We're racing through history!
By Fred Farley - H1 Unlimited Historian
In a few days and for the second year in a row, the H1 Unlimited hydroplanes will be be competing in the Oryx Cup/UIM World Championship Race in Doha, Qatar.
Sanctioned by the Union of International Motorboating, the 2009 Qatar race marked the first time in their history that the Unlimiteds had ventured beyond the environs of the United States, Canada, or Mexico. Driver J. Michael Kelly and his GRAHAM TRUCKING entry emerged victorious in 2009 with fast pursuit from Steve David in OH BOY! OBERTO/MISS MADISON and Dave Villwock in MISS E-LAM PLUS.
H1 Unlimited Chairman Sam Cole was instrumental in bringing Unlimited hydroplane racing to the Middle East in 2009. He and Vice-Chairman Ken Muscatel made several visits to Doha for the purpose of negotiating the current series with the government of Qatar. Cole had likewise played a major role in making the 1981 UIM World Championship event in Acapulco, Mexico, a reality.
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. The Lake Tahoe Regatta was tremendously successful, largely due to the promotional efforts of the late Phil Cole, father of current H1 Unlimited Chairman Sam Cole.
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 Lagunna 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.
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.
For pure boat racing, it would be difficult to top the 2009 classic at Doha, Qatar. The competition was superb and unforgettable. The outcome was in doubt right down to the last few seconds of the race.
The turbine engine in MISS E-LAM PLUS succumbed to salt water on the last lap of the Final Heat and slowed, allowing GRAHAM TRUCKING to take the lead and the victory. OH BOY! OBERTO also passed MISS E-LAM PLUS to take second in the Oryx Cup and secure the 2009 H1 Unlimited Series High Point Championship for team OBERTO.
The Unlimiteds first appearance on the world stage could not have been more impressive. The 2009 Doha race is the perfect calling card for a sport that is certain to expand beyond its North American roots in the years ahead.
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP RACE WINNERS
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)