Sunday, May 27, 2012

Even the winner sunk

Reprinted from the Tri City Herald, July 29, 1979.

Stroll around the pit area of Columbia Park and you can’t help but be impressed with the vast array of hydroplanes, engines, trucks and vans.

No figures are kept on these things, but if you guessed it was the most valuable unlimited hydroplane armada ever assembled, who could say you were wrong?

The total runs into several million bucks in no time at all.

Bill Muncey, for instance, puts a $350,000 price tag on the Atlas Van Lines, including boat and support equipment.

Bernie Little says the new Miss Budweiser cost him something like $250,000.

Kenny Thompson has a six figure investment in Miss Tri-City Tile and Masonry.

Some folks say Circus Circus is the best financed operation on the circuit.

It wasn’t always that way. Like most sports, the so-called good ol’ days weren’t so hot.

Back in 1948, all of 21 boats showed up for the Gold Cup in Detroit. In the wake of World War II, there had been a rash of backyard boat building, as owners strove to take advantage of surplus machinery and equipment.

The enthusiasm of the new boat builders, however, outstripped their expertise. Out of 21 entries, 20 boats didn’t finish the race.

And the winner of the race, Miss Great Lakes, sunk at the dock during the trophy presentation.
It’s also interesting to note, the winning speed was a blinding 46.845 miles per hour.

True, it was a 90-mile course, but that speed equates better with ski boats. Maybe even sail boats.

Faster, even faster

But as fast as today’s championship heat might be, it’s just a rung on the ladder as the hydroplaners strive for higher and higher speeds.

In fact, the successor to day’s hot boats could be taking shape right now in Seattle.

Developing a turbine powered boat that is supposed to be ready in the 1980 season in Dave Heerensperger.

“It’s going to be either the biggest think to ever happen to hydroplane racing, or the biggest bust,” said Heerensperger who was in the Tri-Cities for the running of the Columbia Cup. “And if it’s a bust, it’ll probably be the most expensive one in history,” he adds.

Heerensperger, however, hasn’t been associated with many failures. It was Heerensperger, for instance, who had the winningest boat in the history of the sport – the U-25 Pay ‘N Pak.

He also developed the U-1 Atlas Van Lines, which has now won seven straight races going back to last year.

A little over three years ago, he sold the kit and caboodle to Muncey. “Muncey made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It’s been a bargain for Bill too.”

He attributes his withdrawal from the sport to the pressure of is business, plus the fact he didn’t like the direction in which the sport was headed.

“You had to spend most of your time raising funds to hold the Seafair race. Now with Bob Steil and the Squire Shop underwriting it, Seafair is in good shape for the first time.”

There are some obvious advantages to the turbine. For one thing, the turbines, used in military helicopters, are about 15 percent lighter than the Rolls Royces currently in favor. The other thing, of course, is the face that they can produce about 1,000 more horsepower.

Gearing the power down so it’s adaptable to hydroplanes is the big problem.

Six years ago, the late Jim Clapp pioneered a turbine boat. It wasn’t a bad but his widow, Pam Clapp, gave up on the project after two seasons.

“The boat was too heavy,” reports Heerensperger. “Instead of two turbines, we’ll use just one. That greatly simplifies things.”

Better in the turns

People who have heard the high whine of  turbine associate it with great speed.

“Actually, turbines generate more power at the low end than they do at the high end. In other words, they supply the power you need in the turns where you need it. Getting speed on the straight away has never been a problem.”

The project has reunited Heerensperger with his former crew chief Jim Lucero. Lucero, who designed the U-1 Atlas Van Lines while he was with the Pay ‘N Pak team, is designing the new boat.

Initial reports had Lucero rejoining his old boss next year on a full time basis. Now, however, it’s believed that he’ll set up his own consulting business and be available to several clients.

That’s the shape of things to come. For the present, marring mishap, we have what could be the fastest championship final ever assembled.

Picking a winner is tough. My last prediction was that the price of gasoline would go down.

The only think I’ll go on record with is that we won’t have 20 DNF this afternoon, and the winner won’t sink at the dock.

Now, that’s progress.

Bitten by the Big Bad Boat Bug

The zealots who cannot shake the unlimited hydroplane habit open the new season in the certain knowledge that heartbreak lies around the bend.

By Coles Phinizy
Reprinted from Sports Illustrated, June 2, 1975

After 15 honest years of handling lesser brutes, in 1973 Tom D'Eath, a 29-year-old Michigan boat driver, got his first try in an unlimited hydroplane. When he moved up into the biggest class of them all, D'Eath joined an elite group of boat owners, drivers and mechanics of assorted genius and curious disposition.

In the Kentucky Derby a jockey named Shoemaker once stood in his stirrups too soon, costing his irate backers a bundle. At the Masters a golfer named de Vicenzo once signed an incorrect scorecard, thereby losing a chance at a green blazer and a bundle. In 1908 a base runner named Merkle blew a pennant by failing to touch a bag, and in 1929 a California football player named Riegels lost the Rose Bowl by running the wrong way. Such freakish turns of fate, occasional in other sports, are commonplace in unlimited hydroplaning. Scantily defined, an unlimited hydroplaner is a mystical mix of optimist and masochist. To survive he must believe in winning while reveling in the fact that at any moment, for one unforeseen reason or a hundred others, he may end up with egg on his face.

Two years ago, when Tom D'Eath joined the unlimiteds, or "thunderboats" as they are also called, he brought with him the sort of track record and bloodlines that horse fanciers respect. He had won three national titles in the 2.5 liter class and held the straightaway record in that category. His father was a thunder-boat hero of the Guy Lombardo era; his brother has a winning record in three limited classes. As might be expected, in his rookie season D'Eath finished in the ruck driving Miss U.S., an old boat owned by George Simon, a Detroit tool manufacturer. Despite his bloodlines and competence, last year in a spiffy new Miss U.S. furnished by Simon, D'Eath did even worse. He got into the water by the one-minute warning gun for only 10 of the 34 heats run that year, and on four of those 10 occasions never made it across the starting line. In one race Miss U.S. began handling like a berserk hay wagon, in another her throttle cable froze and in another her battery failed - such are the ills that these boats are heir to.

