Monday, June 27, 2011

Pistons' Last Stand: Piston Powered Unlimited Hydroplanes from 1987-1993, and the end of Multiple Piston Teams in Unlimited Hydroplane Racing.

For this post I’m going to look at the piston powered hydros of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. This period of time saw fewer and fewer teams using piston power until there was only one.   Of course, the U-3 owned by Ed Cooper Sr. and Ed Cooper Jr. continued to use Allison power throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, but no other team has shown up in the pits with a piston powered  Unlimited Hydroplane in those years.  So this is a look at those last other teams to use piston power, beginning with 1987.  I chose to begin with 1987 because the previous year could be seen as the end of big budgeted teams using piston powered hydroplanes.  1986 was the year when the Miss Budweiser team began the season with one Lycoming powered hydroplane and one Griffon powered hydroplane but the decision was made mid-season to retire the Griffon Bud. 1987 was also the first year in which every race on the schedule was one by a team using a turbine powered hull.   By 1987 the teams using piston powered hydroplanes were almost exclusively small, low budgeted teams using older hulls.  This year began a trend of piston teams decreasing in numbers until at the end of the 1993 season there was only one.
Boats/Teams Retired in 1987
U-30 Seaco Aviation Fuels This Merlin powered hull debuted in 1979 as Miss Circus Circus and Steve Reynolds drove the boat to victory at San Diego the same year.  The boat later won at Madison and Tri-Cities in 1982 with Tom D’Eath at the wheel.  Bob Gilliam purchased the boat in 1985 and the team competed in a handful of races on the West Coast.  In 1986 and 1987 the U-30 appeared in only Seattle where it failed to qualify.
Seaco Aviation Fuels.  Photo taken from the 1987 Madison Regatta program.

U-9 Miss J & M CafĂ© Will Muncey, son of the legendary Bill Muncey, competed in Unlimited Hydroplane racing throughout the 1980’s but struggled to get his boats to reach a competitive or even a qualifying level.  Racing with a boat that first ran in 1972 as Sweet Thing, Muncey entered a number of races beginning in 1985 but failed to qualify for any of them.  In 1986 and 1987 he only raced in Seattle where he failed to qualify both times and left Unlimited racing, although he continues to compete on the Unlimited Lights circuit.
U-22 Throughout much of the 1980’s, Madison area businessman Jim Sedam campaigned a team that served as Madison’s  “other”  representative on the Unlimited Hydroplane tour.  Madison Hydroplanes, Inc., as the team was officially known, raced with a cabover hull that was built in 1984 and used an Allison engine.  Todd Yarling served as the driver throughout almost all of this team’s involvement in the sport.  Although Jim Sedam and Todd Yarling never won any races in the 1980’s his team nonetheless turned in some respectable performances, including 1987 when the team finished second at the saltwater races in Miami and San Diego.  1987 would mark the final year of Madison Hydroplanes, Inc., but the boat would run in some races the following season for Jim McCormick and Bob Fendler’s entry.
The U-22, a Madison based team that raced through much of the 1980's.  Photo taken from the 1987 Madison Regatta program.

U-15 Pepsi America’s Choice The first entry from Ed Cooper Sr. and Jr. was also the last conventional Unlimited Hydroplane to be built.  Constructed one year after the 1977 Atlas Van Lines “Blue Blaster” revolutionized the sport, the 1978 Tempus was an entry from veteran Unlimited driver Chuck Hickling.  As the Tempus the team was usually a West Coast entry, often only competing in the two Washington races.  Ed Cooper Sr. and Jr., longtime crew members for the Miss Madison as well as Graham Heath’s My Gypsy team, bought the former Tempus hull and entered it into a handful of races in 1986.  For 1987 the team was able to race the full season, racing most of the year as Pepsi America’s Choice.  Mitch Evans was able to drive the boat to a respectable sixth place finish in the 1987 High Point race while designing and building a new hull for the Coopers.  More on that later.
Pepsi America's Choice, the first entry from Ed Cooper Sr. and Ed Cooper Jr.

