The remnants of a horrible day in Mexico have been transformed, and a more positive memory will take place at Seafair this weekend.
Bill Muncey is regarded as one of the best hydroplane racers in history, and was killed during the 1981 World Championship race in Acapulco, Mexico. For 30 years, the boat from that crash – Atlas Van Lines – sat unused and badly damaged.
But thanks to $100,000 and four years of work from the Hydroplane and Race Boat Museum in Kent, that boat has been refurbished and will get back in the water at Seafair during exhibitions Friday through Sunday.
“We have an opportunity here to kind of right a wrong, if you will,” said David Williams, executive director of the museum. “The last time that boat was on a race course, it was upside down. It was broken in pieces. People were literally crying. … We don’t want that to be the last memory of that boat.”
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Chip Hanauer will drive the refurbished boat, dubbed Blue Blaster because that’s what many broadcasters called the original Atlas Van Lines, according to Williams. Hanauer, an understudy of Muncey’s, was an “obvious” choice to drive the boat: He retired with 61 wins – at the time, second most in hydroplane racing history – because he didn’t want to break Muncey’s record of 62 wins.
“Chip really looked up to Bill,” Williams said. “So when it came time to find somebody to drive the boat, there really was no question of who it should be.”
Growing the sport
Jimmy Shane started racing hydroplanes – alone – when he was 8 years old. Now, 20 years later, as the defending National High Point Champion, the 2014 Gold Cup Champion and the current National High Point leader, he wants to increase interest in the sport within kids at and around that same age.
Shane will be racing in the Oberto boat – “one of the most coveted rides in all of boat-racing,” according to H1 Unlimited spokesman Steve Montgomery. That spot opened up thanks to the retirement of Steve David in September of 2013.
“That’s my main goal, to get the younger generation to kind of back off the video games, get them outside and get them to see what a spectacle our sport is,” Shane said.
Seafair, according to Shane, is the perfect opportunity to do that. When he was growing up in Maryland, Shane watched “Jeopardy” every night. He remembers seeing a question about the biggest event in the Northwest that involves unlimited hydroplane racing and the Blue Angels, and being excited that his sport had been mentioned.
“That just goes to show you how established and how big of an event Seafair is and how much it means to the Northwest to have an event like this,” he said. “It’s huge for the area and it’s huge for our sport.”
Defending champ with new driver
Last year’s national championship boat, Graham Trucking, will see a new driver at Seafair after Shane drove it last year. That spot has gone to J. Michael Kelly, who won a preliminary heat in last week’s Tri-Cities Columbia Cup, but was beached in the final because of damage to the boat. He is still scheduled to race this weekend.
• The Oberto boat, driven by Shane, and Dave Villwock’s Beacon Plumbing craft will face off again at Seafair, one week after crashing into each other at last week’s Tri-Cities Columbia Cup. Villwock was disqualified from the heat, and his team penalized 150 points, which took them out of the final heat.
“There are things the drivers are going to be looking out for at Seafair when Dave comes back to make sure we are all safe,” Shane said. “It’s not just about Dave. It’s about all of us as drivers realizing … we need to protect the equipment. We need to protect the people.”
According to Villwock, a part of his boat came off and hit his rudder, which caused the boat to jerk over to the right, causing the crash. Villwock and his crew were working on repairs to the Beacon Plumbing boat all day on Tuesday.
• Greg and Brian O’Farrell’s Lakeridge Paving boat is finished for the season, after it was blown over and severely damaged in last week’s Columbia Cup. Fox Plumbing and Heating, the sponsor for the boat, will move its sponsorship to the Our Gang Racing boat, driven by Jeff Bernard.
• Ruben Ascencio, a tunnel boat racer, will compete in this weekend’s Seafair races, even after being diagnosed in 2004 with relapsing multiple sclerosis. Ascencio was named the Pro Tunnel Tour Rookie of the Year in 2006 and had the third-most points in the PPT in 2008.
• Heat 1A for unlimited hydros is slated to begin at 11:55 a.m. Saturday. The Albert Lee Appliance Cup will conclude Seafair’s hydroplane racing at 4:45 p.m. Sunday.