Midway in the season in her opening heat for the Gold Cup, the classic contest of unlimited hydroplane racing, by the luck of it poor Miss U.S. came up against the hottest boats in the fleet: Pay 'n Pak, the 1973 champion; Miss Budweiser, the 1973 runner-up; Atlas Van Lines, driven by Bill Muncey, the biggest winner of all; and an experimental turbine-powered boat called U-95. D'Eath led for two laps, or until U-95 blew up and sank, stopping the action. In the rerun of the aborted heat D'Eath was again in the lead when his gear box disintegrated, blowing hot metal through a fuel cell and burning Miss U.S. to the waterline.

Any thoroughbred horse that performs as badly as Miss U.S. did last year runs the risk of being shipped to a meat-packer, but thunderboating is a different kind of sentimental game. And to judge by the record, George Simon, owner of Miss U.S., is the gamest kind of sentimentalist. He has owned unlimited hydros for 20 years. Back in 1962 Roy Duby piloted one of his hulls to and fro over a straight mile at an average speed of 200.419 mph to set a world propellered-craft record that still stands. His boats have won almost every unlimited honor, but never the cherished Gold Cup or the annual title. Bernie Little, owner of rival Miss Budweiser, says of Simon, "George gets inspired. When he hears his boat firing up, he is ready to bet a bundle on it, and when he is in that kind of inspired condition, the rest of us can pluck him like a chicken."

Be all that as it may, this past winter Simon had Miss U.S. rebuilt. Last week in Miami in the Champion Spark Plug Regatta, the first race of the 1975 season, Miss U.S. went back into action with Tom D'Eath again at the wheel. And how did they do? Worse than ever. On the first turn of the first lap of the first heat Miss U.S.'s ignition failed; her intake took in water. In the second heat, while boiling along at a comfortable 150 mph seconds before the gun, Miss U.S. was washed out by the rooster tail of an overeager rival.

Nobody should consider getting into thunderboating unless he is willing to be unlucky. The anxious mother who does not want her boy to become a driver should take the following precautions: first, never let the kid get his hands on any outboard motor, not even the tiniest Evinrude. One horsepower often leads to another and before you know it the kid has a helmet and life vest. Second, never take a child near Seattle or Detroit in the summer. The unlimited hydro bug is particularly virulent in those areas at that time.

A boy may grow up devoted to stamp collecting and fern pressing, but that does not guarantee that he will not later succumb to a pastime like thunderboating. There is a bit of the motor-mad Toad in many adult males, and no one can be sure when or how the mania will crop out. Consider the case of 39-year-old David Heerensperger. From his teens on, in the process of carving out a living, Heerensperger, present owner of two-time champion Pay 'n Pak, rarely had time for anything more frivolous than high school baseball in Longview, Wash. In 1963, three years after he opened his first electric store, he saw a news item about a sunken hydro, Miss Spokane, that had been salvaged and was going for $5,000. For reasons he does not try to explain, Heerensperger momentarily lost his good business sense and went for it.

For two years he campaigned the boat, renaming it Miss Eagle Electric, after his business. He spent $28,000 and won nary a purse. Realizing that to campaign properly would cost more than his whole business was then worth, Heerensperger got rid of the boat. He swore off even attending races, but the bug still had him. After two years of total abstinence he was back.

Because of all the twists of luck, now and again an upstart driver in a lesser boat outscorches the top dogs, but the life span of such supernovas is usually brief, their exits often made with a loud bang as half a dozen connecting rods burst through the walls of their old and overtaxed engines. The only adequate power plants available today are antique Allison and Rolls-Royce engines made 25 and more years ago for fighter planes. In wartime the engines were designed to cruise at about 2,200 rpm and were red-lined around 3,500. In hydros they are pushed up to 4,500 rpm to turn propellers at better than 13,000. When so pushed the old engines frequently blow. Broken rods and broken hearts are the order of the day. Coming out of a turn when his blower is behind schedule, so to speak, the driver of a modern thunderboat caresses a button on his steering wheel two or three times, adding nitrous oxide, a heady compound better known as laughing gas, to his fuel to effect a faster burn. If he is a pennyweight too heavy on the button, within five seconds it is goodby engine. The old engines, which originally cost around $30,000, could be bought just after World War II for $125. Off the shelf they now go for $5,000 and, race-prepared, for twice that.

The three-point hulls used today are still undergoing change by the tedious process of trial and error. Whatever breakthroughs the future may hold, the hulls forever will be a compromise between what runs well flat-out on a straight and what is necessary to survive in the brawling uncertainties of the turns. Today when boats are hitting 180 mph on straights and lapping at 115, the driver Who does not back off enough and catches a sponson in one of the queer holes that suddenly appear in the troubled water of a turn can easily spin his boat full circle and end up on the obituary page. For all its whims thunderboating is still a percentage game, and the owner or sponsor who is not willing to put $125,000 into it annually is not apt to get anywhere.

It is logical enough that a town like Spokane, in a heartland of the sport, might have a community-sponsored hull named Miss Spokane, but no one visiting Madison, Ind. would suspect that such a quiet old town could be similarly afflicted by the bug. In the early 19th century, before the railroads went west, Madison was a busy Ohio River port. Today it is in large part a memory, a showplace of gracious architecture by early 19th century masters. A bawling hydro no more fits into the Madison scene than a stable of Indy cars would in Colonial Williamsburg. Nonetheless the town has harbored, patched, repatched and campaigned a succession of Miss Madisons for 14 years, winning almost nothing. The most that can be said for the effort is that some of Miss Madison's drivers have gone on to greater things. One of them, George (Buddy) Byers, is now the commissioner of thunderboating. Another, Jim McCormick, drives Pay 'n Pak.