U-80 Miss Bahia This boat debuted in 1967 as Parco’s O’Ring Miss and was a competitor off and on for twenty years running under a variety of names and going under a number of changes which included adding a horizontal stabilizer and converting the boat to a cabover.  Despite these changes the hull was still the old shovel nosed design that was representative of the era in which it was built.  In 1986 this team achieved what was quite possibly the most unlikely victory in Unlimited Hydroplane history, when at San Diego Ron Armstrong drove the old heavy boat past the modern turbine powered hydros that were sitting dead in the water due to the saltwater spray.  In the next race at Las Vegas, the team turned in another incredible performance when the boat sank into ninety feet of water, but was exhumed by the crew and actually qualified for the Final Heat, where it finished sixth.  In 1987 the team entered three races, with its best finish being a fifth place at Las Vegas.  That Las Vegas race would prove to be the last for this team and their ancient boat, but they had made their mark on Unlimited history.  Their boat would be the last hull with an old style shovel nosed design to race, and win, on the Unlimited circuit.
Miss Bahia, the last shovel-nosed hydro to compete in Unlimited Hydroplane Racing and surprise winner at San Diego in 1986.  Photo taken from the 1987 Madison Regatta program.

Boats Retired in 1988
U-6 Holset Miss Madison (1973-25) 1987 also marked the last full season for one of the most successful hulls in Unlimited Hydroplane history.  This, of course, was the same hull that had revolutionized the sport in 1973 while racing as Pay N Pak with its horizontal stabilizer and pickle fork design.  Miss Madison had campaigned the hull since 1978, winning in Missouri in 1983 and having the honor of being the highest finishing piston powered boat in the National High Point standings in 1986 and 1987.  The plan was to retire this hull after the 1987 season, but when the new Miss Madison hull wasn’t ready this hull was forced back into service, in the process becoming the last conventional hull and one of the last open cockpit hulls to compete in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.

U-17 Tempus Chuck Hickling’s final entry into Unlimited Hydroplane racing was also the only Unlimited Hydroplane ever built that was a tunnel boat  powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine.  Tempus continued to be a West Coast only team, scoring a surprising third place at San Diego when all the turbine entries succumbed to the saltwater spray.  Tempus only entered the Washington races in 1987 and 1988, failing to score points in any of them and the team was discontinued.
Tempus, the last entry from Chuck Hickling and one of the few Tunnel Unlimited Hydroplanes.  Photo taken from the 1987 Madison Regatta program.

U-21 Eliminator This entry from co-owners Mike Bancroft and Doug Munroe driven by Mickey Franklin is one of a handful of hulls in Unlimited Hydroplane history to experiment with automotive power and is one of a handful of hulls in Unlimited Hydroplane history to never score a point.  Bancroft and Franklin had found success together in the 7 litre class and, along with co-owner Doug Munroe, opted to jump into the Unlimiteds with a radically designed hull.  Unlike most automotive Unlimited Hydroplanes who have used multiple engines, the U-21 used a single blown Chevy engine.  The hull was lighter than most Unlimited Hydroplanes but was vastly underpowered.  In 1987 the team entered six races, failing to qualify for any of them.  In 1988 the Eliminator entered seven more races, failing to qualify for any of them until Seattle, where it wasn’t able to make the start of any heats.  After the 1988 Seattle race the project was abandoned and Mickey Franklin, Mike Bancroft, and the U-21 were all done in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.
Eliminator, a hull that never scored a point in Unlimited Competition.  Photo taken from the 1987 Madison Regatta program.

U-4 Pocket Saver’s Plus In 1988 Bob Fendler and Jim McCormick bought the Allison powered hull that was previously Jim Sedam’s Madison based entry.  The hull made a couple Final Heats but was retired mid-season for another hull.  The hull and team, however, had made their mark in history.  This was the first Unlimited ride for Steve David.
U-77 Miss Mid-Mark Distributors This experimental hull from Fred Leland had been an exercise in futility since its debut in 1984.  It came to two races in 1984, failing to qualify for either of them, and sat out for three years.  In 1988 the Merlin powered hull was once again brought out to competition but failed to score points at Tri-Cities or San Diego.  In San Diego the hull was finally able to qualify at San Diego and score a fifth place in a preliminary heat.  This would prove to be the only heat this hull would ever finish and the boat was retired at the end of the season.
Boats/Teams Retired in 1989
U-146 Miss Easter Seals Bob Fendler returned in 1989 with the hullwas originally campaigned by Fred Leland under a variety of names and numbers but not much success.  In 1989 the team did a respectable thing in running the boats under the name of Easter Seals when no sponsors could be secured for a race, but the team was sponsored by a lot of different local sponsors throughout the year, most infamously the Heartbreakers Gentleman’s Club in Houston.  Most of the season was a struggle for the team, although Steve David was able to finish fourth in Tri-Cities.  The next season the team built a turbine powered hull.

