive" until 1968 when it won three races as Dave Heerensperger's MISS EAGLE ELECTRIC (U-25). This is the boat that Warner Gardner was killed in driving at Detroit in 1968.