Saturday, June 11, 2011

Welcome back Miss Madison V

One of the more interesting developments from this offseason was the news that Webster Racing has purchased the 1988 hull from Miss Madison, Inc., officially known as 1988-06 but also known as Miss Madison V.  The boat has done display work at boat shows around the Midwest the past four years.  When it takes the water this season it will be one of the oldest boats to ever compete in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.  It will also be the first time that a team will race with a boat previously owned by the City of Madison. 
Personally I am looking forward not only to seeing the return of this hull but also to seeing the current and former Miss Madison hulls on the water at the same time.  The 1988 Miss Madison hull has always been one of my favorite hydroplanes.  The boat was new in the late 80’s, the time I was beginning to be old enough to follow the hydroplanes with interest.  I remember as a boy there would be donation jars in restaurants and banks around Madison for people in the community to donate to the effort. 
The nineteen years it served as the primary Miss Madison hull saw many things come and go around hydroplane racing.  In 1988 the teams were basically split between piston and turbine power.  By 2006 all but one team was using turbine powered engines and had been that way for over a decade.  Flag Starts, RJ Reynolds sponsorship of hydroplanes, Hydro-Prop, the Hawaii race, and Mark Tate’s Unlimited Driving career all started and ended during the time that it was racing.  During its life the 1988 Miss Madison hull has raced under twelve different names, had seven different drivers, won three races, finished as runner-up in the National High Points standings three times, and gave the people of Madison a number of great memories.

The Miss Madison V: A year by year chronology
The fifth Miss Madison hull was designed and built by master boat builder Ron Jones and was only the second hull in the history of the Miss Madison to be a brand new boat upon purchase.  According to the 1989 Madison Regatta program the intention of the boat was to “prove that piston engines can be competitive with turbines that have recently dominated the sport.”  The 1988-06, however, had a shaky beginning in its first season as the primary hull for Miss Madison, Inc.  First, construction of the boat fell behind schedule and the “Winged Wonder,” the former Pay-N-Pak hull which had revolutionized Unlimited Hydroplane racing in the early 1970’s been the Miss Madison hull since 1978, was once again forced into service to race the beginning of the season, including the Madison Regatta where it failed to qualify for the final heat.  The new hull was finally able to make its debut at Tri-Cities, Washington where it finished fifth.  The next week in Seattle it was quite literally rear-ended by John Prevost driving the Miss Circus Circus as the boats were returning to the docks after a preliminary heat. 

Then in San Diego the Miss Madison with Ron Snyder driving and Miss Circus Circus were involved in one of the most memorable accidents in the history of Unlimited Hydroplane racing.  The video of the two boats flipping side by side was shown on multiple TV stations across the nation. 

It also was the end of the season for the new Miss Madison hull, as the team was forced to lease Ed Cooper’s hull for the season finale in Las Vegas to fulfill a sponsorship requirement and the team would rebuild the hull for the upcoming season.

After its shaky debut, the new Miss Madison could go nowhere but up.  The team responded with one of the best seasons in decades by a boat using an Allison engine.  With Mike Hanson as the new primary driver, the Miss Madison was a consistent competitor in 1989, a trend that would continue throughout Mike Hanson’s tenure as the Miss Madison driver.  The Miss Madison would finish on the podium in four of ten races during the season.  At the Gold Cup in San Diego the Miss Madison, running as the Miss Mazda, would set a new piston lap record of 141.777 and go on to finish third despite battling engine problems all day.  Overall the Miss Madison would finish third in the national high point standings.  This would be the highest finish by a piston powered boat until Ed Cooper’s U-3 finished third in the High Point standings in 2003.

By 1990, it was clear that any team wishing to be competitive in Unlimited Hydroplane racing would need to use turbine power.  Only one race was won by a piston powered boat in 1989 (Cooper’s Express in Tri-Cities) and no races would be won by piston power until 2003 (once again Ed Cooper’s team, running as Master Tire, in Evansville in 2003).  In spite of this, the Miss Madison team had a respectable performance in its last season with piston power, including three podium finishes and a sixth place in the High Points.
The Miss Madison team switched to turbine power in the off-season but kept the same hull.  The upgrade in equipment saw immediate dividends with a third place finish in the Gold Cup at Detroit and a second place finish at Madison, its highest finish in the hometown race since 1982.  For the West Coast swing, Frosted Flakes joined as a sponsor but the boat would flip in the Final Heat at Tri-Cities.  The rest of the season was a struggle for the U-6 team but Frosted Flakes would return as a sponsor for the next season.
The Miss Madison team would run as “Tony the Tiger” in a nod to the mascot of its new major sponsor.  The team was consistent almost to a fault, finishing third or fourth in seven of the nine races and finishing fourth overall in the high point standings.
Continuing under the sponsorship of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, the U-6 would unveil an outrageous tiger striped logo with a cockpit that was almost reminiscent of a Cincinnati Bengals helmet.  Mike Hanson would continue his consistent ways, making his way to the podium in six of the ten races along with a strange four race stretch of consecutive fourth place finishes (including its hometown Madison race).  There was also a streak of 32 consecutive heats in which the Miss Madison entered and was able to finish, a streak that came to an end in San Diego where the boat recorded a DNF in the first heat, didn’t leave the trailer for the second or third heats, but won the provisional heat to get into what would prove to be one of the wildest final heats in Unlimited racing history.  In the first turn the T-Plus took a large lead, but was disqualified for cutting off The Tide boat.  This allowed the Miss Budweiser to take the lead, until it was given a one lap penalty as a result of washing down the Winston Eagle.  In the meantime the American Spirit went dead in the water.  In the meantime the Frosted Flakes boat was able to pass the Cooper’s Express and a slowed Tide boat and go on to win the race.  This was the first time that anyone had won an Unlimited Final Heat from the trailer position, and as of 2010 it remains the only time that anyone has achieved this feat.  The U-6 would go on to finish second in the High Point standings for the first time since 1981.