Boats Retired/Converted to Turbine in 1990
U-2 Oh Boy! Oberto Jim Harvey’s entry was an anomaly during this period of time, a piston powered team with a national sponsor.  It was also probably the most successful piston hydro of this era.  Jim Harvey started his own team in 1987 when he bought the boat from the team for which he previously worked as a Crew Chief, the boat that started in 1982 as Atlas Van Lines and raced in later years as the Squire Shop.  The team didn’t get off to a good start when an auto accident on the way to the season opener meant the boat would need to be repaired.  They were able to rejoin the tour in Tri-Cities and turned in a respectable if not head turning performance for the rest of the season.  The U-2 came on strong in 1988 when it won at Miami in a saltwater race where the top four finishers were piston powered hydros, finished second at Madison, then won in San Diego where it was the only boat to finish the Final Heat.  The victory at San Diego would prove to be the last for a boat using a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the engine that dominated Unlimited Hydroplane racing for so many years. 

The team would finish third in the 1988 High Point standings.  The team had another strong performance in 1989, scoring second place finishes in Miami, Detroit, and the San Diego Gold Cup where George Woods nearly beat a slowed Miss Budweiser on the final lap. 

In 1990 the decision was made to attempt an odd “hybrid” setup, using piston power at the saltwater races but turbine power for the freshwater races.  Instead the hull raced the first few races with Merlin power before being permanently converted to turbine power in Madison.  The boat is the last to race with Merlin power.
Jim Harvey's Merlin powered Oh Boy! Oberto.  Photo taken from the 1989 Madison Regatta program

U-6 Miss Madison The fifth Miss Madison hull debuted in 1988 and went on to break about every qualifying record for piston powered hydroplanes in 1989.  I’ve said about everything I could about this hull in my previous article on the Miss Madison V, so check that article out for a more comprehensive review of this hull’s history.  This Allison powered hull was converted to turbine power after the 1990 season.  The 1988 Miss Madison is the last piston powered hydro other than Cooper’s Express hulls to be built.

U-5 Frank Kenney Toyota/Volvo/ U-85 Miss Northwest Frank Kenney was a well-known sponsor in Unlimited Hydroplane racing throughout the 1980’s, serving as Miss Madison’s West Coast sponsor for many years.  In 1986 the Kenney team became owners of their own team after purchasing the 1980 Budweiser hull.  The team which used Griffon power was an exclusively West Coast entry for their involvement in the sport which ended in 1988.  In 1989 Dave Culley raced the boat as Miss Northwest but the boat was only able to finish one heat, a third place in San Diego.  In 1990 the boat again appeared in only one race at Hawaii and once again was only able to score a fifth place finish, but at least it was the final so the Miss Northwest officially finished fifth in the race.  This was the year where the Hawaii race counted towards the point standings of the following year, so this long running hull officially scored its last points in a year where the hull never touched the water.
The former Griffon Bud raced in later years as The Frank Kenney Toyota/Volvo and the Miss Northwest.  Photo taken from the 1987 Madison Regatta program.

Boats/Teams Retired in 1991
U-99.9/U-100 Miss Rock Fred Leland campaigned with a number of hulls throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  These hulls raced under a variety of names and numbers but always used piston power, usually a Packard Rolls Royce Merlin. Leland’s boats were usually campaigned on the West Coast, but never met with much success in those early years.  In 1992 the team built its first turbine powered hydroplane that it raced nationally, marking a vast improvement for the program that culminated in the 1996 championship.  Fred Leland is a fixture on the Unlimited Hydroplane tour to this day.
Fred Leland's Packard powered Miss Rock.  Photo taken from the 1990 Madison Regatta Program

UR-5 Edge Superior Performance  The only boat to ever carry the UR (unlimited reciprocating) moniker in Unlimited Hydroplane racing, this boat was originally the Miss Renault that won the 1983 World Championship race at Houston.  The powerplant was converted to twin Chevy engines for the short-lived Automotive Thunderboat Association.  The UR category was an attempt by the URC to bring more automotive powered Unlimited Hydroplanes in the sport, but that experiment was apparently abandoned after the UR-5 lasted only one year on the circuit.  The boat, owned by the Rutt brothers and driven by Larry Lauterbach, raced the whole season in 1991 but was a non-factor in most races, not making any final heats.

U-89 Miss Ginger Honey This oddly named hydro was the last appearance at a race for the 1985 “Bubble Bud.”  The team was announced as early as 1988 but didn’t make an appearance until late 1991.  The Griffon Powered hull appeared at San Diego and Honolulu and failed to qualify for both races.