McCormick is a mechanical contractor by trade, a boat driver by preoccupation. Before he bought a 280-cu.-in. inboard racer by mistake in 1963, casual water sports were his recreational bag. (His wife Bonnie remembers that he spent an inordinate portion of their honeymoon wearing a face mask in the bathtub to find out how long he could hold his breath underwater). McCormick never saw a boat race, real or televised, before he ran in one in 1963 against two dozen hot-shot 280-inch hydroplaners at the Calvert Trophy regatta in Louisville. McCormick took fifth in his heat to make the final round. In the finals, running third, he popped his propeller shaft 100 yards from the finish line. His score for the day was DNF, but he was hooked.

When McCormick applied for the job aboard Miss Madison, his wife cottoned to the idea. Working on his own boat had consumed much of his spare time; if he became the exalted jockey of a thunderboat, he would have loyal monkeys to tinker it into shape for him. The Miss Madison management apparently entertained some doubt about how long its association with McCormick might last. Despite his suggestion that his name be painted on the boat, as is the custom, they declined to do so.

At Tampa in 1966 McCormick won his very first heat in an unlimited hydro, blowing off great ones like Miss Budweiser and Miss Smirnoff. When he ended up third overall in the three-heat race, the Miss Madison management wrote his name on the hull with a felt-point pen. His next race was the President's Cup in Washington, and McCormick relates, "In the first heat I break out ahead. I am blowing and going. Then I hit the first turn and scattered our only engine all over the Potomac. In a word, I really garbaged it." It was not only a bad day for McCormick, but also the darkest day in more than a half century of unlimited racing. Three of the 13 drivers were killed. "That one bad day," McCormick says, "cooled my wife off real quick."

Although the money didn't mean much to him, the following season McCormick left Miss Madison for better rides in hulls like Notre Dame and Atlas Van Lines. By 1970, however, he was back with Miss Madison. But as if there were not enough freakish disasters on the racecourses, Miss Madison's chances were dashed before the season began. While the crew was trailering her through Georgia en route to the first race in Tampa, a drunk driver coming out of a side road broadsided them and knocked the 28-foot hull off her rig.

The following year was Miss Madison's finest. After the first three races the 12-year-old boat stood second in championship points. The classic four-heat Gold Cup competition is bid for annually by interested communities, and in 1971 by fluke the consistently low-bidding town of Madison was the only one that made an offer by the deadline. Going into the last heat with a solid chance to take the Gold Cup in its home waters, the crew told McCormick, "We are either going to win or blow you sky high." They drilled out the nitrous oxide orifice and the fuel orifice and added nitromethane to the fuel, and somehow the quivering bomb held together. "When Miss Madison won the Gold Cup right in Madison," McCormick remembers, "they damn near burned down the whole town."

At the next race, in Pasco, Wash., Miss Madison won again to take the lead in championship points. Apparently giddy with success, at a race in Seattle the crew got the engine timing off 180 degrees and blew out the front end. "The dream ended about there," McCormick says. "We finished second that year, which is not bad for a volunteer crew, an antique boat and a fouled-up driver."

The winner of the first race of 1975 in Miami last week was a boat called Weisfield's, which unsuccessfully campaigned in 1974 as Valu-Mart (the whimsies of thunderboat naming would give a horse breeder fits. Not only do drivers jump from boat to boat, but boats change names with abandon. For example, the latest Miss Budweiser, the seventh so named, was Pay 'n Pak a few years ago and the Valvoline now active on the circuit ran last year as Miss Technicolor and sometimes as Miss Colt Beverages and also as Miss Northwest Tank Service).

Bill Schumacher, the two-time national champion who drove Weisfield's to her Miami win, led the sort of early life that worries mothers. He was bombing around racecourses in five-hp outboards at 30 mph at the age of eight. Before moving up to beefier stuff he won three national titles and set competitive and straightaway records in the 9- and 12-year-old classes. By the time he was 15 he was driving four different hulls in eight classes. In one weekend regatta at Devils Lake, Ore. young Schumacher ran 30 heats in 11 different classes.

Schumacher has been in and out of thunderboats for a dozen years, injuring himself seriously only once. In 1971 on the same Miami course where he won last week his rudder linkage failed while he was traveling 155 mph, putting the boat into a 360-degree spin and throwing him out. A year later he quit a boat in mid-season because he considered the debris-filled waters of a racecourse too dangerous. "There is risk enough in the sport," he says. "I am not interested in playing Russian roulette."

It was expected that the 1975 season would be a red-hot competition between the defending champion, Pay 'n Pak, and Miss Budweiser, Atlas Van Lines and Weisfield's, but in Miami Weisfield's had it all her way. She won both her heats and the final round for a perfect score of 1,200 points. Only one boat got within two mph of her hot pace in qualifying and competitive laps. In thunderboating, for sure, one race does not a season make. Given enough time and the usual quota of freakish bad luck, even the best of the big boats may blow up, wash out or spin out. Now and for all time it is a game with slings and arrows aplenty, a game where the only certainty is uncertainty.

Friday, May 25, 2012

After two near-fatal crashes, why return to racing?

Reprinted from The Day, October 6, 1982

Lately, it seems that half the stories I’ve written about powerboat racers should have been handled by a medical writer – grim tales of injury and death that make for depressing reading, especially when they are about people you know and like.

That’s why I was disturbed recently to hear John Walters, upon leaving the hospital, say that he hadn’t given up the idea of getting back into the cockpit of Pay ‘N Pak, the unlimited hydroplane that nearly killed him six weeks ago.