The offseason brought the news that Kellogg’s was ending its sponsorship of the Miss Madison team.  Unable to find a sponsor, a local fundraising drive was put into place so that the team could race in the Madison Regatta.  Racing as the Powerball Miss Madison, the U-6 was able to record a solid fifth place at the Madison Regatta.
The Miss Madison team was able to secure sponsorship from Jasper Engines and Transmissions for the Eastern tour and made its season debut in Detroit.  That debut came to an abrupt end, however, after a blowover in a preliminary heat left the U-6 upside down.  Mike Hanson escaped uninjured but the team was done for the day.  More misfortune followed at Madison as the Jasper boat was running in second place in the Final Heat but then was washed down by a restarting Miss Budweiser and had to settle for a fifth place finish. 

After missing the race in Texas, it was announced that the Miss Madison team would race under the sponsorship of DeWalt Tools for the Western tour but the team still struggled.  The result was a sixth place finish in the High Point standings and no trips to the podium
DeWalt Tools returned as a sponsor, this time as a national sponsor and with an extended commitment to the sport that included a “DeWalt Challenge” at every race site.  Mike Hanson drove the boat to podium finishes in four of ten races and the team was able to finish fourth in the High Point standings.

Mike Hanson continued his consistent ways, driving the boat to a third or fourth place finish in each of the first eight races.  Then in Las Vegas came the shocking news that DeWalt Tools would be ending its sponsorship of the Miss Madison team.  The team would be forced to skip the race in Hawaii and once again begin the search for sponsorship
1998 was undoubtedly one of the most tumultuous years in the history of Miss Madison, Inc.  After a search for sponsorship proved fruitless, the team announced in the early Spring that the team would be put up for sale, with longtime President Bob Hughes saying “we’re dead in the water.”  The team still intended to race in the Madison Regatta, but high water forced the race to be postponed until Labor Day weekend.  In the controversial and sparsely attended postponed Regatta with multiple delays, the Miss Madison was able to secure third place in an event in which only seven boats attended.
The Miss Madison was still officially “For Sale” as the 1999 season began, but the team was able to make it to a few more races.  Still racing without sponsorship, longtime crew member and backup Driver Todd Yarling took over for Mike Hanson, who had left the team to drive for Jones Racing.  Yarling would blow over the Miss Madison in his first race with the team at Barrie, Ontario.  In Madison, the team barely qualified for the race (having to qualify early Sunday morning after failing to do so over the weekend) and didn’t make the cut for the final.  Yarling and the Miss Madison rebounded to finish third at Norfolk but didn’t make it to the West Coast races.

Rookie Driver Charley Wiggins was named the new Miss Madison driver for 2000.  A young driver who had met with some success in the Unlimited Lights, his ride with the Miss Madison was expected to be the first of a long and successful Unlimited career.  His career, however, would turn out to be as brief as it would be painful.  His debut at Evansville was cut short after the escape hatch underneath the cockpit blew open and he endured painful leg injuries.  Then in Detroit, Wiggins suffered injuries after an accident while driving in the Unlimited Lights’ race that was happening concurrently.  Jerry Hopp was in the pits and was given the Miss Madison seat for the final where he drove the boat to a fifth place finish.  After the Detroit race, Charley Wiggins resigned but the team was finally able to secure major sponsorship for the first time in three years.  Oh Boy! Oberto would join the Miss Madison team for the Western tour and would remain with the team to this day.  With veteran Nate Brown driving, the U-6 was able to finish third at Tri-Cities and San Diego.
The 2001 season brought a new sanctioning body for Unlimited Hydroplanes known as Hydro-Prop and with it new restrictions meant to slow down the hydroplanes and lane assignment procedures meant to bring about tighter competition.  Veteran Driver Steve David joined the Miss Madison team after a brief retirement and Oh Boy! Oberto would return as sponsor, this time for the entire season.  The combination of Steve David, Oh Boy! Oberto, and the Miss Madison would prove to be one of the longest and most successful combinations of Driver, Sponsor, and Team in the history of Unlimited Hydroplane Racing.  This combination also paid immediate dividends.  At Madison, Steve David won two preliminary heats and secured the inside lane for the Final.  As the boats approached the starting line, race announcer Jeff Ayler continually said that the boats were coming in “too early” and as the starting gun fired it was unclear who if any of the four boats on the front row had made a legal start.  After two laps and some very impatient moments of waiting for the ruling it was announced “it’s now official: Znetix II one lap penalty, Miss Emcor one lap penalty, Miss Budweiser one lap penalty, Oh Boy! Oberto is in the lead!”  As the hometown crowd erupted in excitement and disbelief, Steve David held off a charging Greg Hopp in Znetix I and scored a victory for the Miss Madison.  It was the sixth race win in the long career of Miss Madison, Inc., the fourth career victory for Steve David and the second for the 1988-06 Miss Madison V.