Boats Retired in 1992
U-7 Thor Racing For a number of years, Al Thoreson was a regular fixture in the pits.  Throughout the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Thor Racing campaigned the former Squire Shop hull that carried Chip Hanauer to his first victory in 1979.  For Thor Racing, the hull was almost exclusively driven by Jerry Hopp and raced under a number of different names and sponsors.  The boat was one of the slowest boats in the field but did make a Final Heat from time to time, where it always seemed to get lapped.  They did make it to the podium twice in 1988, finishing third in Miami and second in San Diego despite not finishing the Final Heat.  1992 was the last year for Thor Racing and for this hull and by that time it was clear that this ancient hull was clearly slower than nearly every other team on the circuit.  It also stands as a representative to how much things have changed in the turbine era.  Consider that this thirteen year old Allison powered hydro was an ancient tail ender in 1992 but in 2009 the U-7 Graham Trucking won in Qatar with a thirteen year old turbine powered hull and is still one of the top teams with a hull that was built in 1996.

Boats Retired in 1993
U-9 Miss Wellness Plan The last automotive powered Unlimited Hydroplane to make an appearance at a race, this boat was regularly a part of the tour for six years running under a variety of names.  The hull debuted in 1988 with a lot of publicity and a bold prediction by Driver Wheeler Baker that the boat could be a strong contender.  Despite these claims the U-9 failed to score any points until the last race of the year, when it finished sixth in Las Vegas.  Those struggles continued in 1989 when the boat was only able to score points at Miami and Madison.   In 1990 the boat only appeared at Miami and San Diego, failing to qualify for either of them.  1991 brought more struggles where it failed to score points in the first two races but then put it together for Madison where they actually made it to the Final Heat and finished sixth.  In 1992 the Detroit based team made it to a couple more races but pulled off the tour after failing to start a heat at Madison.  In 1993 the team made to only one race: Tri-Cities where it ran as Miss Exide and failed to qualify.  Thus marking an end to a hull that started off with so much publicity and promise but was never able to make a splash as a competitor
The Automotive powered U-9.  Photo taken from the 1990 Madison Regatta Program.

U-4 Miss Tubs A small team that would have been largely forgotten in Unlimited Hydroplane history except that it’s the answer to a trivia question: Who is the last team other than Cooper’s Express to try to qualify a piston powered Unlimited Hydoplane?  The team actually made two goes of it: 1992 in Tr-Cities where it failed to qualify the Former Leland and Easter Seals hull, and in 1993 they attempted to qualify at Tri-Cities and Seattle with a former Lincoln Thrift hull that was nearly twenty years old but failed to qualify again.  This marked the end not only for the Miss Tubs but for any other teams  who ran with piston power.  For the sixteen years that followed, there was only one piston powered boat in Unlimited Hydroplane Racing.
And Finally…..
U-3 Cooper’s Express Mitch Evans designed and built an Allison powered hull for Ed Cooper Sr. and Jr. in 1988 and drove it beautifully.  In 1989 Mitch Evans was able to score an upset and win at Tri-Cities, the last win for a team using piston power for over a decade.

  By 1993 the team was the only piston powered hydro on the national tour.  While the U-3 didn’t achieve many competitive results through the 1990’s but was a fan favorite across the country with its status as the “last thunderboat.”

  A new boat was built in 1997 that was meant to make the team more competitive, but was a heavy hydroplane that was never able to contend with the turbine powered fleet. 

 Then in 2002 the team debuted a hull that was very fast and the U-3 was back in business.  In 2003 the “Turbinator” won at Evansville, the Gold Cup in Detroit, and San Diego with Mitch Evans at the wheel.

  The boat was highly competitive through most of the 2000’s with Jimmy King at the wheel until it left the circuit in 2010 in a still highly controversial move that I won’t begin to try to discuss here (and I ask that you do the same for this post).  No matter which side one comes down on this issue, everyone can agree that the Ed Cooper Sr. and Jr. as well as the U-3 team deserves a lot of credit for not only sticking with piston power  after everyone else had abandoned it but becoming contenders with it.
                When reviewing the piston powered Unlimited Hydroplanes in this period, one thing that stood out to me is how quickly the turbine boats took over Unlimited racing.  1982 was the first win by a turbine powered boat (Pay n Pak at New York).  In the decade that followed turbines went from a technological anomaly being used by one team to a few teams racing very fast but very unreliable hydros to clear distinction between the “have” teams who used turbine power and the “have nots” who used piston to the engine that all but a couple of holdouts in the fleet were using.  The piston teams of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, especially the U-2, U-3, U-6, and U-7, deserve a lot of credit for making do with what they had.  They also marked the end of an era and (in the case of the U-2 and U-6) reflected the changing times as they too switched to turbine power.  It seems like every couple years there is talk of another team that is going to compete with aircraft or automotive power but these never come to fruition and the sport remains largely turbines only.  What’s even more surprising is that despite the fact that turbines have been the engine of choice for a quarter century and Unlimited Hydroplane racing continues to survive there is still a lot of talk from fans and the media that the Unlimited Hydroplanes should outlaw the turbines to “save” the sport.  What this argument ignores (despite the fact that Unlmited Hydroplane racing is doing well and doesn’t need to be saved) is that even in the 1980’s the availability of the aircraft engines that powered the thunderboats of the Golden Era of Unlimited racing were dwindling and there are even fewer of those engines today.  There is also the argument that the Unlimiteds should switch to automotive power, which if one looks at the performance (or lack thereof) of the automotive powered hydros from this era those arguments seem to lose merit.  I understand that nostalgia is a huge driving factor in Unlimited Hydroplane racing (if it weren’t then I wouldn’t have anything to blog about) but instead of decrying where the sport has gone over the last quarter century I feel it’s best to celebrate the history of the sport and celebrate and enjoy the technological advances the sport has made over the years.  Turbine power is where the sport is now, but the teams which made the “last stand” for piston power in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s were also memorable.  Some were quite successful and others didn’t even score a point in competition, but together all of them marked the end of an era in Unlimited Hydroplane racing.