If you lined up 20 men, Walters, 28, would be one of the last you would select as a top practitioner of possibly the world’s most dangerous sport. He’s slender and not very tall, and his back mustache seems designed to make him look older.

Walters is quietly confident and not given to bragging about what he does, which is guiding two tons of hydroplane on the ragged edge of disaster, taking turns at 120 miles an hour and going down straight-aways at nearly 200.

He has stepped over the edge twice.

The first time was three summers ago, when, in the glow of seemingly perfect initial runs, he took an untested, radical turbine boat out for a run that was expected to blow everyone else away. The boat did a double back flip at 170 mph.

The second time was August 8 in Seattle, when another boat spun out in front of him and he turned over after colliding.

“I don’t know for sure what I’m doing to do,” Walters said when asked about his future. “I’ll have to wait until I’m healed before I’ll know if I can drive the boat again, but the doctors say it will be six months to a year before I can even drive a car.”

Away from the boat, his life centers on wife Arlene and their two daughters, Katrina, 11, and Maciva, 9. They live in Renton, Wash., in the heard of unlimited country and only a short distance from the test waters where 99 percent of the new unlimited boats and drivers get their baptism.

Walters said that Arlene “knew from the time we were married, when I was still building unlimiteds, that I wanted to drive them. She knows what the risks are and she accepts them . . . no, I guess I have to admit that she’s not terribly pleased with the idea of me driving again.”

After thinking for a moment, Walters added, “I don’t know if I’ll want to drive again. I’ll have to see how I feel when the time comes. I’ve been extremely lucky twice. Right now, I’m not sure what I want.”

John Walters is lucky that even without driving, he can still be intimately involved with the sport he loves so much. Walters’ first connection with the unlimiteds was in designing and building the boats. When he started to drive them, he turned his mechanically inclined mind toward learning all he could about the boat’s jet turbine engine.

All forms of motor sport are familiar with the gentleman driver, the guy who doesn’t know where the engine is but can make the machine go like a bat out of hell. That’s not Walters’ style.

“As a driver, it was to my advantage to be able to come back and talk to the guys working on the motor and say this is what I think it’s doing and why it’s doing it,” Walters said.

Crew Chief Jim Lucero, the man who designed many of the competitive boats on the circuit, pays Walters the ultimate mechanic’s compliment by saying he is “a darned good wrench.”

It has been a tough couple of years for unlimited hydroplane racing. Since November 1981, the sport has seen Bill Muncey and Dean Chenoweth, probably the two best drivers who ever lived, killed in accidents. The wreck that hospitalized Walters also smashed two other boats, although their drivers escaped without serious injury.

A number of drivers, owners and others connected with the sport are casting worried eyes at Chip Hanauer, the 27-year-old pilot of Atlas Van Lines. Hanauer is a bright, vibrant and articulate driver who is one of the most competitive human beings ever to strap himself into a boat seat.

He has a new boat and is virtually guaranteed the 1982 national unlimited title, but he shows no inclination to play it safe.

Knowledgeable observers say Hanauer is so competitive that, in the words of one friend and fellow driver, “He doesn’t seem to even think about the danger. It’s like he has a switch in his head that he turns off when it comes to his own safety. On land, he’s very smart. It’s hard to believe he’s the same guy when he gets in the boat. I guess he’s trying to prove something, that he really is the best.”

Walters left the hospital in a body cast after his most recent crash, and he worries more about walking normally than when he will be able to drive again. And even if the body heals to the point that he doesn’t look any different than before, there is no guarantee that he’ll still have the almost superhuman reflexes and high-speed judgment that mark top drivers in every form of motor sport.

John Walters has nothing to prove to anyone – not to his pears, not to the fans who line the riverbanks and lakeshores by the hundreds of thousands, certainly not to himself.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

John Walters is do-it-all in hydroplane racing

Reprinted from The Madison Courier, February 6, 1987

To say Miller American Racing Team crew chief John Walters is something of a utility man in unlimited hydroplane racing would be something of an understatement. After all, Walters has been a boat owner, boat builder, crewman, driver, engine specialist, and crew chief during his boat racing career.

As an 11-year-old he began racing outboards with his father, graduated to the larger, limited inboard hydroplanes a few years later.

He took a bit step in 1974 by going to work for boat builder Ron Jones, who has crafted many top unlimited as well as other racing craft over the years.

Later, he became a member of the late Bill Muncey’s Atlas Van Lines crew. It was while he was working for Muncey that Walters gained invaluable experience in his driving career. Walters was having a good career in the late 1970s in the limited inboard ranks.

“I learned as much standing on the dock watching Bill drive a race boat as you can ever learn sitting behind the wheel of your own,” he said. “Bill kind of took me under his wing at several of my limited events. He came out and watched me and said, ‘Why did you do this?’ or ‘Next time you might want to do this,’ and just kind of pointed me in the right direction,” Walters notes.

“He was a real good critic and somebody who really knew what was going on, and I really had a lot of respect for his ideas and thoughts on things. There’s no question but what it helped me out a great deal,” Walters adds.

Because Muncey lived in San Diego, and Walters lived in Seattle where the Atlas boat was headquartered, Muncey sometimes let the youth drive in practice runs on Lake Washington. Walters even drive the “Blue Blaster” in two exhibition heats in Oregon.

It was while he worked with the Atlas crew that Walters came into a strong working relationship with former Atlas team manager/boat builder Jim Lucero. In fact, Walters worked with Lucero on the development and construction of the Pay ‘N Pak turbine craft.

When Dave Heerensperger and Pay ‘N Pak voiced an interest in getting back into racing again, they wanted to do it with Jim as the team manager,” Walters said. “We wanted to work on boats together and to build boats for other people and when Jim formed his own company, he asked me if I’d participate in helping build the boat and everything.”

