Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dynasties of the Sport: Miss Budweiser, 1969-1971

When a beer distributor out of Florida named Bernie Little brought a small time operation onto the circuit in 1963, few took notice.  This continued the following year even after the team secured the instantly recognizable sponsorship of Budweiser.  Continuing as a mid-tier team for the next couple of years, the team suffered through the lowest of lows in 1966, suffering through the loss of their driver Don Wilson on Black Sunday but would rebound to win the team’s first two races in Tri-Cities and San Diego with Bill Brow at the wheel. 1967 and 1968 would see the Miss Budweiser win the Kelowna race en route to a fourth place finish in the High Point standings both seasons.  Despite winning four races over the previous three seasons, few could expect the emergence of this team over the next three years.

  The Miss Budweiser team entered a 1969 season that appeared to be wide open after the Miss Bardahl team scaled back their operation to a couple west coast races.  The Miss Budweiser, sporting a hull that was built in 1968 and continued to grow stronger as the crew continued to dial the boat in throughout the season, suddenly emerged as the team to beat in 1969.  Also returning from 1968 was driver Bill Sterret.  The team would double its win total of the previous four years in one season, winning four of seven races including the Seafair Trophy and the Gold Cup at San Diego en route to a championship.  

Driver Bill Sterret departed the team after the 1969 season and owner Bernie Little handed the ride to Dean Chenoweth, who as was the runner up the Miss Budweiser the previous season.  Even with the new driver the team’s winning ways continued, with four wins in eight races, including an Indiana Governor’s Cup and a repeat win at the San Diego Gold Cup for another High Point title.  It appeared to the team’s winning ways would continue in 1971, as the Miss Budweiser won the season opener in Miami and the Dodge Cup in Detroit.  The Miss Budweiser, however, would be shut out of the winner’s circle for the rest of the season and would momentarily lose the High Point lead to a Miss Madison team that had suddenly   come on to win the Gold Cup in Madison and the Atomic Cup in Tri-Cities.  As the Miss Madison’s Cinderella story turned into a pumpkin in the form of a blown engine in Seattle, the Miss Budweiser would regain the High Point lead but would once again find itself behind a suddenly unbeatable Pride of Pay’n Pak.  Despite being overshadowed by more dramatic performances by its competitors and finding itself finishing behind boats it had easily beaten the previous two years in the latter part of the season, the Miss Budweiser had scored enough points over the course of the season to secure its third straight High Point championship, but its winning ways would be put on hold for a while.  1971 would prove to be a last hurrah for the old style shovel nosed designed hulls and the Miss Budweiser would go winless in 1972.  For much of the rest of the 1970’s, the Miss Budweiser would find itself trailing behind a competitor or two that would have more advanced or innovative equipment.

The Legacy: When a team like the Miss Budweiser has an extended era of dominance as it would from the late 1980's to the early 2000's (more on that later in this series), it's easy for everything that happened before to be overshadowed.  Add to the fact that the turbine Bud years would be directly preceded by the memorable "Griffon Bud" years and even a time in which the team won three straight championships could be lost in the shuffle.  Memories still abound, though.  Many of these are in the person of Dean Chenoweth, who would drive the Miss Budweiser to two titles in the early 1970's then return a decade later to win two more titles.  The 1968 Miss Budweiser would also find its rightful spot in the Hydroplane And Raceboat Museum. So despite being viewed as the "forgotten years" by some within the Hydroplane community when it comes to the Miss Budweiser, these years are still remembered as an era of dominance for the Miss Budweiser and a preview of things to come.

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