I tried to include every boat and team that used piston power from 1987-1992.  If I missed one don't hesitate to let me know.  All images taken from the web unless otherwise noted.  I would like to thank the Jim Sharkey's "Hydros Who's Who" and past Madison Regatta programs for being a fine source of information.  All thanks to Tom Ace for his work in uploading YouTube videos from this era.  And finally, thanks to you for reading this very long post.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 Dennis Holt Memorial Radio-Controlled Boat Races

For the first time ever, I went to an RC boat race today.  They have an RC boat race at the Jefferson Proving Grounds north of Madison every year as part of the Regatta festivities, but in previous years it was almost always on the same Saturday morning as the actual Regatta.  This year the decision was (thankfully) made to have the RC boat races a week before and I made my way out to Krueger Lake.  All in all this was a great event.  The passion of the RC racers was clearly visible and for the most part they were very friendly but also very competitive.  The racing on the water, while by no means a replacement for Unlimited Hydroplane racing, is nonetheless fun to watch and has many of the same elements (clock starts, roostertails, blowovers and spectacular accidents, deck to deck racing etc.) that people love about watching hydroplanes of all sizes race.  There are also some differences. These boats raced clockwise and had to be started from the pits then thrown into the water.  It was also not uncommon to see people have multiple RC boats to compete in many different events.  One guy seemed to have a boat in every class of racing that was competing, and all of his boats were competitive.  All in all it was a great event and a great way to kick off regatta week and "whet the appetite" for when the big boats come to town next week.
A replica of the Eagle Electric hydroplane, and early 60's hydro driven by Rex Manchester and Norm Evans

A Thunderboat class hydro wearing the colors of Fatboyz Bodyworkz, a Madison bodyshop who helped sponsor the event.

Another Thunderboat class boat.  This boat most closely resembles the 1972 Miss Madison, although I wouldn't call it a replica.

Racers sstarting their boats before sending them out to the water at the start of a heat.  As mentioned before, the boats would have to be started from the shore, usually by turning some internal mechanism in the engine or pulling a cord inside the boat that functioned like a weedeater.  This reminded me of the early turbine years when the engines were started by a crewmember holding some mechanism then sending the driver out.  After the engines were started, a "coach" would toss the boats into the water and the person at the controls would send the boat on its way.  The coach would then stand behind the person piloting the boat telling him or her how many laps he or she had completed.

1/8 scale replica of the 7-Eleven leaving the pits, in the infield is a replica of the 2010 Peters & May

Action from the 1/8 scale race.  It's hard to tell from this photo but the boat on the frontstretch is a replica the Griffon Bud while the boat on the backstretch is a replica of the 7-Eleven. 

Another shot of the Griffon Bud replica, with a Peters & May replica sitting in the infield dead in the water.   The Griffon Bud was running away from the field but went dead in the water on the last turn of the last lap.  Apparently he got caught in some weeds from the lake and was unable to go on.  Yes, even in RC hydro racing they have debris issues.

This Miss Budweiser replica would be the only boat that would finish the first heat for the 1/8 scale hydros.

Small RTR (Ready To Run) hydros were the next to hit the water.  These boats are essentially a stock class that functions as the entry level class  for people looking to get into RC hydro racing.  As the name suggests, a driver buys a boat that is ready to run out of the box and can take it to his or her local race club.  These boats put on a great show, kind of like the 2.5 litre stock hydroplanes that used to run in Evansville and Madison nearly every year.