Walters’ driving career in the limited class was going great guns in 1979. “At that point in time I was winning lots of races in lots of different classes and managed to put together a national championship that year,” he remembers. Heerensperger saw him race in one of the most prestigious limited events on the west coast and said, “It looks to me like you’re about ready to drive a big boat and if you’re interested in doing it, I’m interested in having you do it,” Heerensperger told him.

Walters and the Pak turbine experienced a spectacular blow-over flip on the Columbia River before the boat ever saw its first competition. The accident, at the 1980 Columbia Cup race, “is still very clear in my mind and I get to see it enough on television that it keeps bringing it back,” he says today. “I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes upside down and backwards over the Columbia River and I don’t have any control over that one.”

Walters recovered from his injuries, the boat was repaired and the Pak returned to competition in 1981. At the 1982 Syracuse race, he became the first driver to every win an unlimited hydroplane race aboard a turbine-powered hydroplane. But later in the season his driving career was abruptly ended when he was seriously injured in a crash with George Johnson and the Executone.

Walters suffered “pretty substantial head injuries” and other problems as a result of the crash. “I was hurt pretty severely and had to go through a real long process of getting better and healing up. The physical trauma is one thing; the mental trauma is something different.”

Walters’ driving days were over. Pay ‘N Pak owner Dave Heerensperger retired from the sport because (in the wake of the Bill Muncey and Dean Chenoweth fatalities and then the crash of his own boat) he claimed it had become too dangerous. Walters, without a job, began the long recovery process.

“I kind of feel like the rug was pulled out from under me right when we were getting the boat to a point where we could go out and win races consistently and really fulfill a lot of goals that I had set for myself as a driver,” the 34-year-old reflects today. “I had that all taken away from me. Being able to say that I was the first driver in the history of the sport to win a boat race in a turbine certainly is a feather in our cap and makes me feel real good.”

Following Heerensperger’s second retirement from the sport, Lucero rejoined the Atlas Van Lines team in late 1982 as team manager and later as co-owner. His friend Walters would join the team a couple of years later, returning to contribute in yet another capacity to the sport he enjoys to much.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Big hydro crash on the Columbia

Reprinted from the Associated Press, July 29, 1980

KENNEWICK, Wash. – “You can’t win if you don’t play,” said Pay ‘N Pak hydroplane driver John Walters after a test of his new machine one day before the Columbia Cup race.

He may have played too hard. The boat that had electrified a large crowd on Saturday horrified those gathered for Sunday’s race on the Columbia River.

Walters took the Pay ‘N Pak for a test spin around the course shortly before the day’s first scheduled heat at noon.

The Pay 'N Pak, with driver John Walters, goes into a double somersault during a practice run prior to Sunday's Columbia Cup on the Columbia River in Kennewick, Wash. Walters was hospitalized with a broken hip socket.

Accelerating hard down the straightaway in front of the south bank of the river, the boat apparently got caught by the wind, turned on its heels and went hurtling some 30 feet into the air.

If flipped backward 2 ½ times, hit the water on its nose and flipped backward again, coming to rest upside down in the water.

Walters was ejected on the first flip. The rescue barge was at his side 55 seconds after the start of the crash and divers were helping the injured driver out of the water 10 seconds later.

Walters, an experienced limited hydroplane driver making his debut on the unlimited circuit, was rushed to Kennewick General Hospital where he was treated for a broken hip socket and a rash of cuts, bruises and sprains.

The boat’s damage was concentrated on its right side, where the front portion of the sponson was sheared off. The deck was smashed. Crew chief-designer Jim Lucero estimates damage may run to $30,000, but said the boat was not a total loss.

“I think he was going 160-plus (mph) when he flipped. But he wasn’t anywhere close to being full out,” owner Dave Heerensperger said.

On Saturday, he said the boat and crew were not as prepared as they’d like to have been for the race.
“But we owe it to our fans and to the sport to be here,” he said.

Lucero said he couldn’t define all the problems and damage until he disassembled the boat in Seattle later this week.

“But our first concern is with John,” he added.

Lucero and crew had worked day and night to get the turbine boat ready for the race. It wasn’t brought to Kennewick until Saturday, the last day for qualifying.

“We came over here to test the boat and to give John a chance to get a feel for it.” Lucero said. “We had no plans to compete with Atlas or Budweiser.”

Henley in comeback

By Mike Harris, AP Sports Writer
Reprinted from The Day, July 5, 1975

MADISON, Ind. (AP) – Two months ago George Henley was sitting home “feeling pretty bad,” but Sunday he and his Pride of Pay ‘N Pak were back among the frontrunners in the unlimited hydroplane world.

Henley “retired” at the end of last season after driving the Pak to her second straight unlimited hydroplane national championship in his first year at her helm.

The 39-year-old Eatonville, Wash., drive made his quick comeback complete Sunday by coming up with his first victory of this season in the 24th Indiana Governor’s Cup race here.

“Quiet George,” a marine public relations and sales executive, took home about $6,300 and some salve for his ego after outdueling Billy Schumacher and current national standings leader Weisfield’s in two of three heats.

After winning seven of 11 thunderboat races in 1974 it took owner Dave Heerensperger’s crew five races this year to finally “get it together.” They did it well enough Sunday to give Heerensperger his third straight Governor’s Cup triumph and permanent possession of the sterling silver trophy, the third such cup in the series.

The key was a sensational second heat in which the Pak and Weisfield’s went head-to-head all five laps and each broke the old heat and one-lap records on the 2 ½ Ohio River course.

“All I knew was I had to go pretty fast to stay ahead of Billy. I didn’t have much left,” Henley said with a happy smile. “I haven’t had too many races like that even in limited racing where there’s more of that.

The two top boats dueled brilliantly in the opening preliminary heat but had to settle for second and third, with the Pak second, because both were penalized a lap for jumping the starter’s gun.

