Bill Muncey

Sports Profile: Powerboat Racing’s Bill Muncey [1960]

Thirty-one-year-old Bill Muncey is the second Detroiter in history to break the mile record for speed on water by an Unlimited racing boat. Forty years and 118 miles separates the achievements.

When Muncey guided Miss Thriftway to 192.001 miles an hour on Lake Washington, Feb. 15, he bracketed himself with Gar Wood as a boat pilot.

Wood began breaking the mile record in 1920. Then in 1931 he startled the nautical world when he became the first man to go faster than 100 miles an hour on water.

His 102.223 m.p.h. in Miss America IX took the mark from England as decisively as his capturing of the Harmsworth Trophy from the British in 1920.

Wood Wealthy

Muncey, who was born in Detroit, is enjoying the satisfaction of being the record-holder for the first time but Wood, born in St. Paul, had that thrill seven times.

Muncey’s story differs from Wood’s, for Wood, having become immensely wealthy, built and raced his own boats. Muncey has never owned an Unlimited. He has always raced for others. Unquestionably he would be piloting a Detroit-owned boat today if his qualities had been recognized locally.

Bill, whose folks used to live across from the Edgewood Country Club golf course on Lower Straits Lake, was racing small boats from the time he was 14. By the time he graduated to the faster limited inboard classes, he was a lad of strength and determination, plus an overwhelming desire to drive in a Gold Cup race.

The first Detroiter to give him a chance was Al Fallon, who owned the Miss Great Lakes. By the time Bill got into the Great Lakes’ cockpit, the boat wasn’t what it "used to be" but he gave it a good workout. Next Jack Schafer tried him in one of his Such Crusts. The competition was too much—for the boat, not for Muncey.

The first man to recognize that Bill had the makings of a great pilot was Ted Jones, the Seattle designer of most of today’s "three-pointers."

It was Jones who got Muncey a berth in the first of the Miss Thriftways. Bill was as eager to accept as a boy getting a coveted toy but there were strong parental objections.

His father, Edward L., wanted him to stay in Detroit and grow into the family firm, selling automobiles. His mother was in tears. Gold Cup racing can be terrifying to mothers and wives alike.

Moved To Seattle

But Bill, married and the father of two children at that time, went to Seattle. He took a position under the president of the Thriftway Stores, Willard Rhodes. On Jan. 1, 1957, he moved his family there. In addition to his other work, he has a weekly TV program. Bill has built his own success story. Some wild estimates have placed his income now at "around $40,000 a year" but, in Detroit, last summer, Muncey laughed at that. "I wish it was that high," he said.

Nevertheless, Bill is making more than he would have as an automobile salesman in Detroit and he still considers his prospects better for the future.

Muncey has won two Gold Cups and has been a winner of most of the major Unlimited class trophies. After capturing the President’s Cup, he also met and was photographed with President Eisenhower.

The stars in Muncey’s racing crown were also accompanied by some bad scars. He has been in several serious accidents. Probably the worst was in the 1958 Gold Cup when his racer rammed a Coast Guard cutter after the steering failed.

Accidents have not changed his outlook. He doesn’t believe in luck. He doesn’t even believe in quitting when he’s ahead. He’ll likely try to break the record he has just set [February 16, 1960], dreaming of a speed of 200 m.p.h.

Bill had a reunion with his brother, Ray, at Sun Valley, Idaho, prior to his record run and he told Ray then he was sure he would better the mark of 187.627 m.p.h., set by Jack Regas in the Hawaii Kai in 1957.

As soon as Bill finished his record run, he called his father and mother in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they were vacationing.

"I think I can go faster, and I intend to try," he told them.

The elder Munceys no longer try to discourage Bill on his racing.

They gave that up gradually, as Bill grew up. Once he wanted to be a professional musician, with his own band. During service in Korea, he headed a band.

His father strongly opposed a musical career. Bill was older when his father opposed his moving to Seattle for a racing job.

Bill once said, "I guess Dad wishes he had let me stick to music — but in a way I did because there’s music in those motors."

Muncey’s wife, Kit, is a Detroit girl. Bill’s tribute to her: "She has been on my side from the start — she sees things as I do." Kit and Bill now have three children, all boys.

You can get an idea of what makes Muncey race by looking at his chin, by studying his eyes and by watching him "under glass"—that is when he is in competition.

Bill is a rugged individual with two appearances. The first is a laughing, rollicking face. The second is a fierce one of scowls, lowered eye-lids, compressed lips and a hard

Likes Challenge

Muncey races because it is a challenge, a chance to conquer and his chosen path to prestige. The money is a secondary item. Because of its expenses, there is little profit in boat racing of any kind.

Other drivers like to challenge Muncey. A comment often heard is, "Everybody wants a shot at Muncey."

He gives them the opportunity. He has raced every place in the country where there is Unlimited class racing. He particularly likes to give Detroit drivers a shot at him.

Bill always drives hard but never harder than in races on the Detroit River. Understandably that is because he once felt Detroit doubted his ability, and bypassed him.

Won Debate

In a 1956 Gold Cup hassle, when he did or did not hit a buoy, Muncey led the fight to take the Gold Cup back to Seattle. He had been disqualified, but he testified here, in Washington, in New York and elsewhere. After months of testimony, the disqualification was reversed.

On water or on shore, Muncey is a sizable order for any one who wants to challenge him.

Bill admits he feels plenty of tension in the waiting hours before a race. But once the race starts, it is forgotten. He says everything comes clearly into his mind about the strategy he has worked out with designer Ted Jones, the boat’s owner and its crew. He drives a planned speed and he tries to drive a pattern, usually close to the buoys.

The bad spills have never changed Bill. He wrote the following after two near-fatal accidents when people were pressuring him to quit racing: "Our reasoning is simple, and should be obvious to anyone who would care to look a bit below the surface of life and observe its foundation. Above all things, our family has pounds and pounds of faith. We know that no matter what the situation, He is watching and caring constantly.

"A ‘devil-may-care’ attitude is not involved and a ‘live today, tomorrow we die’ philosophy is not true. As a matter of fact, a racing man probably is closer to the magnificence of life, and the value of it, than anyone else."

(Reprinted from the Detroit News, April 15, 1960)