RTRs can be replicas too.  The boat on the frontstretch was painted to look like the 1999 Miss Pico

The start of the heat for some gas powered RC hydros.  Much like the start of a hydroplane heat the RCs will often come off the gas as the enter turn two to scrub off some speed before the start, then hit full throttle once the clock hits zero.  Some boats though just speed around the course with seemingly no regard for the clock.  Sometimes they look foolish and are on the backstretch when the clock hits zero and sometimes they are able to execute a perfectly timed flying start.  The red boat in the lead was able to time a flying start and ran away with this heat.

Some smaller tunnel boats on the water.  Like the human-driven tunnel boats, these RC tunnels have an outboard engine and are extremely quick through the turns.  I always enjoyed watching the tunnel boat races when they were on the Madison Regatta program and hope that some class of them can return in the future.

Another Tunnel Boat, this one from a slightly larger class than those racing in the previous picture.  There were three of these larger tunnel hulls, but three of them went dead in the water not soon after leaving the pits and this hull won the heat by default

A larger modified RC hydro leaving the pits.  Many of the boats in this class closely resemble the old Winston Eagle "lobster boat" with the very large and wide sponsons and a narrow transom.  These boats were very fast but also hard to control.  A couple boats barrelrolled.  This green boat was leading but then ran into a buoy, sending pieces of the buoy all over the place and slowing the boat until it returned to the pits.

Action from the Thunderboat class.  As the name suggests, these boats are extremely loud and most closely resemble the shovel nosed boats from the "Golden Era" of Unlimited Hydroplane racing.  Not only were they loud and fun to watch, I could quite literally smell the gas coming from the boats as they left the pits.  These boats do a fine job of recreating the racing spectacle of  Unlimited racing's golden era and were very fun to watch.  Also, if anyone needed a reminder of where the race was taken place, they would notice the fact that more than half of the boats competing in the Thunderboat class had Miss Madison painted on it.

This was a fun event to watch and was certainly a crowd pleaser.  It was also great to see so many parents and children involved at today's event.  This is a passion that is certainly passed from generation to generation.  Hopefully the organizers of this event will keep this event on the Saturday before Regatta weekend, as I can see this becoming an event I attend annually.  It should also be of note I saw a lot of people at the races whom I see every year at Regatta were there, so a lot of hydroplane enthusiasts showed up to today's event who wouldn't be there otherwise.  To everyone who organized this year's RC Boat races, thank you for a great event.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some of my Favorite Paint Jobs, 1988-2010

The news of expanded TV and internet coverage for the upcoming season has brought with it a number of new sponsors for th race teams and with it a number of great paint jobs.  It seems like every day brings the news of another team unveiling a new sponsor and/or an eye catching paint scheme for the upcoming season.  For this post I won't review the new paint jobs since it's likely that another team will unveil a new one between now and when the season starts.  Instead I'll focus on some of my favorite paint jobs in Unlimited Hydroplane racing starting in the late 1980's when I began following the sport up until last year.

Mr. Pringles (Turbine) 1988-1990
A striking multicolor scheme, Wurster Racing's U-8 Jif presents Mr. Pringles was instantly recognizable with its rainbow colors and its big name sponsorship.  Pringles was heavily involved in the sport during this time (remember the Pringles Family Fun center at the race sites?) and the U-8 was able to win at Madison in 1988 and in Miami in 1989.  The boat was also infamous for having three blowovers in 1989.  But hey, this boat even looked good while flipping.

Circus Circus (Turbine), 1988-1990
Yes, sometimes real men and even champions do wear pink.  The Miss Circus Circus, with Chip Hanauer at the wheel, triggered an intense rivalry between themselves and the Miss Budweiser for the High Point title in 1989 and 1990.  Circus Circus was an on again off again participant in Unlimited Hydroplane racing since the late 70's, but made their biggest splash in the late 80's, first as a sponsor of one of Fran Muncey's hulls then as owner when they bought out Fran Muncey's team a year later.  Their hot pink paint scheme was always a huge hit and always seemed to find itself in the front of the pack.  After winning the championship in 1990 the Circus Circus pulled out of the sport in a move that was highly controversial, but the team returned as a sponsor along with its hot pink paint scheme for Ron Jones' team for one year in 1993.

Winston Eagle, 1989-1993
RJ Reynolds sponsored Steve Woomer's U-10 team for a number of years and brought with it a large number of merchandising products, one of the most recognizable brands in America and especially American auto racing, and some of the most memorable paint schemes of the 1990's.  I liked the bright red-orange color of the Winston Eagle, but I loved the inclusion of the eagle head on the cockpit that gave the perfect profile to a very fast hydroplane.  The Winston Eagle paint scheme was included on a number of hulls, including the failed "lobster boat" experiment of 1990 and the former Circus Circus hulls after Steve Woomer bought that team out after the 1990 season.  While Winston made its name in NASCAR when it comes to auto racing sponsorship, for me they will be remembered for the day-glo hydro with an eagle's head on the side of the cockpit.