Then came the race that seemed as hot as the sun that baked more than 100,000 spectators. In that second battle, Henley averaged 115.148 miles per hour for the heat and had a top lap of 116.883. Weisfield’s was clocked at an average of 115.060.

The records, both set last year by Henley, were 110.892 and 114.796, respectively.

Familiar Face Back


Reprinted from the Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 30, 1978

After three years “on the beach,” Dave Heerensperger is ready to return to unlimited hydroplane racing.

Chairman of the board of the Kent, Wash.-based Pay ‘N Pak chain, Heerensperger got into the unlimiteds in the mid-1960s when he took over the old Miss Spokane and was to produce three straight national champions before retiring in 1976.

After returning from the recent American Power Boat Association meetings in Baton Rouge, La., Heerensperger announced plans to campaign a revolutionary new turbine-powered unlimited in 1980.

Jim Lucero, former crew chief of the three-time national champion Pay ‘N Pak, will supervise building of the new boat this summer. At the same time, he’ll continue as crew chief for 1978 national champion Atlas Van Lines.

Known for his innovative departures, Heerensperger indicated new materials and designs would be used in the new boat. A first model revealed two wings, one in front as well as the rear wing. But many changes could be made before the hull is built.

Charles Lyford, the expert behind the only turbine powered hydroplane to compete on the unlimited circuit in the past, the ill-fated U-95, will be the consultant on the engine requirements and features. Before the U-95 sank in 1974, it was hailed as the “boat of the future.”

The turbine will be a Lycoming T-55 L-7 gas turbine, developed form military helicopters and said capable of producing 2,600-plus horsepower.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pay ‘N Pak Wins It!

Reprinted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 5, 1974

Dave Heerensperger received a Gold Cup as a wedding present yesterday. It was something he’d always wanted.

George Henley piloted the unlimited hydroplane Pride of Pay ‘N Pak to a perfect Gold Cup victory on Lake Washington yesterday, then handed the golden goblet to Heerensperger, head of the Seattle racing team, who had been married just 24 hours earlier.

Pay ‘N Pak won all four races in which it was entered yesterday, including the winner-take-all finale, which ended in the dusk after eight-and-a-half hours of racing, before an estimated 35,000 spectators who had paid their way into the new Sand Point hydro area.

Accidents contributed greatly to the delay. The turbine-powered U-95 of Seattle sank in 180 feet of water when its engine exploded, and shrapnel punched a hole in the bottom of the experimental unlimited. In a rerun of that same heat an hour later, Miss U.S. of Detroit caught fire when hot metal from a blown engine ignited fuel in the boat’s bilge. Driver Tom D’Eath was uninjured, but highly critical of the operators of course-patrol craft, for failing to immediately quench the flames.

Pak’s 122.531 M.P.H. Run Tops Field

By Del Danielson
Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 2, 1974

Hydroplane drivers, in search of "good water," were out early today in the second of three qualifying sessions for Sunday’s Gold Cup race on Lake Washington.

Unlike yesterday, the 2½-mile Sand Point course was a placid pond this morning.

Bill Muncey, who complained of hazardous swells after two test runs yesterday, was the first on the course today. He qualified the Atlas Van Lines at a speed of 115.830 miles an hour, faster than any boat went yesterday.

Within an hour two drivers were ahead of Muncey on the speed ladder.

Top so far is a 122.531 run posted by George Henley in Pay ‘N Pak. Tom D’Eath, driver of the Miss U. S., ranks second at 119.366.

Ron Armstrong increased the Valu-Mart’s qualifying speed by turning two laps at an average of 115.017.

Yesterday’s leader, Howie Benns in the Budweiser, now ranks fifth.

Yesterday, a din dissatisfaction on the part of spectators was matched by a chorus of complaints from drivers.

Fans out to watch time trials at Sand Point found no drinking water, no shade, no comfortable spot to sit and a limited view of the course.

The drivers’ grievances concerned the course: Groundswells, hardly noticeable from the shore, make for a rough and hazardous ride.

"There are swells all over the course," Muncey said after two test runs in the Atlas Van Lines. "I hit one going into the first corner and another three fourths of the way through the turn. And more on the backstretch.

"I watched the other boats and every, one of ‘em that got any speed at all was seriously out of attitude."

Henley echoed Muncey’s comments.

"It’s going to be a slower race than usual, that’s for sure," Henley commented. "I just didn’t dare go over 150. You go over those swells and get to bouncing."

Henley felt the course, although far from perfect , was better in the morning than in the afternoon.
Henley got the Pak qualified with a two-lap average of 114.650 miles an hour in one of two morning runs.

Benns, aboard the Budweiser, edged Henley for the top qualifying speed (and $750) by going 114.869 m. p. h. later in the day.

Ten drivers braved the 2½-mile course for test runs; six of them reached the qualifying minimum of 90 m. p. h.

D’Eath, third best qualifier in the Miss U. S., wasted no words in the assessment of the layout:
"This is a terrible spot!"

Armstrong, after five practice runs, got the Valu-Mart officially in with an average of 104.774 m. p. h. Bill Wurster drove the Kirby Classic to a speed of 93.653 m. p. h., and Bob Saniga qualified the Australian Solo at 90.785 m. p. h.

Muncey is concerned, gravely, about the condition of the course and voiced a plan — providing the groundswells continue through tomorrow.

"I wouldn’t be ashamed at all to ask all the drivers to go — as a group — and ask that we race earlier on Sunday," Muncey said. "Maybe even two or three hours earlier.

"If it is ascertained that the course is going to be like this, we can’t afford not to consider something."
Qualifying continued today.

Remund Sets 126.613 Hydro Qualifying Mark

By Del Danielson
Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 4, 1973

Mickey Remund today set a Lake Washington record qualifying for tomorrow’s $50,000 World Championship unlimited hydroplane regatta.

