The Saga of Jim Harvey
For four decades, Jim Harvey of Seattle, Washington, has been a major player in "Water Racing's Greatest Show." Starting as a crew member for one of the "budget" teams in 1966, Jim worked his way up to crew chief for some of the sport's most prominent boats and in 1987 became the owner of his own Unlimited hydroplane team.
Harvey was the 1989 recipient of the prestigious Gar Wood Award, presented by the APBA Unlimited Racing Commission for conspicuous long-term service to the sport.
Jim's hydroplane career began with Bob Gilliam's Hilton Hy-Per-Lube. The boat was only sporadically competitive but it served as Harvey's introduction to the sport. Years later, the same corporate sponsor (Hilton Oil) would bankroll Jim's own T-Plus Engine Treatment team.
After time out for military service, Harvey went into the boat racing business full time in 1972 and relocated to Owensboro, Kentucky, to accept a position with Jim McCormick's Miss Timex team. He worked as an assistant to Crew Chief Gary Crawford on the U-8 and the U-44 hydroplanes. At season's end, Harvey was honored by the URC as "Crew Member of the Year."
Anxious to return to the Pacific Northwest, he twisted wrenches for two Seattle-based teams in 1973--the Valu-Mart and the Notre Dame.
Throughout his career, Jim Harvey has always believed that cleanliness is next to godliness where hydroplane crew members are concerned. He has no use for the so-called "greaseball" mechanics who are careless in their personal appearance at the races.
"Those guys make the rest of us look bad. Sure, at the end of the day, we may be dirty and greasy from working on the boat. But, by God, when we march into the pit area the next morning, our uniforms are spotless. We do that to present the best possible image for the sponsor."
Jim's career shifted into high gear when he began his two-year stint with Bernie Little's Miss Budweiser in 1974, working with Crew Chief Tom Frankhouser. Here was an assignment truly commensurate with his abilities.
The middle-1970s witnessed some of the finest competition of Unlimited racing's piston era. And Miss Budweiser was always in the thick of things, running head-to-head in race after race with arch-rival Pay ‘N Pak. The two Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered juggernauts really set the water on fire with their blistering speeds.
In 1974, Pay ‘N Pak won seven races with George Henley as driver; Miss Budweiser won four races with Howie Benns and Dean Chenoweth in the cockpit.
The Budweiser team's heart-stopper of a victory in the Desert Thunderboat Classic at Phoenix, Arizona, was especially memorable for Jim Harvey...but in an unusual way.
Jim had to be back in Seattle the next day. He arranged ahead of time to fly home with the Pay ‘N Pak crew in owner Dave Heerensperger's private plane, which was scheduled to depart from the race site right after the Final Heat.
Benns in Miss Budweiser outdistanced Bill Muncey in Atlas Van Lines over the finish line by a fraction of a second. Pay ‘N Pak embarrassed itself by failing to finish.
Harvey could only celebrate momentarily with his victorious teammates. Twenty minutes later, he was flying back to Seattle...with the losers! And they were not happy!
Throughout the flight, Jim maintained a poker face and dared not say a word. "I didn't want to give them any excuse to throw me out of the plane minus a parachute."
The PAK and the Bud teams continued their rivalry into 1975. The Weisfield’s with Billy Schumacher, the Miss U.S. with Tom D'Eath, and the Lincoln Thrift with Milner Irvin also helped to make things interesting.
Miss Budweiser won two races in 1975--at Washington, D.C., and at Phoenix--but suffered major hull damage in mid-season at Madison, Indiana. It was a frantic race against time to repair the boat for the next week's race in Dayton, Ohio.
Jim Harvey had serious doubts that Miss Budweiser could be fixed in time. As late as Wednesday or Thursday of Dayton race week, the prospects were not good.
But when the starting gun fired at Eastwood Lake, there was the Bud, ready to race. Driver Mickey Remund guided the "Beer Wagon" to third-place behind Henley in Pay ‘N Pak and D'Eath in Miss U.S.
Harvey decided to take a vacation from Unlimited racing after the 1975 season and left the Miss Budweiser team in January 1976. For the next couple of years, boat racing would be more of a hobby than a business for Jim.