American Spirit, 1991-1992
I've always enjoyed patriotic paint schemes, and Ron Jones' American Spirit entry did the best job of catching the "American Flag racing down the water" look.  The stars and stripes hydro, carrying  a number of different sponsorships, was an instant crowd pleaser especially after its surprise victory at Madison in 1991.  Fred Leland largely copied this paint job in the 1990's and 2000's on a number of different hulls and even named his boat "American Spirit" in 1993 and "Pico American Dream" from 1994-1998, but to me the original paint scheme is still the best.

Miss Budweiser, pre-1994
From the beginning of Budweiser's sponsorship of Bernie Little's hydroplanes in 1964 until 1993, the Miss Budweiser was almost always some combination of red, white, and gold.  The gold made these boats beautiful and instantly set the Bud apart from every other boat in the fleet.  It was also fitting since the Miss Budweiser, almost always at the front of the pack, was quite literally setting the "gold standard" in Unlimited racing.  This combination, along with a white racing stripe along the side of the boat, made for a very attractive raceboat in the early 1990's.  Unfortunately it wouldn't last.  In 1994 the Miss Budweiser changed to an all red look that was more in line with Budweiser sponsored racing vehicles in IndyCar, NASCAR, and NHRA, thus bringing an end to a golden age (pun intended) of Miss Budweiser paint schemes.

Tide, 1992-1994
(sorry for the small size)
Another sponsorship of a Proctor and Gamble product for Wurster Racing brought another striking paint job for a universally recognized product.  This was the same hull that ran as Mr. Pringle's in 1988-1990 and continued its reputation of a boat that was successful but prone to accidents.  This was just an all around great paint jobs, with its bright colors and use oversized lettering on the sides of the airscoop that would be copied by a number of teams through the years.

T Plus, 1992
Jim Harvey's U-2 team secured major sponsorship in 1992 and with it came this beautiful boat that was red and black with yellow trim.  T Plus would continue as sponsor for the U-2 until 1995 with a black and yellow paint scheme, winning three races along the way.  But to me, this paint job from 1992 was the team's best.

Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, 1993
The Miss Madison team ran as Tony the Tiger in 1992 and raced with a rather conventional blue and white paint schme (although it did have tiger striped trim).  Then in 1993 the team, now running as Frosted Flakes, unveiled this outrageous dark blue and tigerstriped paint job.  The paint scheme was immediately a huge hit and brought the Miss Madison team a lot of attention, especially after winning in San Diego.

Miss Exide, 1993-1997
A perfect example of a "simple but elegant" paint scheme, The Miss Exide's largely white with blue and yellow trim hydroplane showed that a boat didn't need outrageous colors to be an eyecatcher.  The checkerd flag look on the vertical stabilizers was also a nice nod to the Miss Exide hydros that raced in the 1960's.  Although the boat never won a race while racing as Miss Exide in the 1990's, this was nonetheless a memorable paint scheme.

Smokin' Joe's, 1994-1996
Camel Powered Smokin' Joe's, another entry from Steve Woomer's U-10 team, was another eyecatcher with its purple and gold colors.  Much like its time as the Winston Eagle, the partnership of the U-10 and RJ Reynolds brought a huge involvement at every race site with merchandise trucks full of hydro gear and Joe Camel (I have never seen, however, the inevitible image of Joe Camel driving a hydroplane on any piece of merchandise.  If you have such a piece of merchandise please scan an image of it and send the image to me.).  This paint scheme also marked the end of an era in hydroplane racing, as congressional pressure of tobacco industry marketing led to a large scaling back of such sponsorships.  1996 was the last year of RJ Reynolds' sponsorship of the U-10 and a few years later the Joe Camel character was discontinued.

Miss Madison, 1999 and early 2000
The Miss Madison team was without sponsorship from 1998 to early 2000 but still turned out some great paint schemes that paid tribute to the team's history.  In 1999 the boat was white with gold trim and lettering that was an almost exact replica of the paint scheme that was used by Miss Madison in the late 1970's and early 1980's.  In 2000 the Miss Madison raced with a gold paint job with mahogany trim and lettering that recalled the Miss Madison that won the 1971 Gold Cup.  Oh Boy! Oberto came on board as a sponsor for the 2000 western tour and while this point of history for the Miss Madison didn't have much success, it did have some fine tributes to the team's long and rich history.