Remund drove the Pay ‘N Pak to a three-lap average of 126.613 miles an hour, eclipsing the 125.874 mark set last year by Billy Sterett in another boat, Pride of Pay ‘N Pak.

It was Remund’s third qualifying run, upping his speed from a previous best of 124.568 m.p.h. Thursday he qualified at 122.728. Today, Remund was attempting to reach a 130-m.p.h., average.

A quick glance at the qualifying ladder might lead one to believe the Pay ‘N Pak and Budweiser are far and away the fastest of the 15 hydroplanes lining up for the race.

They are. And they aren’t.

The confusion is part of a little game called "fan plan follies" now in progress at the Stan Sayres Memorial Pits on the shore of Lake Washington.

The Fan Plan is the innovative format to match boats of like speed in preliminary heats, leading to a winner-take-all final.

Like cream, the Pay ‘N Pak and Budweiser went right to the top. After one day of qualifying, the Pak had a mark of 122.728 miles an hour. The Bud was close with a 121.901 m.p.h. average.

Nine other hydros were bunched between Pizza Pete at 100.022 m.p.h. and Shakey’s Special at 106.299 m.p.h. For all but a few of the hydro camps, the "sandbagger" label fits.

The numbers did spread out a bit yesterday, but there was no hurry to get into the "hot dog" flight, Mickey Remund moved the Pak’s speed up to 124.568 m.p.h.

The five fastest qualifiers will be in Flight-C tomorrow. The middle group will go in Flight B and the five slowpokes (or best sand-baggers) will start in Flight A.

Lee Schoenith, owner of the Pizza Pete and Atlas Van Lines, is an admitted sandbagger.

"There’s as much money up for winning Flight B as there is for running third in C. And the points are better."

As it stood this morning, Schoenith will send Bill Muncey out with the Atlas in Flight B. Fred Alter will pilot the Pizza Pete in the C section.

Schoenith may be trying to prove a point by keeping Muncey out of the speediest competition.

"I think the fan plan stinks," Schoenith said. "But I can play games too, if that’s what they want."

For a while, Muncey was in the top group with a qualifying average of 105.059 m.p.h.

When Tom Sheehy got the Miss Madison "in" with a two-lap average of 112.737 m.p.h., Muncey was dropped to fifth. And when Jim McCormick improved his speed in the Red Man I to 109.202 m.p.h., Muncey and the Atlas were put in the medium grouping.

"I got bumped!" Schoenith hollered in elation when McCormick’s speed was announced on the public-address system.

PIT STOPS: The average of 112.737 m.p.h. which put the Miss Madison in the fast flight did not bother Tom Sheehy, the driver. "We just go out and run and let the chips fall . . .," Sheehy said. "Sometimes you can over-engineer a project. Fool around with sandbagging too long and you can back yourself in a corner." . . . For some of the boat camps, it’s a matter of getting one problem solved and then finding something else to worry about. The Notre Dame blew an engine yesterday. The crew got things back in order and just as the crane lowered the craft to the water, the course was closed for the day . . .

Red Man II (former Country Boy) team solved an oil-pressure problem which had plagued George Henley on several test runs for a day and a half. With that fixed, the turbocharger attached to the big Allison engine decided to go "out of time." . . . Col. Jack Brown was scheduled to go through a driver’s qualification test today, running against the clock in a simulated start. If Brown doesn’t make it, Gene Whipp is the designated replacement to drive the Lincoln Thrift . . . Tomorrows first heat of racing will begin at noon.

Did Pak violate right-of-way rule?

By Del Danielson
Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 6, 1973

Delayed reports of a possible rule infraction during the final heat of yesterday’s World Championship unlimited-hydroplane race led to the suspension of an assistant referee last night.

Arnold Green of Seattle, a long-time competitor and boat-race official in the Pacific Northwest, was banned from unlimited-class officialdom by Bill Newton, chief referee.

Green did not relay to Newton a reported violation of the lane-change rule by Mickey Remund, winner of the $50,000 race.

"We cannot tolerate such action," Newton said when the matter was taken up several hours after the finish of the race.

Newton and Buddy Byers, unlimited commissioner, last night issued a statement which said four course referees reported to Green that the Pay ‘N Pak violated the right-of-way rule by cutting too sharply on the Budweiser in the fourth turn of the second lap.

Green, contacted at his home last night, said a course referee did call the barge, but "I did not talk to him. I got his report second-hand., And I was watching the north turn, I felt there was no violation of any rule, I believe I was in a better position to see than a judge in a boat and I did not relay the incident to Newton.

"I made a decision. I guess I should have passed it on and let Newton handle it."

Newton’s statement said the incident happened in the "second lap." Actually, Mickey Remund in the Pay ‘N Pak moved to the inside lane and forced the Budweiser to the outside on the fourth turn of the first lap.

"I saw the Pay ‘N Pak move in," Green said. "But in my estimation he left enough room for the Budweiser so I didn’t pass it on."

The Budweiser camp did not say anything about a possible violation nor did they file a protest after the race. Chenoweth did not complain about being "cut off" when he returned to the pits after the heat.

Newton said he was watching the Budweiser and Pay ‘N Pak at the point in question and saw no violation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Construction Slated on David Heerensperger’s Turbine-Powered Pay ‘N Pak

Jet age Unlimited hydroplane expected to make debut in 1980.

Seattle, Wash. – Construction on David Heerensperger’s turbine-powered Pay ‘N Pak Unlimited hydroplane is expected to begin early this spring. Project manager Jim Lucero unveiled a scale model of his newest design, a streamlined cab-over with a front spoiler and a rear stabilizer wing. Built of lightweight aluminum and wood, the jet age Pay ‘N Pak is expected to race for the first time in 1980.


Lucero will soon begin extensive modifications on the helicopter engines that will power the low profile Pay ‘N Pak. The turbine engines selected by Heerensperger and Lucero are expected to considerably reduce the long term engineering and maintenance expenses for Unlimited hydroplane teams.