Before long, he was Crew Chief of the Steve Reynolds-chauffeured White Lightning, a 225 Cubic Inch Class hydroplane. The team of Reynolds and Harvey soon became the top 225 on the West Coast. Between 1976 and 1978, White Lightning (later sponsored by Pay ‘N Pak) won virtually every race it entered.
One time, Jim wanted to work on the boat to prepare for an upcoming race. But Jim's wife had other ideas. She insisted that the garden be prepared for planting that weekend...or else!
Not to worry. Every problem has more than one solution. Lo and behold, on Saturday morning, Steve Reynolds showed up at the Harvey home. Steve did the garden work, while Jim worked on the boat.
Harvey attended the 1976 Seattle Seafair race as a spectator. But his influence on the outcome was enormous.
The Miss Budweiser team was having a bad day. They had blown their Rolls engine in Heat One and had zero points. They had to win Heat Two in order to make the Final.
The replacement engine happened to be the last engine that Jim had built up before leaving the team in January. It had never been tried in the boat. They didn't know how it was going to perform.
It performed perfectly. Miss Budweiser and pilot Remund won the next two heats and took the Seafair Trophy home. And Jim Harvey was the hero of the day.
The 1977 season saw Jim still concentrating on the 225 Class White Lightning. Then, in July, word came from the Tri-Cities that Miss Budweiser had sunk during a qualification run on the Columbia River, prior to the Gold Cup race.
The damage was extensive. The Bud crew made a hurried trip back to their Seattle shop, 220 miles away. The round-the-clock repair effort was Herculean. Virtually every unattached crew member in the Seattle area lent a hand.
Jim Harvey dropped everything and came running. Jim ended up driving the truck that transported the repaired "Beer Wagon" back to the Tri-Cities on race day morning and arrived in the nick of time. Mickey Remund went on to take an overall second behind Bill Muncey and Atlas Van Lines.
In the words of Miss Budweiser owner Bernie Little, "From the bottom of the Columbia River to second-place in the Gold Cup--that's quite an accomplishment."
Yes, it was.
Thunderboat racing was not in the best of health in the late-1970s. Muncey's Atlas Van Lines "Blue Blaster" had become to the Unlimited Class what White Lightning was to the 225 Class. In race after race, the winner was almost a foregone conclusion. But there was hope on the horizon.
A couple of Nevada casino operators, William G. Bennett and William N. Pennington, decided to take a fling at Unlimited racing and provide some meaningful competition for Atlas Van Lines. They formed a new team--the Miss Circus Circus--and hired Jim Harvey as Crew Chief.
Harvey insisted on bringing with him the core group of the White Lightning team. These included the driver Steve Reynolds, the designer Dave Knowlen, the builder Norm Berg, and crew member E.B. "Tiger" Reynolds, Steve's father.
Miss Circus Circus (U-31) made its debut at the last race of the 1978 season in San Diego. Using the outmoded former Weisfield’s hull, the team placed an overall third and served notice that they would be a factor in 1979 with a new state-of-the-art hull and the best equipment that money could buy.
Twelve months later, the Miss Circus Circus team had command of second-place in National High Points for 1979. They had qualified fastest at four out of nine Unlimited events, set a world record with a 2.5-mile lap speed of 133.136 miles per hour at the Tri-Cities, and had a victory in the Jack-In-The-Box Thunderboat Regatta at San Diego.
The new Knowlen-designed hull had a 1979 competition box score of 24 heats started, 21 finished, nine in first-place, six in second, five in third, and one in fourth. In addition to the San Diego victory, Miss Circus Circus took second-place in the nationally televised APBA Gold Cup at Madison.
Jim Harvey's first year as an Unlimited crew chief could hardly have been more impressive. He really faced an awesome challenge. Being a brand-new team. the crew had their backs up against the wall as they prepared for 1979, knowing that they had to do in six months what ordinarily takes a year. Their work was plainly cut out for them. Not since 1966 had a new team with a new boat and a new driver been able to win an Unlimited race in its first season.
But according to Steve Reynolds, "This was the kind of challenge that brought out the best in Jim Harvey--the one veteran in the group."