Miss Freei, 2000

This blue and gold boat owned by Ken Muskatel was a striking hull at a time when seemingly everything in sports from Unlimited Hydroplanes to College Football Bowl Games were being sponsored by a website.  The hull made headlines in early 2000 when it broke the longstanding mile straightaway record, but failed as a competitor and the hull was abandonned after the 2000 season.

Miss E-Lam Plus, 2000-2009
The Ellstrom family unveiled a striking flourescent orange painted boat in 2000 that saw immediate results with a victory in Tri-Cities.  In 2001 the team built a new hull but kept the same paint scheme.  With it's use of flourescent orange as a primary color, blue checkers on the sides, and liberal use of arrows, the 2005 and 2007 High Point champion was an immediate eye catcher.  It was also a nice change of pace in an era when seemingly every other boat in the fleet was using a bland solid red or solid yellow paint scheme.
Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, 2001-2004
Oh Boy! Oberto joined the Miss Madison team as sponsor in 2000 and in 2001 the team unveiled a red, green, and white paint scheme with checkerboard trim that was reminisecent of many classic Oberto hulls.  The Oberto Sausage Company has been sponsoring Unlimited Hydroplanes off and on since the 1970's and this paint scheme did a fine job of being true to the spirit of some of the classic Oberto paint schemes.  For 2005 the team switched to a more conventional red and green paint job but this one is still what I think of when I think of the Miss Madison V wearing Oberto colors.  Of course, it looked exceptionally good when winning Madison in 2001.

Superior Racing, 2007
When a team is without major sponsorship, they usually go with a  generic paint job where the boat is painted all white or some primary color.  Ken Muskatel bucked that trend in 2007 with this gorgeous light blue boat with red trim.  It reminded long time fans of the sport of the more colorful hydros that raced in the 1950's and 1960's

Miss Beacon Plumbing, 2007-2008
Another throwback paint scheme, this yellow and black checkerboard paint job immediately reminded fans of the "Checkerboard Comet" Miss Bardahl hydroplane driven by team owner Billy Schumacher in the late 1960's.  This made the U-37 an immediate crowd pleaser and Jean Theoret was able to drive the hull to a couple of fine seasons.

Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison, 2007-Present
The sixth Miss Madison hull was already one of the most anticipated new hulls in Unlimited Hydroplane history when it was being constructed in the Winter and Spring of 2007.  When the new hull made its public debut on the Madison riverfront as sort of a sending off before the season opener in Evansville, that anticipation reached fever pitch as the fans got their first glimpse of the amazing shark paint scheme.  The amazing paint job with its fine use of color and a cockpit that resembled not only a shark but the nose of a World War II fighter plane was an immediate smash hit.  Everyone knew the new hull was going to up the ante when it came to competition on the water in Unlimited Racing, but few expected it to kick start a new era of striking and exciting paint schemes.  So many teams have gone with striking paint jobs since the new Oberto-Madison hull made its debut that it's almost easy to forget how outrageous this was at the time of its unveiling.  This classic look has stood the test of time, however, and is still an eyecatcher in the pits.

Freedom Racing, 2007

This small team out of San Diego made headlines in 2006 when their boat caught fire in Seattle and was a total loss.  For 2007 they debuted on the West Coast with a hull that was essentially a replica of the just completed Miss Madison VI and with it a bold multicolored paint scheme.  Although this team never got off the ground as competitors they did give the hydro world this striking paint job and a hull that continues to race to this day for Go Fast Turn Left Racing.

Spirit of the Navy, 2008
Another great patriotic paint job.  This Navy sponsored hull was painted blue and gold to resemble a Blue Angel jet, complete with  official looking "The United States of America" lettering on the side of the hull.  The look was an instant hit among th fans, including in Seafair where the Blue Angels perform every year and led to some great photo opportunities with this hull.
Peters & May, 2010
Schumacher Racing secured major sponsorship in 2010 and with it another bold paint scheme  The boat had an almost metalic look with its bright yellow and red and blue trim.  The look didn't last long, however, after the boat was destroyed at Detroit.  The team did do a fine job of recreating the look on a leased hull though and this look continues to be memorable although it only lasted a short time.

So there are some of my favorite paint schemes.  I left off the ones currently in use (except for the Oh Boy! Oberto) since I wanted to focus on the more classic looks of the past.  I'm excited to see a pits full of colorful boats this season.  Surely some of  these new paint schemes will soon become some of my favorites.

All images taken from the web.  Many thanks to Leslie Field's hydroplane history website, the Miss Madison website, HydroInsider, and other webpages for their fine work and collections of great hydroplane photography.