The Unlimited Racing Commission, A.P.B.A., has granted unrestricted clearance to the turbine project for testing and competition for four years beginning with its first race.

Reprinted from Propwash, June, 1979

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Heerensperger sells boat fleet

Spokane Chronicle, October 20, 1983

Former Spokanite Dave Heerensperger, chairman of the board of directors of Pay ‘N Pak, has sold his entire unlimited hydroplane operation for reportedly between $500,000 and $1 million to Steve Woomer, owner of Competition Specialties Inc., a high-performance auto parts distributorship in Kent, Wash.

Heerensperger left unlimited hydroplane racing and put his turbine-powered boats up for sale after an accident that seriously injured driver John Walters of Renton in the 1982 Emerald Cup on Lake Washington. Walters has retired from racing.

Woomer originally planned to race a new boat powered by automotive engines, but it won’t be ready for the season opener. The Pay ‘N Pak operation includes the boat in which Walters flipped and a new one that never has seen the water

Remund Rolls In Regatta

Naples Daily News - Monday, May 21, 1973

MIAMI (AP) - Mickey Remund's domination of the season-opener $25,000 Champion Spark Plug Regatta has established his revolutionary Pride of Pay 'N Pak as the boat to beat in this year's Gold Cup series for unlimited hydroplanes.

Remund, of Palm Desert, Calif., twice pushed the Pay 'N Pak through the old Miami Marine Stadium record in Sunday's event, winning all three heats, 1,200 points and $6,500. He clocked 106.867 miles per hour in the first heat and 111.150 in the second, both times bettering the mark of 105.448 set last year by defending champion Bill Muncey.

Pay 'N Pak, owned by Dave Heerensperger of Seattle, features a new design with a horizontal stabilizer fin of the type usually seen on racing cars. The boat's hull is made of honeycomb magnesium and titanium to give lightness and strength.

Finishing second in the five-boat final was George Henley in Lincoln Thrift and Loan. He earned 900 points and $4,500.

Jim McCormick in Red Man was third for 794 points and $3,000, and Dean Chenoweth was fourth in Miss Budweiser for 569 and $2,350. Defending regatta and national champion Muncey was last, earning 300 points and $2,046 in his Atlas Van Lines.

But it was Muncey who gave Remund the closest competition.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sheared prop shatters Pay 'N Pak hull

Monday, July 23, 1973

PASCO, Wash. (AP) — Jim Lucero, crew chief of the Pay 'N Pak unlimited hydroplane, stood a few feet away from the partially mangled boat and said, "There is only so much time in the life of a propeller. This one's time came faster than most."

With the record-shattering Gold Cup regatta just completed and the Miss Budweiser crew and driver Dean Chenoweth of a few yards away celebrating their victory, Lucero delivered what may have been the understatement of the day:

"When a hydro propeller is turned 12,000 revolutions per minute and a blade snaps off, it is severely out of balance."

As Lucero talked, one blade of the Pay 'N Pak's $1,500 hand-forged propeller was lying on the bottom of Columbia River. Lucero said it had been used in just one previous race.

The mishap to the Seattle-based hydroplane occurred in the first turn on the second lap of the championship heat Sunday. With Mickey Remund driving, the propeller blade sheared off—and the propeller shaft immediately wound around itself like a pretzel, tearing up the underside of the Pay 'N Pak hull.

If that wasn't already enough, the half-inch thick metal gear box near the engine immediately broke apart, leaving Remund and the boat that had been the national point leader dead in the water.

Chenoweth, who had been six seconds behind the Pak, and the Atlas Van Lines driven by Bill Muncey, both shot past the disappointed Remund.

Then, in the liveliest extended competition of the day, Muncey chased close behind the beer wagon for 2 1/2 laps at speeds around 160 miles per hour before the Bud finally pulled away to win the heat, the Gold Cup and the lion's share of $41,150 in prize money.

The Bud also collected 1,500 points over four heats of thunderboat racing, making the Lakeland, Fla.-based hydroplane the new national leader with two regattas left this year. The Pak collected 1,200 for the day and dropped to second in national standings. The Bud has 6,283 points, and the Pak 6,138.

Second Sunday was Muncey in the Detroit-based Atlas with 1,400.

Walters First On the Waters

Reprinted from the Syracuse Post-Standard, Tuesday, June 15, 1982

ROMULUS (AP) - John Walters scored his first-ever unlimited hydroplane race victory Monday when he piloted his Pay 'N Pak boat to victory in the $75,000 Thunder in the Park race at Sampson State Park here.

The 28-year-old, second-year driver from Renton, Wash., won $135,000 after completing the five lap, 10-mile race at an average speed of 120.887 mph. The victory was the first ever for a turbine-powered unlimited hydroplane.

Only two boats in the six-boat final finished the race. Miss Madison, sponsored by Rich Plan Food Service of Utica, and driven by Tom Sheehy of Miami, finished second at an average speed of 86.106 mph.

Walters took the early lead in the final and fought off a last-second challenge from the Dean Chenoweth-piloted Miss Budweiser before gliding to the victory.

Chenoweth, of Tallahassee, Fla., finished fourth. He received a one-lap penalty for cutting off another boat before blowing his engine after  completing four laps.

Earlier in the day, Chenoweth defeated Walters in a five-lap heat at an average speed of 116.732 mph.

In the final, The Squire Shop, piloted by Tom D'Eath of Fair Havern, Mich., finished third.

Atlas Van Lines and driver Chip Hanauer of Seattle finished fifth, while Miss Rock, skippered, by Bob Miller of Everett, Wash., placed sixth.

Miss KYYX, driven by Brenda Jones of Seattle, was disqualified in the heat for insufficient speed and placed seventh overall.