After such an outstanding 1979 season, everyone expected the team's upward favorable trend to continue into 1980. But that didn't happen.
Owner Bill Bennett made personnel changes in 1980 that did not help Miss Circus Circus. He fired or demoted to secondary status most of the 1979 crew that had worked so well together. The list of casualties included Jim Harvey, who found himself out of a job several months before the start of the season.
Without Harvey, the pink-and-white U-31 was a shell of its 1979 self. The team slipped from contender to "also-ran" status. Harvey's replacement as lead wrench, the highly regarded Jim Kerth, was himself discharged in mid-season. The spirit of unity that characterized the White Lightning experience was missing completely from Miss Circus Circus in 1980.
Jim Harvey may have been out at Circus Circus, but he soon found himself in at Atlas Van Lines. While Jim's former team stewed in its juices, his new team was winning races. As assistant to Atlas Crew Chief Dave Seefeldt, Harvey participated in victories at the Tri-Cities, Seattle, Ogallala, and San Diego in 1980 and at Evansville in 1981.
This was Jim's first experience working with the legendary Bill Muncey. The two developed a swift rapport and became good friends. When Harvey briefly left the Atlas team in the summer of 1981 for personal reasons, it was Muncey who persuaded him to return.
Jim's talents as a "boat doctor" were much appreciated by Bill. The Atlas Van Lines "Blue Blaster" was in its fifth season. Constructed of Hexcel honeycomb aluminum, the aging "Blaster" had to be put back together after each race. A replacement hull was in the planning stages for 1982.
The 1981 UIM World Championship in Acapulco, Mexico, is a race that Harvey would like to forget. It was in Acapulco that William Edward Muncey reached the end of the Thunderboat trail.
Jim and Bill were hotel roommates in Acapulco.
While leading in the Final Heat on Laguna de Coyucca, Atlas Van Lines became airborne, blew over backwards, and landed upside-down. This was in the days before the introduction of the F-16 safety canopy. Muncey suffered a completely severed spinal cord. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead a few hours later.
The hardest thing that Jim Harvey ever had to do in his life was to go back to that hotel room and pack Bill's things.
Following the death of the sport's most prominent personality, there was speculation if Unlimited racing would survive.
Fran Muncey, Bill's widow, and O.H. Frisbie, the Atlas team sponsor, were determined that the Bill Muncey Industries team would not die with its founder.
Chip Hanauer became the new Atlas Van Lines driver; Jim Harvey replaced the retiring Dave Seefeldt as Crew Chief.
For 1982, the re-organized Atlas team had a new Rolls-Royce Merlin-powered hull, designed and built by Jim Lucero.
Hanauer and Harvey pulled off a heart-stopper of a victory in the 1982 Gold Cup at Detroit.
The new Atlas Van Lines, in only its third competitive appearance, almost blew over during a Final Heat battle with defending champion Dean Chenoweth and the Rolls-Royce Griffon-powered Miss Budweiser, which boasted much more horsepower than Atlas Van Lines.
After trailing for the first few laps, Chip executed a daring maneuver and ducked inside of Dean. This forced the Budweiser to run a wider--and longer--track.
When the roostertails subsided, Chip and Atlas had won the Gold Cup. It was the answer to a lifetime’s dream for Hanauer and the perfect “pick-me-up” for a sport that was still grieving the loss of Bill Muncey.
Atlas Van Lines won four of the next six races at Evansville, Seattle, San Diego, and the UIM World Championship in Houston, Texas. Hanauer and Atlas also tied down the National High Point Championship.
For the Atlas Van Lines organization, the Houston triumph capped the ultimate storybook season. Who could have predicted that a team, leaderless at the end of 1981 and its boat destroyed in Acapulco, could have fired back every bit as strong in 1982 with a new boat, a new driver, and a new crew chief? It was truly one of the all-time great sports stories. Bill would have been proud.
Another Gold Cup and National Championship followed in 1983 for the Atlas Van Lines team.
For 1984, Fran Muncey opted for a new boat with turbine power for Hanauer to drive. She sold her 1982-1983 champion to Bob Steil of The Squire Shop. Jim Harvey accompanied the boat to the Steil camp, where he would remain for the next three years.
