Jim Lucero

Crew Chief, Jim Lucero [1978]

Crew chief. He's the last man the driver talks to before he heads onto the course and the first man when he returns.

A crew chief is a mechanic, engineer, supervisor, cheerleader and troubleshooter rolled into one.

He works all year, but the actual time spent racing amounts to three hours a season. Sleepless night -- he knows them. Mechanical riddles — he is paid to solve them.

His is a world of skid fins, sponsons, superchargers and roostertails.

Hydroplane racing is World War II's contribution to sport. The engines that power the thunderboats are the same engines that fought the Battle of Britain. Young crew chiefs weren't born when the engines they baby were built.

The crew chief knows better than anyone that hydroplane racing is a dangerous sport. He feels the pressure. His mistakes can be as tragic as a driving blunder.

Jim Lucero is considered the No. 1 crew chief in hydroplane racing. He designed and built the Atlas Van Lines driven by Bill Muncey. The boat won six of nine races last year and has won five of six this year.

Muncey has confidence in Lucero. For years Muncey was a critic of cabover designs. "Who wants to be first at the scene of an accident?" he half-joked. Lucero designed the new Atlas Van Lines and now Muncey is dominating hydroplane racing in it.

"In my opinion, no one can step in his shoes," Muncey says.

Muncey and Lucero are a team. Muncey is 49 and Lucero 32. Lucero was towing model hydros behind his bicycle in South Seattle when Muncey started building his driving reputation.

Both men hate to lose, but Muncey says Lucero takes defeat worse.

"I'm working on him," said Muncey after Miss Budweiser won the Columbia Cup when the Atlas Van Lines blew a rod and went dead in the water. "I'm getting him to come around to accept the fact he may be a legend in his own time and he may be brilliant as a designer, but he's going to lose now and then. Losing to Jim is just unacceptable."

Lucero got his first hydro job a dozen years ago. At age 25 he was named "Crew Chief of the Year." Last year he received a special national award for "innovative boat design."

The awards are nice and are appreciated. But Lucero likes something more — the sight of the Atlas cruising past a checkered flag.

(Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 13, 1978)