  After a third place finish in Detroit, the West Coast swing would prove to be a struggle for the Miss Madison team and they would finish fifth in the High Point Standings
The fifth Miss Madison hull, fourteen years old at the onset of the 2002 season, would begin to show its age as the season progressed.  The boat was still a consistent racer but was now finishing behind its newer, lighter, and quicker competitors.  Steve David was able to secure only one podium finish, a third place in Tri-Cities and the team finished sixth in the High Point standings. 

The Miss Madison team made some improvements to the old hull that included the installation of a canard wing.  Despite these improvements, the struggles of the previous season would continue in 2003.  The old hull had a number of mechanical issues, including being unable to start the boat in two preliminary heats at Madison.  In Seattle, the team sustained damage, but was able to do repairs in the Miss Budweiser shop and finish third.  This, however, would prove to be the only podium finish for the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison and the team would finish eighth in the High Point standings.  The Eighth place finish would be the lowest finish in the High Point standings for the Miss Madison team in a year where the team raced a full season since 1966.
Mike Hanson returned to the Miss Madison team as crew chief and the team saw an immediate improvement.  2004 was one of the most tumultuous years in Unlimited history, with teams and race sites refusing to compete under the banner of Hydro-Prop and would instead race in unsanctioned “outlaw” races.  The Miss Madison team would skip the unsanctioned Evansville race, but then would go on to score podium finishes in four of the remaining six races of the season including a second place finish at the Gold Cup. 
The ABRA was the new sanctioning body for Unlimited Hydroplane racing and the Oh Boy! Oberto was able to continue its success from the year before.  In Evansville, Steve David and Greg Hopp engaged in a side by side duel during the final heat that ended as Hopp’s boat went dead in the water and Steve David drove it home to victory, the third in the long history of the Miss Madison V.  Second place finishes in Tri-Cities and Nashville along with third place finishes in Madison and Seattle gave the Miss Madison the national runner-up in the High Point standings.  Steve David was also able to win the Unlimited Driver’s championship, the first of his career and the first time that a Miss Madison driver achieved that feat.  The runner-up finish was the first for the team since 1993 and a far cry from the struggles of just a few short years before.

The final season for the 1988-06 as the primary hull for Miss Madison was arguably its best in that role. It didn’t begin well, as the boat sustained damage in Evansville and then had an accident in Madison that saw the boat lose its rudder and spin uncontrollably, just missing the flag boat.  The team quickly rebounded with a second place finish in the odd “match” race on the much too short course at Valleyfield, Quebec.  Third place finishes in Detroit and Tri-Cities meant that the team was leading the High Point standings with only two races to go.  Then a second place in Seattle solidified its lead and then in one of the post-race interviews Steve David made the announcement, intentionally or unintentionally, that the team would be building a new hull in the off season.  The Miss Madison team would be heading to San Diego with a chance to win its first High Point title in its long history.  There was considerable excitement around Madison, along with the inevitable “U-6 in ‘06” campaign-style button.  Even representatives from the Madison Courier made the long trip to San Diego in hopes of being on hand to cover Miss Madison’s first championship.  The race would prove to be a struggle.  TheOh Boy! Oberto would lose the points lead to II in the preliminary heats and would wind up settling for a second straight runner-up finish in the High Point standings.  Despite falling short of the High Points title, Steve David would win another Unlimited Driver’s Championship and the team no less deserves to be commended for coming so close to a championship while using an eighteen year old boat in its final season as the primary hull for the team.
The Miss Madison team set about building a new hull for the 2007 season.  Many of the inner workings of the 1988 hull found their way into the new boat so it could be said that the new boat quite literally had some of the old boat inside of it.  The 1988 hull spent most of the next four years doing display work around Madison and some of the boat shows in the area.  It even got to wear the U-1 as the team was able to win the elusive High Point championship with the new hull.  Early 2011 brought the announcement that Webster Racing would be buying the 1988 Miss Madison hull from the now three time defending champion Miss Madison team.  While this stands as a clear upgrade for Webster Racing in equipment, it also means that one of the longest running hulls in the history of the sport will get the chance to show that it can still compete with the younger boats on the circuit.  Best of luck to Webster Racing and 1988-06 in the upcoming year!

Many thanks Jim Sharkey's "Hydros Who's Who" and to old Madison Regatta programs for their invaluable information, and to and Webster Racing's facebook page for being a fine source of photos for this post.

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