Harvey persuaded his old comrade Mickey Remund to end a seven-year retirement and pilot The Squire Shop in 1984. Remund finished second in National High Points and took first-place at Syracuse, New York.
Following a reduced schedule of races the next two years, the Steil team finished second at the Tri-Cities in 1985 and at Evansville, the Tri-Cities, and Seattle in 1986 with Tom D'Eath as driver.
The single stand-out performance of the Steil years had to be the 1986 "Thunder On The Ohio" classic at Evansville, Indiana, which was won by Jim Kropfeld in the Miss Budweiser.
The Squire Shop--running as Joe Ricci Spirit of America--treated the fans to one of the great shoot-outs in Unlimited history.
Four boats--the Budweiser with Kropfeld, the Joe Ricci with D'Eath, the Miss 7-Eleven with Steve Reynolds, and the Miller American with Chip Hanauer--ran on the same quarter of a lap with each other for the entire five laps of the Final Heat. D'Eath held off the three turbine-powered challengers for four laps before Kropfeld finally took over the lead.
Those four boats finished within twelve seconds of each other. From a competitive standpoint, the race was simply superb.
After twenty years in the sport, Jim Harvey was ready for a new challenge. Now one of the most respected crew chiefs in the business, he wanted a team of his own.
The opportunity for Jim to become his own owner presented itself in 1987. Bob Steil wanted to retire from racing and sold his team to Harvey.
To finance the new venture, Jim inked a sponsorship pact with Art Oberto. The boat, which had debuted in 1982 as Atlas Van Lines, became the latest in a long line of hydroplanes to be named Oh Boy! Oberto.
Limited veteran George Woods signed on as driver.
The Harvey team was scheduled to debut at Miami in 1987 but circumstances intervened to prevent that. While en route to Florida, the equipment van towing the boat caught fire and was a total loss. The boat itself, fortunately, was scarcely touched.
His team's fortunes literally up in smoke. a lesser man would have thrown in the towel. Instead, Harvey and his sponsor Oberto got back on their feet and back out on the race course.
Woods went on to place fourth at the Tri-Cities, third at Seattle, and was named "Rookie of the Year" in the Unlimited Class for 1987.
The Merlin-powered Oh Boy! Oberto served notice in 1988 that the piston engine in Unlimited racing wasn't dead yet. Owner Harvey and driver Woods won both of the salt water races--where turbines traditionally had difficulty--at Miami and San Diego.
The Oberto averaged 105.739 for the 30 miles at Miami Marine Stadium, outrunning Ron Snyder in Holset Miss Madison and Jerry Hopp in Holset Miss MadisonJackpot Food Mart.
Oh Boy! Oberto was the only finisher on San Diego's Mission Bay but still averaged 117.412 in the Final Heat.
Jim Harvey was fast becoming something of a legend in San Diego, having been associated with five different winning efforts on that storied race course. Prior to becoming an owner, Harvey had achieved victory as a crew member on Miss Circus Circus in 1979 and on Atlas Van Lines in 1980, 1982, and 1983.
The team was winless in 1989 but finished fourth in National High Points and took second-place at Miami, Madison, and San Diego.
By 1990, it was obvious that Lycoming turbine power was the future of the sport. But Harvey was not willing to give up on the Rolls-Royce Merlin just yet. He finally switched to a turbine after a fifth-place performance at Detroit. Oberto thus became the first Unlimited hydroplane to make the change-over to turbine equipment while a season was in progress.
Occupying the Oh Boy! Oberto cockpit in 1990 was newcomer Mark Tate from Detroit. His highest finish was a second-place at Honolulu. Mark went on to great things with Steve Woomer's Competition Specialties team between 1991 and 1997.
Throughout Jim Harvey's career, one of his strengths has been his ability to recognize potential in Limited drivers who had never before competed at the Unlimited level. Tate was one of these. Steve Reynolds was another. So were George Woods and J. Michael Kelly. All four received Unlimited "Rookie of the Year" honors in their respective seasons.
Starting in 1991, Steve David from Lighthouse Point, Florida, joined the Harvey team as driver. The association was to last for nine years. Here was a pilot with tremendous driving ability and one who was also great in the publicity department.
According to Harvey, "I've had other drivers who would complain to the press when they were upset about something that happened in a race. I had to ride heard on them constantly. But with Steve David, I never had that problem.
"I could walk away and go back to work on the boat, knowing that Steve would always represent the sponsor well and say what needed to be said to the media."
During the Steve David years, the Harvey team never failed to finish in the top-5 in National High Points. Their best season nationally was 1998 when they placed second to Miss Budweiser and driver Dave Villwock.
In 1992 on Pearl Harbor, they set a world 2.5-mile competition lap record of 166.221 miles per hour. The record still stands today.
Their most satisfying campaign had to be 1993 when they won the first and the last races of the season--at Lewisville, Texas, and Honolulu, Hawaii--with two different boats.
Racing as Miss T-Plus (U-2), the former 1982 Atlas hull claimed the victory at Lake Lewisville, near Dallas, after starting in the outside lane in the Final Heat.
Owner Harvey and Crew Chief Tim Ramsey introduced a new Miss T-Plus in mid-season 1993, a state-of-the-art tandem-wing creation from the drawing board of Ron Jones, Sr. Several races were required to iron out the "bugs" of newness, but everything came together in Hawaii.
At Honolulu, the team ran conservatively in the preliminary heats, but David turned up the speed when it counted in the finale. The result was a clear-cut victory for Miss T-Plus over Miss Budweiser in the Final Heat, as the boat set a world record speed of 154.025 miles per hour for the 12.5-mile distance. Miss Budweiser and driver Chip Hanauer also surpassed the record in the Honolulu Final, running 152.445.
Harvey and David accumulated another win for their Hilton Oil sponsor at Kansas City in 1995. The team scored a wire-to-wire victory over Tate in Smokin’ Joe’s and Hanauer in Miss Budweiser. The win on Kansas City's Smithville Lake came just two weeks after T-Plus had suffered severe damage at the Gold Cup in Detroit when a propeller let go during the Final Heat.
When Steve David retired from the Harvey Motorsports team after the 1999 Tri-Cities race, old friend Mark Tate was recalled to active duty. The "Tater" drove the last four races of 1999.
Mark finished third at Kelowna, B.C., and gave spirited chase to Dave Villwock and Miss Budweiser in Heat 3-A at San Diego. (Tate averaged 143 miles per hour to Villwock's 144.)
The Harvey team was hampered by mechanical difficulties in 2000. But they nevertheless managed to put together several impressive performances during the year. Tate guided the U-2 hydroplane to second-place at Lake Havasu City, Arizona, and fourth at Detroit.
After relinquishing the cockpit to Scott Pierce for 2001, Mark returned for 2002. Under the sponsorship of Trendwest, Tate took second at the Tri-Cities and third at Seattle.
For his final three seasons as an Unlimited owner, Jim Harvey opted for a new boat with a rebuilt center section that was originally used in the Miss Budweiser (T-5) in 1996. Former Miss Bud crew chief Ron Brown assisted the Harvey crew in the "dialing-in" process.
The boat finished third at San Diego in 2003 with Terry Troxell driving and second at St. Clair, Michigan, in 2004 with J. Michael Kelly at the wheel.
Jim was especially grateful for the opportunity to work with Mike during 2004 and 2005.
Rarely has a new driver graduated to the Unlimited ranks with credentials as impressive as those of young Kelly. A two-time inductee into the prestigious APBA Hall of Champions, Mike has a house full of awards won in various outboard and inboard classes. He qualified as an Unlimited driver at the 2004 Tri-Cities Columbia Cup and finished third in his very first race appearance.
The team had its ups and downs in 2005. Kelly was slightly injured when the boat flipped at Detroit as Dick Scott Automotive Group. Their best showing was a fourth at Madison as Graham Trucking.
After nearly forty years in the sport, Harvey decided to retire from racing at the end of 2005. He leased his boat to his good friend Ken Muscatel for 2006 and--as of this writing--has no plans to return to competition.
For sheer longevity, few participants can match the record of Jim Harvey in the Unlimited Class. Fewer still can match Jim's level of success in racing as an owner and a crew chief. His boats aided many regattas with their participation. He is truly one of the sport's all-time greats.